Saturday, June 16, 2007

Orwell, Undset and Goodbye

The two Saturday morning sessions at the American Chesterton Society conference were the kind of comparative studies that are typical here. However, the first presentation (Luke Seaber's) involved actual literary criticism (examining the influence of Chesterton on two of George Orwell's novels) while the second (done by Norwegian bibliographer Geir Hasnes) was more of a biographical sketch, instructing the still-sizable-for-a Saturday-morning crowd on the intriguing life and work of Sigrid Undset. Both were impressive.

I'll admit that I was somewhat skeptical during the introduction to the first talk, thinking that this might be another of the type that sees Chesterton's influence behind every bush. However, Seaber did not overreach; he did not distort the evidence; he openly allowed for coincidence and unrelated similarity. Plus, his research was thorough and his conclusions limited, making his case for Chesterton's strong influence on Orwell pretty persuasive. And, particularly important for these kinds of talks, he not only made the listener want to read more of George Orwell (we'll assume the motivation to read GKC is already present) but he provided insights that will make reading him easier.

The second presentation was another charming talk from Mr. Hasnes, complete with humor, spirit, and power point visuals. His subject was Sigrid Undset and he gave a detailed overview of her fascinating career from her earliest school writings, through her turbulent searching for happiness and fulfillment, to her initial interests in Christianity (especially in the works of R.H. Benson, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, and the lives of the saints), to her popular Kristin Lavransdatter and Olav Audunss√łn novels, to her later life and writing as a Dominican nun. It was quite a trip and, like Mr. Seaber before him, Geir's enthusiasm and his helpful instruction will undoubtedly create interest by many in the audience to further explore his subject.

Good talks and I know there's more to come but we've got to book. After all, there's ministries to return to, church to prepare for, a rental van to get back, even a lawn to water...so we will be taking off for Omaha right after lunch. We're particularly disappointed we won't be able to hear from Stephen Safranek, a fellow with Omaha roots, but we will be doing what I've been suggesting throughout these updates to those of you unable to attend, namely...ordering the tape!