Published in 1951, shortly after Undset's death, this consummate biography reflects the maturing spiritual insight of the great Norwegian novelist. Her vast familiarity with medieval history and manners enabled Undset to recreate, in intimate detail, the environs of St. Catherine's fourteenthcentury Italy. Even more importantly, the author's immersion in the Catholic faith (she converted in 1924) allowed her to penetrate sympathetically into the unusual dimensions of Catherine's mystical life. 'It is not easy for us to understand her,' Undset frankly acknowledges, 'but it was not easy for her contemporaries either.' Indeed, from childhood St. Catherine found herself misunderstood, first by angry parents who wanted her to marry, unaware she had vowed herself to Christ, later by townsfolk who mistook her charitable work for promiscuity and nuns who envied her spiritual gifts. She baffled even her confessors (whose accounts Undset weaves skillfully into the narrative) when, for example, she accused herself of faults they scarcely recognized as sinful. A recluse by inclination, she traveled widely at Christ's bidding to minister to the sick, urge papal reforms, and beg for peace among the warring Italian republics. Amidst the paradoxes of her controversial life, 'the Holy Spirit taught her how to build herself an inner cell, a place of refuge where she could pray and think of her Beloved, and from this no one could recall her..' 335 pp.
An Eighth Day View:
Sigrid Undset's Catherine of Siena is critically acclaimed as one of the best biographies of this well known, and amazing fourteenth-century saint. Known for her historical fiction, which won her the Nobel Prize for literature in 1928, Undset based this factual work on primary sources, her own experiences living in Italy, and her profound understanding of the human heart. One of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century, Undset was no stranger to hagiography. Her meticulous research of medieval times, which bore such fruit in her multi-volume masterpieces Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken, acquainted her with some of the holy men and women produced by the Age of Faith. Their exemplary lives left a deep impression upon the author, an impression Undset credited as one of her reasons for entering the Church in 1924. Catherine of Siena was a particular favorite of Undset, who also was a Third Order Dominican. An extraordinarily active, intelligent, and courageous woman, Catherine at an early age devoted herself to the love of God. The intensity of her prayer, sacrifice, and service to the poor won her a reputation for holiness and wisdom, and she was called upon to make peace between warring nobles. Believing that peace in Italy could be achieved only if the Pope, then living in France, returned to Rome, Catherine boldly traveled to Avignon to meet with Pope Gregory XI. With sensitivity to the zealous love of God and man that permeated the life of Saint Catherine, Undset presents a most moving and memorable portrait of one of the greatest women of all time.