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Kristin Lavransdatter #1-3

Kristin Lavransdatter: The Bridal Wreath/The Mistress of Husaby/The Cross

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"The finest historical novel our 20th century has yet produced; indeed it dwarfs most of the fiction of any kind that Europe has produced in the last twenty years."

-- Contemporary Movements in European Literature, edited by William Rose and J. Isaacs

"As a novel it must be ranked with the greatest the world knows today." -- Montreal Star

"Sigrid Undset's trilogy embodies more of life, seen understandingly and seriously... than any novel since Dostoievsky's Brothers Karamazov. It is also very probably the noblest work of fiction ever to have been inspired by the Catholic art of life." -- Commonweal

"No other novelist, past or present, has bodied forth the medieval world with such richness and fullness of indisputable genius.... One of the finest minds in European literature."

-- New York Herald Tribune

"This trilogy is the first great story founded upon the normal events of a normal woman's existence. It is as great and as rich, as simple and as profound, as such a story should be."

-- Ruth Suckow in the Des Moines Register

1069 pages, cloth

First published January 1, 1920

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About the author

Sigrid Undset

282 books654 followers
Undset was born in Kalundborg, Denmark, but her family moved to Norway when she was two years old. In 1924, she converted to Catholicism and became a lay Dominican. She fled Norway in 1940 because of her opposition to Nazi Germany and the German occupation, but returned after the end of World War II in 1945.

Sigrid Undset received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928. Most of the praise was for her medieval novels, including the trilogy about Kristin Lavransdatter. This trilogy has been translated into more than 80 languages and is among the world’s most read novels.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,497 reviews
Profile Image for Milo.
40 reviews116 followers
March 9, 2012

Well, well, well, Miss Undset has made it onto my 10-star list. She should be proud. She also won a Nobel Prize for her work, so there is that. Her Kristin Lavransdatter books are unquestionably works of massive scope on par with JRR Tolkien's Lord Of the Rings. A strange comparison, you say? Well I agree with you. The only thing that comes to mind immediately is the length of the two. But there is so much more. Where LOTR was preparation for battle with Sauron's forces, Kristin Lavransdatter was an intimate look into a Norwegian community. It's the attention to detail that struck me as similar. Tolkien and Undset both took such great care to imbue their work with eternal life. They captured that elusive something that can't be described, or rather could be described in many different ways. Undset obviously did massive research into 14th Century Norwegian customs before she put pen to paper. The community is not, like in so many other books, a static thing that serves as a canvas for the main character to travel across without resistance. In this sense the book displays Newtons Third Law. Each action Kristin makes is met with an equal and opposite reaction from her community. Such is reality. Sadly...

The great wisdom this book imparted on me is what made it unforgettable. It's so layered that it portrays almost all aspects of a woman's life during the 14th century.(I specify the era because many things have changed since then but I wish to stress that I noticed that the similarities between the times are more prominent than the differences) Talk about a woman's perspective! Every budding teenage boy wanting to understand the complexities of a woman's mind should read this. Never before did I realize how different men and women really are.

And the layers! How layered life actually is. Everything is like a circle within a circle within a circle with the inner most circle eventually becoming our intimate other. The second and third book are like a survival guide for the married couple. Erlend and Kristin are not always perfectly faithful - there are minor(well, you could call them major) mishaps between the two - but they never truly stop loving each other. They never stop caring for each other and their children, like most normal parents do. Now I can appreciate how remarkable my mom and pops really are, how truly magnificent women can be, and what it means to bring a life into this world. In fact, there is nothing that I didn't not not like about this book(double negatives included). There is magic, most who know me will attest to my love of all things magical. The prose are humble yet beautiful in there delivery. All in all the book was masterful. It taught me to appreciate life, not just my life but also the lives that are close to mine, more. And to quote Kurt Vonnegut 'If that isn't nice, I don't know what is.'
Profile Image for Lisa.
977 reviews3,327 followers
February 2, 2018
"All my days I have longed equally to travel the right road and to take my own errant path."

