Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Cosmologies of Sigrid Undset

 From Genevieve Kineke at Catholic World Report:

Fr. Nichols traces the major influences on her formation—familial, cultural, and political—but it is his tender illustration of the curious soul creeping forward that is so competently done: distinguishing the telltale clues and intellectual breakthroughs that create the essential pivot points in Sigrid’s growth. A successful novelist dissects such a journey and reassembles it on the page for the sake of the reader, and what Sigrid did for her fictional characters Fr Nichols does for us, although not in narrative form but as a mosaic—arranged according to myriad themes, and how and where they emerged in her writing.

Sigrid’s experiences, a “storehouse of life’s impressions,” were poured into her fiction, allowing her to create profoundly interesting characters who grow organically according to circumstances and grace. Indeed, it was her own rocky setting that simultaneously caused her to flee Europe, to apply her writing skills to war propaganda, and ultimately to embrace the Catholic Church. Near the end of this book, Fr Nichols offers the image of the bridge, which makes sense of her life, the arc of her writing, and even the larger culture being transformed in radical and disturbing ways.

These ends, unfortunately, are at cross-purposes, because while she was driven to sharpen the distinctions between froth and Faith, at the same time the wider world was letting go of hard-won truths and sinking back into chaos. Her love of Scholasticism allowed her to let go of sentimentality and idealism for the sake of “the philosophy of the real,” which would carry her securely through the shifting sands of modernism and the “intellectual anarchy” of Protestantism. She saw clearly that the vague “brotherhood” being sold in the secular market—especially after the war—was impossible without the Fatherhood of God and the discipline of applied virtue.

This is where the bridge imagery fits. With the rejection of natural law, the traditional family, and Christian morality already taking firm shape all around her, she stressed the importance of motherhood as a critical bond between the child and the world, the family as a bulwark against the chaos of political instability, and the truths of the faith as essential bedrock to instantiate reality in a world grasping for comfortable ideologies. She saw that the rationalist view of man was shredding his ability to find God, because man is, in actuality, a creature in need of soil, roots, and structure—ideas which were amply illustrated in all her writing, both fiction and non-fiction. Without such concrete things at his fingertips, modern man was prone to anxiety and despair, and yet his sophisticated pretentiousness blinded him to the “miniature cosmologies” all around him. (Read more.)


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