Wednesday 18 March 2020

Undset, Sigrid "Kristin Lavransdatter"

Undset, Sigrid "Kristin Lavransdatter" (Norwegian: Kristin Lavransdatter) - 1920-22

I read this book over several months. Not because it was so boring or anything, it just was quite long and I always read a couple of books (at least five) at the same time.

I wasn't sure at first whether I should treat it as three books. After all, that's how it was written and published first.

The Bridal Wreath (Kransen) - 1920
The Mistress of Husaby (aka: The Wife/Husfrue) - 1921
The Cross (Korset) - 1922

But then I couldn't put it down after having finished the first one and was glad I had a copy with all three editions:

The Bridal Wreath is about the young woman Kristin, daughter of rich landowner Lavrans. As was custom at the time of the 13th/14th century, she was promised to one guy but fell in love with another one.

It was interesting to see how she and her beloved tried to achieve their goal to get together and what the rest of society has to say to that. It was also interesting to see how they lived at the time, what their customs were and what has stayed from that until today and what has not.

The Mistress of Husaby (aka: The Wife) tells us about Kristin's life as a wife and mother, her trials and tribulations with the family, her husband's ways and politics. It was a hard life for a woman, she had many tasks and was watched all the time, she could make so many mistakes that would bring her shame. Mind you, if I think about it, not so much has changed since then.

The Cross tells us about Kristin's final years. Her children grow up, and she has to make a decision what she wants to do without a real task in the house.

So, we learn about the whole life of a woman back then, from childhood to old age. And it's amazing how much it still resounds today, how we can still follow her steps and say, okay, some things have changed but in general, there is a lot that we still go through, even though we should know better in the meantime.

Brilliant, well written, well thought of, I highly recommend this book to you, unless you are afraid of reading books over a thousand pages.

I would definitely call this an epic tale.

From the back cover:

"In her great historical epic Kristin Lavransdatter, set in fourteenth-century Norway, Nobel laureate Sigrid Undset tells the life story of one passionate and headstrong woman. Painting a richly detailed backdrop, Undset immerses readers in the day-to-day life, social conventions, and political and religious undercurrents of the period. Now in one volume, Tiina Nunnally's award-winning definitive translation brings this remarkable work to life with clarity and lyrical beauty. 

As a young girl, Kristin is deeply devoted to her father, a kind and courageous man. But when as a student in a convent school she meets the charming and impetuous Erlend Nikulaussøn, she defies her parents in pursuit of her own desires. Her saga continues through her marriage to Erlend, their tumultuous life together raising seven sons as Erlend seeks to strengthen his political influence, and finally their estrangement as the world around them tumbles into uncertainty. 

With its captivating heroine and emotional potency, Kristin Lavransdatter is the masterwork of Norway's most beloved author, one of the twentieth century's most prodigious and engaged literary minds and, in Nunnally's exquisite translation, a story that continues to enthrall."

Sigrid Undset received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928 "principally for her powerful descriptions of Northern life during the Middle Ages".

I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.


  1. I read The Bridal Wreath with a reading group. I loved the look at life for a woman in those times and seeing how the main character got up to so much despite the restraints on her. Someday I will finish the trilogy.

    1. The rest is also quite interesting. It's amazing to see how many obstacles those women used to have. Today, the life or Kristin Lavransdatter would be very different and many of the challenges wouldn't even be there.