Date of Award

Spring 6-6-2018

Document Type

Honors Project

University Scholars Director

Dr. Christine Chaney

First Advisor/Committee Member

Dr. Christine Chaney

Second Advisor/Committee Member

Dr. Jonathan Thorpe


modernism, sacred, sacrament, Undset, Norway, Catholic


Though literary modernism has been historically characterized as atheistic and anti-traditional, new critical voices are emerging that argue for the presence of the sacred in modernist texts. This paper joins those voices by proposing, along with the reexamination of the sacred in nonreligious writers like Woolf and Joyce, a reexamination of specifically religious work and on its own terms. The modern Catholic novel, in particular, with its focus on the eternal significance of humanity, deserves this attention. The paper offers Sigrid Undset’s 1920, Nobel Prize wining, Catholic trilogy, Kristin Lavransdatter, as a significant (and unjustly overlooked) text of the period, ripe for reevaluation. Nearly all critics who discuss Kristin Lavransdatter pose a dichotomous reading of the text, in which the protagonist Kristin overcomes her flesh and her earthly desires in order to move toward eternity and God. The trajectory of the narrative, they argue, discards all things physical in favor of the spiritual. This paper refutes those dichotomies, presenting a new close reading of the body, paganism, and the natural world in the text of Kristin Lavransdatter to suggest that Kristin’s life is not a dichotomy between flesh and spirit, but rather, inherently sacramental, as she moves to a deeper understanding of Christ’s Incarnation and Cross. Finally, the paper proposes the term sacramental realism to define Sigrid Undset’s contribution to modernism.


A project submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the University Scholars Program