I am not a great fan of historical fiction, especially not if the main characters are deeply religious to the point of sacrificing themselves and their happiness in order to be forgiven for their sins (their moments of passion and life, that is!).

So I was not expecting to like Kristin Lavransdotter at all when I started reading the hardback copy I bought for some coins in a secondhand store. I wanted to read it because it is part of the Scandinavian cultural heritage, because it is written by the Nobel Laureate and outstanding storyteller Sigrid Undset, because it is good to move outside your comfort zone sometimes ...

What I didn't expect was the sympathy I all of a sudden developed for the characters. They acted according to beliefs I found ridiculous, and yet their human thoughts and feelings were so clear, so typical, so universal that I couldn't shake them off. They moved in fictional Middle Ages, and yet, modern Scandinavian behaviours and customs shone through each event, and the strange and exotic experience of the harsh geography and climate affected the Medieval cast in the same way it affects busy city dwellers of today.

Kristin herself, stuck between the wish to do the right thing by her father and her faith and to experience true passion, could be living in any place and any time. She is a symbol for a timeless female dilemma, and her choices mirror countless women's lives.

Unable to resist the strong, powerful charisma of a "bad guy", Erlend, she experiences both the bliss of passion and the drudgery of life shared with an irresponsible, happy-go-lucky man - instead of stable, yet boring companionship with a man of her father's choice.

Driven by her fear of her god and her belief that she has to atone for the sin of unlawful love, she eventually ends her life as a nun, dying while trying to help other people during the plague, a kind of late punishment for allowing herself a moment of freedom of choice beyond the limits of conventions.

What makes Kristin interesting to me is her strong will, her power to fight for what she thinks worth fighting for, her willingness to face the disappointments in life and to accept the consequences of her own decisions. Within the framework of a Medieval melodrama, Sigrid Undset manages to create the portrait of a strong woman ready to cope both with her own shortcomings and with those of the men in her care.

Even though Erlend is weak, there are valid reasons why Kristin felt attracted to him, and she acknowledges that facet in herself and dares to act on her feelings. I like that!

Recommended -despite myself!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Dolors.
527 reviews2,211 followers
March 19, 2016
A historical epic divided in three installments – The Wreath, The Wife and The Cross – that unfolds the life of Kristin Lavrandsatter, a woman of noble ancestry in Medieval Norway, from birth to death. Undset paints a faithful portrayal of an era marked by turbulent dynastic wars and the latent paganism ingrained in the Christian values of a very rigid society, representative of its time. The three novels probe deep into the human, moral and religious conflicts that befall on the protagonist and her family, keeping the narrative pulse alive along its more than a thousand pages.

Undset’s prose is technically irreproachable: a traditional structure, archetypal of the 19thC realistic tradition, with an omniscient third-person narrator that uses relatively short chapters following a linear timeline. The narration focuses on the central heroine of the saga, around which orbits a constellation of secondary characters that presents a full display of the myriad tonalities of human nature depicted from the perspective of the classical struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, punishment and exoneration.
Ambition and the unquenchable thirst for power; the eternal dichotomy of aspiring purity and the repressed carnal desire or the growing sense of estrangement between parents and children saturates the plotline with an unshakable, almost suffocating, sense of guilt, which is the main reason for my lack of enthusiasm for this epic tome.

The resigned attitude showed by Kristin whenever she is delivered a tragic blow brings digressive inner monologues that circle around God-fearing arguments that, in my opinion, taint the luscious descriptions of the Scandinavian landscape and its powerful symbolism. That feature alone prevented me from fully enjoying the indisputable quality of Undset’s descriptive skills. Also, the subtly censorious arguments against natural impulses such as sexual drive and healthy resolution seemed so old-fashioned and anchored in the past that it was incredibly difficult for me to empathize with the characters’ plights, even if such thoughts were according to the era.
In the end, I got the feeling that Undset was somehow impugning the prevailing naturalistic doctrines in the 19thC that vouched for a positive socio-cultural determinism. Her continuous defense of pious sanctity and repentance as means to accept God’s will in a magnanimous, almost sermonizing undertone, endorses the idea of the original sin and prosecutes mankind, leaving no space for historical progress.

