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I Want This On My Tombstone

However, I did try.
 --St. Katherine Drexel

I've taken it out of context--the sentence doesn't actually end there. And I'm not 100% certain that it was St K.D. It was in one of the daily meditations in a fairly recent Magnificat, maybe in March. I'm pretty sure I wrote it down, with attribution, somewhere, and now I can't find it. But in any case it sure fits.


Whole Lotta Kristin Goin' On

I am for the time being a little obsessed with this novel. A few notes as I make my way through the second book, The Wife:

Here's an excellent commentary on the novel from David Warren, a Canadian Catholic writer whose name I've seen here and there in publications like Touchstone (I think). I came across it because I was looking for information on the two translations. He defends the old one, and says that Undset worked with the translators. I would certainly like to know more about that. I am not 100% opposed to the archaisms, but am not 100% sold on them, either.

Tina Nunnally says that there are some significant omissions from the original in the Archer translation. I've now encountered one of those, and can vouch for the fact that it's very significant indeed. It has to do with Kristin's repentance for the events of The Wreath, and while it does not change the fact of that repentance, which is clear enough in Archer, it adds a great deal of force and passion. Why was it omitted? I can't think of any good reason why a translator would have taken such a liberty. I know nothing about Archer but it seems unlikely in the extreme that even a militant atheist would have done so, especially as the book is drenched in Christian doctrine and sensibility throughout. So presumably it was an aesthetic choice, and if so was it Archer's or Undset's? She must have approved it, at least, if Warren is right about her participation. Perhaps she thought she had laid it on a bit thick? That's possible, as it's not just a paragraph--it's a couple of pages. But if so I disagree. I found the passage very moving and would put a plus in Nunnally's column for it if I were tallying the merits of the two translations.

*

I suspect that Nunnally does not have a good feel for the Christian aspect of the novel. In keeping with my general practice of not reading introductions to novels until after the novel itself, I skipped Nunnally's introduction to The Wreath. I've now read it. She says that although Kristin is "well versed in the strictures of the Church...[s]he listens to her heart rather than to those around her." That's a very inadequate description of the moral, never mind spiritual, dimension of the novel.  (Also, I roll my eyes whenever anyone talks about following one's heart.) And:

Kristin's act of rebellion might be viewed as foolhardy or courageous...

How about wrong? And "strictures" suggests the usual modern misunderstanding of Christianity and especially of Catholicism: that it's all about rules invented and imposed by a (white male) power structure. Not that the Church hasn't made it easy for people to see it that way, but one would like a translator of Sigrid Undset's work to have a richer understanding of its spiritual world. In any case Kristin isn't merely "well versed in the strictures"--she is a believing Christian, which is another matter entirely. And then:

...but in either case she has to suffer the consequences of her actions. She must learn to take responsibility for her own fate.

Well, that's not false, but it's not very insightful, either. Only in the next paragraph does Nunnally mention sin, but even then there's an implication that the novel's conception of sin is a feature of its medieval culture rather than a conception of human life that is at the very least very much alive and relevant to our own time. 

*

But Nunnally's comments are profound when considered beside something I saw on a site where people comment on books--it wasn't Goodreads, but something like it, and I don't remember where now. 

Life was difficult for women in medieval Norway, but Kristin's would have been easier if she had made better choices.

The same could be said of Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth.

*

That fashionable "choices" and "decisions" terminology has bothered me for  a long time. It suggests a certain calm, reasonable process of evaluating possible courses of action and rationally picking one as promising the best "outcome," another word much favored today. I once heard it applied, laughably, to the "decision" of a group of drunken college girls to take a golf cart for a midnight spin which ended with the golf cart on its side and a few relatively minor injuries to the girls. I've seen it applied in contexts like this: "He was in prison because of decisions he made when he was young." And the final (pre-prison) one of those "decisions" was to rob a convenience store and shoot the clerk. Sure, it was a "decision" in some strict sense, but the language makes it sound like he calmly deliberated about the choice of armed robbery as a career. More likely it was not much better than an impulse, possibly one of a series of impulses likely to lead to bad "outcomes." At best it was an extremely inadequate risk analysis. We aren't operating rationally when we "decide" to act on an impulse, or, as Kristin did, on an overwhelming passion. Of course life involves a constant choice between right and wrong, but the tone of this kind of talk is often suggestive of just the opposite: that it's a merely utilitarian calculation of likely practical result.

