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Marta Oulie

A Novel of Betrayal

2014
Author:

Sigrid Undset

Marta Oulie

The first English translation of the Nobel Prize–winning author’s scandalous debut novel

Marta Oulie, written in diary form, intimately documents the inner life of a young woman disappointed by the conventions of marriage and longing for passion. Set in early twentieth century Kristiania (now Oslo), this is an incomparable psychological portrait of a woman whose destiny is defined by the changing mores of her day—as she descends into an ever-darker reckoning.

Like those two other great European novels of adultery, Lady Chatterley's Lover and Anna Karenina, Marta Oulie traces the interior life of a woman from the beautiful and expansive rush of her first love, to her swelling dissatisfaction with her ‘doll's house’ existence constrained by turn-of-the-nineteenth-century values, her growing distance from her adoring husband, her unconsidered entry into an affair, and finally to her ultimate disillusion, self-recrimination, and despair. Thanks to Tiina Nunnally’s nuanced translation, we can experience this strangely compelling novel in all the precise observations of Undset’s original Norwegian text.

Susan Vreeland, author of Clara and Mr. Tiffany and Luncheon of the Boating Party

“I have been unfaithful to my husband.” Marta Oulie’s opening line scandalized Norwegian readers in 1907. And yet, Sigrid Undset had a gift for depicting modern women “sympathetically but with merciless truthfulness,” as the Swedish Academy noted in awarding her the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928. At the time she was one of the youngest recipients and only the third woman so honored. It was Undset’s honest story of a young woman’s love life—“the immoral kind,” as she herself bluntly put it—that made her first novel an instant sensation in Norway.

Marta Oulie, written in the form of a diary, intimately documents the inner life of a young woman disappointed and constrained by the conventions of marriage as she longs for an all-consuming passion. Set in Kristiania (now Oslo) at the beginning of the twentieth century, Undset’s book is an incomparable psychological portrait of a woman whose destiny is defined by the changing mores of her day—as she descends, inevitably, into an ever-darker reckoning. Remarkably, though Undset’s other works have attracted generations of readers, Marta Oulie has never before appeared in English translation. Tiina Nunnally, whose award-winning translation of Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter captured the author’s beautifully clear style, conveys the voice of Marta Oulie with all the stark poignancy of the original Norwegian.

Marta Oulie

Sigrid Undset (1882–1949) is considered one of Norway’s greatest writers. She is best known for the epic medieval trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter, published between 1920 and 1922, and the four-volume work Olav Audunssøn (translated in 1928 as The Master of Hestviken), published between 1925 and 1927.

Tiina Nunnally is the translator of more than fifty works of fiction, including Kristin Lavransdatter and Jenny by Sigrid Undset, The Royal Physician’s Visit by Per Olov Enquist, and The Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstøl (Minnesota, 2013).

Jane Smiley is the author of several books, including A Thousand Acres, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

Marta Oulie

Like those two other great European novels of adultery, Lady Chatterley's Lover and Anna Karenina, Marta Oulie traces the interior life of a woman from the beautiful and expansive rush of her first love, to her swelling dissatisfaction with her ‘doll's house’ existence constrained by turn-of-the-nineteenth-century values, her growing distance from her adoring husband, her unconsidered entry into an affair, and finally to her ultimate disillusion, self-recrimination, and despair. Thanks to Tiina Nunnally’s nuanced translation, we can experience this strangely compelling novel in all the precise observations of Undset’s original Norwegian text.

Susan Vreeland, author of Clara and Mr. Tiffany and Luncheon of the Boating Party

A vote of gratitude is due to the University of Minnesota Press for bringing us, for the first time in English, this impeccably translated edition of Undset's early and remarkable novella.

John Banville

Most of Undset’s later novels—including the medieval epic “Kristin Lavransdatter,” which earned her the Nobel Prize—took their cue from this blunt début, dealing in various ways with the social and familial constraints of women.

The New Yorker

It’s unsurprising that Undset won a Nobel Prize for Literature, and I’m shocked that it took this long to become more widely known in the United States. I’d compare it to Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, or even The Scarlet Letter in its intensity.

Off the Book

Undset’s writing is vivid, engaging, and fast moving. Never before published in English, this translation by Tiina Nunnally is clear, stark and gripping.

The Chronicle-Journal

Marta Oulie

Contents

Introduction
Jane Smiley

Marta Oulie
Part I
Part II
Part III