Date Published: September 27, 2005 (Originally published in the 1920s)
Number of Pages: 1168
Print Price: $16.50
eBook Price: $18.99
Kristin Lavransdatter, written by Sigrid Undset who won the 1928 Nobel Prize in Literature for her work, is a masterpiece of ingenious story-telling. The three book trilogy; The Wreath, The Wife and The Cross, centers around a young girl growing up in medieval Norway who, though she has a very pious and loving family, makes choices which lead her down a path of sin, struggle, and repentance.
This novel is a work of art which reflects the whole human endeavor to know oneself better and to come to terms with Almighty God. In particular, it is one woman’s search for the true understanding of love, an understanding she comes to at first through other people, but which eventually she sees only perfected in God. It is also a work that challenges the reader on several levels.
One has to ask, how serious were Kristin's sins and did she ever learn from her mistakes? It is clear that she is a changed woman from beginning to end though the same cannot be said about her chosen husband Erlend. He is rather a tireless example of a man who never grows up. Her seven sons also reflect the tumultuous journey from childhood to adulthood in a changing world where political and social upheavals can sometimes force family members to choose sides - and not always the same side.
Of the many and varied characters that Sigrid introduces, none is so endearing as that of Kristin’s first betrothed, Simon Andresson. He is one of the most heroic and faithful men in the story, in direct contrast to Kristin’s lover and and then husband, Erlend. Yet, he is not the man most young woman would envision for hero or lover. All in all, Kristin Lavransdatter leads the reader through a labyrinth of emotional mile markers where Kristin grows up, grows deeper in her faith, and gains a hard won wisdom and strength which we cannot help but admire. But even as we admire her strength of character, her fortitude, and her depth of love we have to ask ourselves – couldn’t she have found a better way to live? Was love, in fact, her greatest weakness--her passionate blindness which put her personal feelings above reason and God?
The Wreath begins with Kristin growing up in the protected love of her two parents, Lavrans and Ragnfrid, who have suffered the loss of other children and who have a secret which Kristin is as of yet completely unaware. In some manner it seems that even Lavrans and Ragnfrid are themselves unaware of their own secrets though throughout the story there are perpetual revelations - mostly of the bitter variety. But it is in these very revelations that we learn the secret to the characters' endurance and joy. They have been forced to come to terms with their imperfection and the imperfection of those around them, even the limitations of their own hopes and dreams.
In that acceptance, Kristin's parents, too, turn towards a greater and more perfect good – their faith in God and His Holy Church. They find the strength to overcome the past and forge a happy life together. In a very real sense it is their understanding of what is honorable and right that guides their everyday steps. In her child-like understanding of her parents, Kristin has no realization of the depths her parents’ woundedness and the healing which has brought them to where they are. Contrary to their own selfless nature, she sees only what pleases her most. She is not a mean selfish child, so as much as an insensitive selfish child. When she grows up enough to understand what her father and mother have done for her, she realizes her own treachery to such a degree she can hardly bear her guilt.
Kristin is betrothed to Simon Andresson, a good man she meets, through her father’s good intention and insightful judgment, and at first this meets with Kristin’s approval, but after a couple of dangerous encounters with men which leave her disgusted and bewildered she asks to go to a convent for a year so as to prepare herself for her future. We sense that Kristin is not being honest with herself or her parents; but everyone agrees to the idea and Kristin moves away to live in the comfort and security of a convent where she will be guided and taught the piety which she must rely on as a future strength when she becomes a wife.
It is during this time when everyone thinks she is most safe that Kristin again encounters danger from men. It is here that she meets her future lover, Erlend; the man she will forsake everything for – even the joy of her parents.
Kristin goes on a spine-tingling adventure where she meets with Erlend, becomes his lover, debases herself in extraordinary ways and finds that she does not care about anyone except him and, as it turns out, her own will. She finds that she must trample on her parents’ hearts to accomplish her chosen ends. Kristin is released from her prior betrothal through the decency of Simon who is clearly a good man - and the better man than Erlend. She eventually is reconciled to her family also and allowed to marry her lover.
Everyone eventually discovers - and frankly no one could deny the fact – that Kristin is already carrying Erlend’s child under her heart, and though Erlend is dismayed, he is not surprised. After all we happen to know that Erlend has other children by another woman whom he never marries. That woman dies in a violent fit of despair with Erlend and Kristin’s encouragement. In fact, they share no small amount of guilt in her violent death.
After his marriage to Kristin and the birth of several sons, Erlend is involved in political matters which lead him into serious trouble where he is tortured and nearly killed. Once again Simon comes to the rescue and finds a way to assist Erlend by enlisting the aid of the one man who is able to talk the king out of searching for those involved in the treachery which would have threatened his hold on the throne. We know that Erlend is committed, in a rather meek and mild manner, to accept his death but Simon, who loves Kristin beyond all count, cannot let her suffer the fate of losing the man she loves despite the fact that Erlend has also done him the gravest injustice.
Simon dies loving Kristin to the end, always serving her to the best of his ability. We sense that Simon has grown-up and is in fact being released from this world of torment to a better place. Kristin continues on her farm, working and raising her sons. Erlend runs to the hills because he cannot stand being an outcast unappreciated for his former glory. Kristin struggles mightily with her just anger toward Erlend, but out of love for her sons and to fulfill Simon’s last request she goes and attempts to reconcile with her husband. As usual, Erlend loves reconciliation but he enjoys contentment more and, though Kristin conceives another child, he does not see the need to descend from his place of refuge to help her or his sons. The new baby dies and rumors abound that Kristin had committed adultery. Erlend finally is driven from his retreat and in a confrontation concerning Kristin, Erlend overreacts and ends up mortally wounded.
The rest of Kristin’s life is spent in the sufferings of a mother wanting to guide and protect her sons but finding that she can do neither. They have journeys of their own to take. Kristin enters a convent and her final days are a continued revelation of herself to herself. When there is nothing else and all hope, except in God, is gone, she finds that He is with her even yet, faithful as Simon and passionate as Erlend.
It is this love, the best parts of which she learns from the two men in her life but only finds whole and complete in God, that she serves faithfully, even heroically, at the end.
Original Language: Norwegian
Book Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 2 inches
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