Those who dominate the medieval hermeneutics and the biblical allegory will find countless references in Undset’s art and literature. Life, like the river that inexorably advances and drags away the dust of faceless generations, looms larger when it reaches the end.
Even the floral wreaths worn by virginal Norwegian maidens wither with the erosion of lifetimes spent in obsessive repentance; and a thorny cross is all that is left of their testimony.

To blossom in the face of Death, like Undset’s characters do, requires blind faith and that is something an incredulous dilettante like myself can’t indulge in; and so to all those daredevils who think like I do, I toast to life, while it lasts, and to its paradoxical absurdities, which I embrace without pretensions, hoping to reach the end of this bumpy journey with a full heart rather than fearful hope.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,307 reviews754 followers
December 17, 2015
But she couldn’t help it; it was her nature to love with great toil and care.
When I read, I seek the marrow of things. Details and description of lands I shall never see and times I shall never know are all very well, but I am a human being, and it is human beings I am concerned with. It is easier for me with some books than others due to commonalities of sex and race and culture, but more often than not that is a surface tension appeal, a reliance on shared references that both author and I indulge in. What matters is when the author dives deep into both thought and feeling, wrestling in such a knowledgeable yet empathetic way that it matters not that they were born in the 19th century and I was not, that they were religious and I am not, that they were holistically passionate about Norway in the Middle Ages and I am not. The fact that we share a gender helps, but considering how this work won the author a Nobel Prize for Literature and how beloved it is today, I'd say it's more than that.
But the most extreme and oppressive fears seized her whenever she thought of Simon—the way he had picked her up and carried her off and spoken for her at home and acted as if she were his property. Her father and mother had yielded to him as if she already belonged more to him than to them.

God only knew she didn’t consider herself more than a simple woman; she would have preferred to avoid taking responsibility for anything but her own children and her household duties. And yet she had been forced to deal with so many things that seemed to her more appropriate concerns for a man to handle. But Erlend had thought it quite reasonable to let them rest on her shoulders. So it didn’t suit him to act so overbearing and to rebuff her when she wanted to know about things that he had undertaken on his own that would affect the welfare of them all.
The woman who takes a path different from what has been ordained is a popular topic in the classics, but it is a rare piece of literature that so thoroughly and humanely follows that "fallen" life to its end. Rare is the work that brings forth a woman who, while willing and able to follow the mores of the world she has been brought up in, does not accept the assumption that she will submit to them entirely. Sewing, yes, marriage, yes, but also the consideration of her self as a subject with her own aesthetics and moral grounds, her own lusts and commitment to others. Her faith is one which critically evaluates the differences between what she has been taught and how she has been treated, and were she a man she would have had a vaster field upon which to experiment, possess, take responsibility for what she has done and not for what has been done to her. However, she is a woman, and that is an epic all in itself.
“And yet you cannot proceed with a change in the law before it has been enacted without exerting excessive force against the people—and from ancient times the people have had difficulty in accepting excessive force from their kings.”

How in fiery Hell was a man to rule his wife if he couldn’t beat her because of her high birth and his own sense of honor.
The person who recommended this to me called it a Norwegian Middlemarch, and now that I have finished, I say it is a true statement for all intents and purposes. There are, however, some sizable differences, ones that I myself enjoyed but may not be as favorable to others. Where Middlemarch spreads across a web of plots comparable in length, this work is most concerned with its titular character, dipping masterfully into the heads of surrounding others when needed but only just, embellishing the sociopolitical concerns in a fully realized world of an intellectually restricted woman. Where Middlemarch dwells on several years of serious social turnovers, its sleepy Victorianisms are melodramatic hyperspeed in comparison to the Middle Ages of honor and pagans and the Black Plague. Where Middlemarch plucks and bends but more often than not turns towards the realistic happy ending, Kristin Lavransdatter triggers the fall, follows them down, and watches these human beings wrest their own measure of self-worth from a narrative that in any other work would have ended with the finality of death. Middlemarch has both depth and breadth, but it does not send its heroine through the ravages of death and time and all the social redemption they bring long after they would have done any good. It does not send its heroine into a gorgeous world of unjust human beings and wrestle it with her to the very end.
“Ah, young child, you probably think there's nothing else that entices in the world save sensual pleasure and wealth and power. I must tell you that these are small things that are found along the side of the road—but I, I have loved the roads themselves.”

