40% off Vivian Dudro's Pick of the Week*
Sigrid Undset was one of the greatest twentieth-century novelists, famous for her fabulous, epic trilogies set in Norway during the Middle Ages—Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken—which won her the Nobel Prize for literature in 1928. She is less well known for her shorter, modern tales such as Ida Elisabeth. Though more modest in scope (and length) than her historical fiction, Ida Elisabeth is just as rewarding.
The story of how Ignatius Press discovered Ida Elisabeth is worth repeating. A friend of Father Fessio was encouraging us to reprint The Eternal Woman, a profound and impressive work about the meaning of the feminine by Gertrud von le Fort. As I was reading The Eternal Woman to form an opinion for our acquisition committee, I came across these thought-provoking lines about Ida Elisabeth:
In Ida Elisabeth’s husband and his family an extreme case is described, but that which applies to them, at the final issue, applies everywhere and always. The world has need of the maternal woman; it is, for the most part, a poor and helpless child.
Von le Fort argues that the calling to motherhood that is given to all women— whether or not they become biological mothers—involves caring for all who are weak. I was so intrigued by this theme that I tracked down Ida Elisabeth, and the story moved me as deeply as von le Fort had hinted that it would. I confess that I was in tears by the end.
Ida Elisabeth is not a girly and emotional melodrama. Rather, it is a subtly and masterfully told story about a clever, talented and hardworking woman who foolishly marries a man incapable of shouldering his responsibilities. The reader sympathizes with Ida when she finally leaves her husband after discovering his infidelity, and the reader roots for Ida when she meets a man of strong character who wants to marry her and adopt her children. The reader has no clue as to where Undset is going with this plot, and I am not going to ruin the story by telling more.
Undset entered the Catholic Church in 1924. She fiercely opposed Nazism and was forced to flee Norway when the Germans invaded in 1940. How the Nazi-- and one could say simply, pagan--contempt for the weak shows up in this novel, I will also leave for the reader to discover. Ida Elisabeth is also available as an e-book.
Vivian Dudro is a senior editor at Ignatius Press. Her husband, Glenn, also works for Ignatius as the director of finance. They have four mostly grown children and live in San Francisco.
*Employee Pick of the Week program features savings of 40% off a book, movie, or compact disc personally chosen and recommended by an Ignatius Press employee. Each week, an Ignatius Press employee will select a favorite book, movie, or other Ignatius Press product and write a few sentences about why he/she thinks customers will enjoy the particular selection. A short bio of the selecting employee will also be included, giving customers a chance to learn a bit more about the people who are Ignatius Press.