ursusanglicanus (ursusanglicanus) wrote,


Christin and Erlend in Liv Ullman's 1995 film version
I finished last week, in a mammoth three-hour reading session, the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy of historical novels by Norwegian laureate Sigrid Undset. Set in 14th century Norway, it traces the story of a fictitious Norwegian woman, from her early childhood in a well-respected farming family, through her passionate romance and subsequent marriage, to her father’s chagrin, with Erlend Nikulaussøn a nobleman of difficult character who has blotted his copybook in his early years, her life with him and her seven growing sons through to her death in the Great Plague of 1349.

The description of the plot in Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kristin_Lavransdatter) makes them sound like pretty nasty characters. But even so, I found the book enormously attractive, perhaps as much in the supporting characters as in the central ones. One senses Undset to be remarkably accurate in portraying the mindset of medieval society, the interplay of formal and informal morality, of law and custom, of religion and superstition, and at its best, a redeeming humanity and goodness. The book moves quickly, especially if you skip some of the nature descriptions, with memorable scenes which you replay in your mind. The ‘feel’ of the book in not unsimilar to Ken Follett’s ‘Pillars of the Earth’, but, for me, richer and more powerful. It comes as no surprise to learn that Undset was received into the Catholic Church (in a staunchly Protestant country), shortly after completing the trilogy. Simply it is a book that I feel better for having read.

I read the first two volumes in the Archer and Scott translation done in the 1920s and the third in the new Penguin Classics translation by Tina Nunnally released in 2005. I definitely prefer the latter, with Archer-Scott’s scattered archaicism which cloud Undset’s clear (so I am told) prose. The first translators also omitted or edited some sexually explicit passages which could have given trouble in their day – an area in which Undset was remarkably forward for her day.

And yes, thankyou for Bishop Seraphim for introducing me to the book.
Tags: literature


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