*

Apparently there is a thriving tourism business in Norway built around Kristin Lavransdatter and other Undset works. I very much want to see those places, as Undset's descriptions make the landscape sound wondrous. At minimum, I would like to see a good many photographs of them. There should be an illustrated companion to Undset's medieval works, though I have not been able to find one. And for the human environment of the novel, there is an attempt at constructing Jørundgard, the estate of Kristin's family. It was built for the 1995 movie of The Wreath, directed by Liv Ullman. I saw it at the time and thought it was interesting in itself but not especially good as an adaptation of Undset. I'd like to see it again, if only for the visuals.


Psalm 104:1-4

Praise the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, thou art become exceeding glorious; thou art clothed with majesty and honour.
Thou deckest thyself with light as it were with a garment 
 and spreadest out the heavens like a curtain.
Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters
 and maketh the clouds his chariot, and walketh upon the wings of the wind.
He maketh his angels spirits
 and his ministers a flaming fire.

This is from one of the several psalms read at the Easter vigil, to which I'll be going in a few hours. A blessed and joyful Easter to all. 

Here endeth the posting of Coverdale psalms. 


Psalm 116:11-14

What reward shall I give unto the Lord 
 for all the benefits that he hath done unto me?
I will receive the cup of salvation
 and call upon the Name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows now in the presence of all His people;
 right dear in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
Behold, O Lord, how that I am thy servant;
 I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid; thou hast broken my bonds in sunder.


(Coverdale)

In more recent translations, "right dear" is "precious." I rather like "right dear."


Psalm 69:1-2,7-9

Save me, O God,
 for the waters are come in, even unto my soul.
I stick fast in the deep mire, where no ground is;
 I am come into deep waters, so that the floods run over me.

And why? for thy sake have I suffered reproof;
 shame hath covered my face.
I am become a stranger unto my brethren,
 even an alien unto my mother’s children.
For the zeal of thine house hath even eaten me
 and the rebukes of them that rebuked thee are fallen upon me.

(Coverdale)

The first two verses are not included in today's Mass reading. I just like them. This is one of the imprecatory psalms, full of curses for the psalmist's enemies, and God's. Verse 23 has some relevance for our society.

Let their table be made a snare to take themselves withal 
 and let the things that should have been for their wealth be unto them an occasion of falling.


Psalm 71:1-2

In thee, O Lord, have I put my trust, let me never be put to confusion,
 but rid me, and deliver me, in thy righteousness; incline thine ear unto me, and save me.
Be thou my strong hold, whereunto I may alway resort;
 thou hast promised to help me, for thou art my house of defence, and my castle.

(C0verdale)


Ronald Knox Again

I'm just finishing up A Retreat for Lay People, which I planned to read over Lent, and have actually followed through on that plan. There's a lot of really good stuff here, a lot of quotable stuff. The next-to-last chapter is about Mary Magdalene, and this seems a good note for what will most likely be my last post, apart from the psalms, until Easter Monday. 

...for her, the interior virtues. She is the heroine of contrition; and contrition does not, of itself, alter the external fact of our sins; it only alters our attitude towards them. She is the heroine of resignation, and resignation does not help us to do anything; it only helps us to suffer, with patience, those bad times which will come to us whether we are patient over them or no. She is the heroine of hope; and hope does not change the course of the world's history; it only enables us to look forward, in a dark hour, to God's promise that the course of history will yet be changed.

 


Psalm 27:1-2

The Lord is my light, and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?
 The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?
When the wicked, even mine enemies, and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh,
 they stumbled and fell.

(Coverdale)

 


Psalm 22:16-17

For many dogs are come about me,
 and the council of the wicked layeth siege against me.
They pierced my hands and my feet; I may tell all my bones;
 they stand staring and looking upon me.

(Coverdale)

The opening of this psalm is surely one of the most important for Christians. Usually it's not too far from what I grew up with in the King James:

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Though I don't recall hearing the words that follow:

why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?

"Roaring" sounds pretty odd to our ears, and presumably had different connotations at the time. I think I'd remember it if it had been widely quoted. 

New American:

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish?

But Coverdale adds something noticeably different:

My God, my God, look upon me; why hast thou forsaken me,
and art so far from my health, and from the words of my complaint?

I wonder what his warrant for "look upon me" was.