Passionate andrnIncorruptiblernbyJ.O. TaternKristin: A Readingrnby Andrew LytlernColumbia: University of Missouri Press;rn112 pp., $17.95rnThis beautiful little book—one thatrndoes much credit to its publisher—rnappears as a blessing amid the clutterrnand noise and ugliness that characterizernthe publishing industry as well as literaryrndiscourse today. A pleasure to hold andrnto behold, this volume is also the vehiclernfor rendering words, thoughts, and valuesrnthat seem new because they are traditional,rnand indeed are new because ofrnthe controlled brilliance of their exposition.rnThis essay or monograph, in otherrnwords, is to be prized not only for whatrnit says but for what it docs not say.rnKristin must be approached throughrnits layers of context. First, it is a readingrnof the trilogy known collectively asrnKristin Lavransdatter (1920-22), thernmost famous work of Sigrid Undsetrn(1882-1949), the Danish-born Norwegianrnwho won the Nobel Prize for Literaturernin 1928. Kristin Lavransdatter isrnnot a book one hears much about today,rnbut it ought to be. It has sometimesrnbeen called the greatest of historicalrnnovels, and its author the greatestrnwriter of her sex. Epic in scope, realisticrnin detail, and spiritual in focus, Undset’srnvision of medieval Norway is brooding,rncomprehensive, and unsentimental.rnUndset’s spiritually attuned sensibilityrnled her to a conversion to RomanrnCatholicism in 1924 (a commitmentrnclearly anticipated in her great novel).rnAs a logical consequence of her Christianrnprinciples, the Nazis burned herrnbooks. Sigrid Undset, in her essays, rejectedrnhumanism, liberalism, materialism,rnscience, and psychology—and Irnmention these aspects of her life not onlyrnbecause Mr. Lytle does not addressrnthem directly, but because such ideasrnsuggest a connection with the propheticrnpower of Flannery O’Connor, who studiedrnthe writing of fiction with AndrewrnLytle. Kristin is a reading of Undset’srnnovel, and the values that are inferredrnare the medieval and Christian ones wernwould expect from the period, fromrnUndset—and from Lytle. It is also thernexpression of a particular personality,rnone sympathetic to Undset’s vision andrntechnique, as well as the product of arngreat American man of letters—perhapsrnour greatest living author—in his 90thrnyear.rnIn his incisive and illuminating forewordrnto Kristin, Professor Thomas Carlsonrnof the University of the South recountsrnhow Andrew Lytle, an inspiringrnteacher of history, reading, and writing,rnused Kristin Lavransdatter in the latern1970’s to replace War and Peace in hisrnclasses at Sewanee, and how he readrnfrom this essay in Savannah in Junern1991 as commissioned by St. John’srnChurch there as part of its sesquicentennialrncelebration. Kristin embodiesrnsome of the ideas and insights that LytlernLIBERAL ARTSrnSINUS ATTACKrnAtheist Allergy Sufferers (AAS) is an organization recently formed in response to arncommercial message on a tissue box. Outraged by the message, “Kleenex says GodrnBless You,” red-nosed unbelievers have asked the ACLU to join in their suit againstrnthe Kimberiy-Clark Company. Claiming the right to privacy extends to the sinuses,rnthe president of AAS declared that if the group loses the case, he will consider cuttingrnoff his nose to spite his face.rnuniquely imparted to his students andrnlater shared with other audiences andrnfriends. The work of a brilliant reader ofrnfiction—certainly one of the most penetratingrnand refreshing critics of greatrnfiction that America has produced—rnKristin belongs with Lytle’s The HerornWith the Private Parts (1966) and the expandedrnSoutherners and Europeansrn(1988), both mandatory gatherings ofrncompelling literary interpretations.rnBut if Kristin expresses the teacherrnand the critic, it shows the artist as well,rnfor it emerges from the imagination thatrnformed The Long Night (1936), At thernMoon’s Inn (I94I), and The Velvet Hornrn(1957), powerful novels of historical visionrnand Christian sensibility that have arncertain affinity with the finest works ofrnSigrid Undset. As Professor Carlsonrnpoints out, Andrew Lytle’s essay on EmmarnBovary, “In Defense of a Passionaternand Incorruptible Heart,” promptedrnAllen Tate to observe that Lytle wrotern”about Madame Bovary as if he had writtenrnFlaubert’s masterpiece.” The title ofrnthat essay was already taken when he laterrnaddressed the “inordinate passion” ofrnKristin Lavransdatter, but the sympathy,rnthe understanding, and the heightenedrnimaginative response were in no wayrnforestalled. Andrew Lytle writes aboutrnKristin Lavransdatter as though he hadrnwritten Undset’s masterpiece.rnFusing historical knowledge, theologicalrnperception, artistic insight, moralrnawareness, and sheer readerly intuition,rnhe gets under the book’s skin and wearsrnit as his own. The intensity of apprehensionrnsometimes transcends the distinctionrnbetween Undset’s fictional discoursernand Lytle’s own voice, bridgingrna logical gap by way of a thoroughgoingrnidentification with, and even a unifyingrnlove of, a text whose author is nowherernmentioned in this reading. Completernidentification can go no further, so thatrnUndset’s novel has already becomern”Kristin’s saga” in Lytle’s first two words.rnThis reading is of an overwhelming reality,rnnot of what someone or otherrnmerely inscribed or typed.rnSuch an approach can only be judgedrnby its results, one of which paradoxicallyrnis to emphasize the stature of Undset’srnachievement by pointing to its universalrnimport; for if Lytle reads as if hernhad written Undset’s magnum opus,rnUndset wrote as if she had comprehendedrnNorway, the Middle Ages, and humanrndestiny. Andrew Lytle’s “reading”rnnot only clarifies for us the meaning ofrn34/CHRONICLESrnrnrn