Four Stories (from Norway)

Sigrid Undset
Four Stories by Sigrid Undset

Long, long ago I read Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter books and liked them fine, and I wanted to try something else she'd written, so I picked up this volume of four short stories.   The cover was not very promising as it said "Four touching, evocative, compassionate stories of 'little people' in modern Norway."  By modern they mean in the 20th century; the stories have no specific chronological settings, but they seem to me to be set before 1930, with at least one before World War I.   The book was published in 1959.

"Selma Brøter" is about a single lady office worker -- a spinster -- who observes and becomes involved in her younger co-workers' romance.

"Simonsen" is about an aging workman whose son finds him embarrassing.

"Thjodolf" concerns a sailor's wife whose only baby died at birth.  She fosters a little boy and becomes deeply attached to him, but then his mother appears again, and that sets off a whole chain of events.

"Miss Smith-Tellefsen" is the housekeeper to a motherless family in the isolated countryside.  She is fussy and the older children rather despise her.

They're realistic stories, and they're all tragic in their realism and their description of circumscribed, difficult lives.  They are well-crafted and beautifully written, but cheerful they are not.  I think I would have liked more...something.  Or less tragedy.

The 'other publications' page lists a book titled True and Untrue and Other Norse Tales, for younger readers.  That sounds intriguing!  I'd like to read that.

Fun fact though: Undset was born in Kalundborg, in Denmark.  That's just across the belt, as the crow flies, from where I lived on Fyn, but I've never been there.  It's just that the name 'Kalundborg' invariably sets off a song in my head.  When I got to Denmark, my host sister had just bought the new album by the band TV-2 and she played it every day for a month solid.  I know those songs very very well, and one of them is about...well, it's about the Kalundborg ferry:

I quite like TV-2, but this is a weird song.  I like it anyway, but probably my favorite off that album is Nærmest Lykkelig -- 'almost happy.'  TV-2 is not a very cheery band.


  1. You must've learned what "ee poopoo le" means quickly.

  2. Ahahaha, I did. It means 'a popular,' and boy he sings it a lot. Here you go, the lyrics and my translation:

    Kalundborgbådens agterdæk
    forefindes morskabsautomater
    et populært
    et populært
    et populært

    The Kalundborg ferry's aft deck has entertainment machines -- a popular pasttime

    My question is always what sort of 'entertainment machines' they meant. Arcade games? Would have been a big deal back then. Or maybe older carnival games? Slot machines? Who knows? And why did they write a song that consisted of pretty much one sentence?

  3. In English that sentence sounds like something you would hear on a local news report. "The ferry now has entertainment machines! That's a popular pastime! Back to you Greg." Maybe they just thought it was funny?

  4. I bet they did think it was funny to have a tormented, serious song about games on a ferry!


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