Jenny by Sigrid Undset

A young Norwegian woman pursues her painting in Rome, but when she gets swept up in a romance with a fellow countryman she finds her dreams derailed and her life shattered.

Jenny is a realist novel from the Pulitzer Prize winning author of the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, one of my all-time favorite reads. It’s a somber story that reminded me of Theodore Dreiser and EM Forster, delving into the psychology of Jenny, an artist in her late 20s living a bohemian life and not sure why she’s not dreaming of settling down. When she meets Helge Gram, another Norwegian prowling Rome, she allows herself to be captured against her better judgment, and what follows is an exploration of a woman caught between expectation and longing.

I found Jenny to be startlingly fresh. Jenny and her roommate Cesca could have been me and my friends back when I was young and single, even though they were subject to more social constrictions than we were. Further proof that Undset is one of the 20th century’s greatest authors.

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