Now she realized that her mother’s heart had been deeply etched with memories of her daughter, memories of her thoughts about the child from before she was born and from all the years the child could not remember, memories of fears and hopes and dreams that children would never know had been dreamed on their behalf, before it was their own turn to fear and hope and dream in secret.
There is a beauty from refusing to cut off a story at the "happily ever after" point, for none of us have the benefit of that. There is a beauty in forgoing the finality of a tragic death and setting the character forth to persist on their own terms, seeming flaws and shamefulness paling beside the very fact that they are still alive. While it is advisable that the reader seek out the latest translation of this and all its accompanying end notes, there is a story here that will ring true with any who have struggled with law and with other, even more so with those have wrestled in the dead of the night with their regretful past and unknown future. I will not claim that everyone will empathize with the lengthy bouts between one person and Christianity in the Middle Ages, but I can say with certainty that this is not a story that aims to convert. It is a story of a human being in a part of the world during a time of great religious focus, and never is the strength of any individual in the face of death and growth and transitioning faith taken for granted.
But the drifting blue shadows on the hillsides, the fair-weather clouds billowing up over the mountain ridges and melting into the blue summer sky, the glitter of the Laag's water beyond the trees, the white glint of sunlight on all the leaves—these things she noticed more as silent sounds, audible only to her inner ear, rather than as visible images. With her wimple pulled forward over her brow, Kristin sat and listened to the play of light and shadow across the valley.
It is a great work of humanity, this.
Now, whenever she took the old path home past the site of the smithy—and by now it was almost overgrown, with tufts of yellow bedstraw, bluebells, and sweet peas spilling over the borders of the lush meadow—it seemed almost as if she were looking at a picture of her own life:” the weather-beaten, soot-covered old hearth that would never again be lit by a fire. The ground was strewn with bits of coal, but thin, short, gleaming tendrils of grass were springing up all over the abandoned site. And in the cracks of the old hearth blossomed fireweed, which sows its seeds everywhere, with its exquisite, long red tassels.
Profile Image for Hesper.
391 reviews47 followers
August 25, 2011
This one should be subtitled, "decent people make scads of bad decisions and then agonize over them." Seriously. I am surprised to have liked it as much as I did, because there is no reason this massive book should work.

And yet, it does precisely because of all the reasons why it shouldn't: plot and pace sacrificed to character development, pages and pages of seemingly trivial detail and enough Catholicism to fill a smallish catechism. Taken individually, its separate parts sound like a grueling exercise in literary masochism, but combined, there is no clearer fictional portrait of medieval life.

It's not going to appeal to everyone, but until someone invents time travel, this one is your best route to 14th century Norway.

Not that I'd recommend going there.

Lice and the plague are a bitch, ya know?
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books782 followers
June 30, 2022

I first read this novel thirty-seven years ago. It means more to me than I can express. My physical copy, the 1929 edition translated by Charles Archer, has its own backstory (my photo of my book: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...). I didn’t doubt I’d still love the novel, but I also didn’t think I’d read it again. With the opportunity of a group read led by the indomitable, indefatigable Reem (thanks, Reem!), I decided to read the newer translation by Tiina Nunnally. I understand the allure of both translations and loved my experiences with both. And while the newer one is probably more “readable” and amenable in style, there's at least one important line I came across in which I preferred the earlier translation.

This time my sympathies may have ebbed and flowed over different “minor” characters than before, though I don’t really know. I only wish I remember how I'd felt about Kristin’s mother the first time, as she has become a favorite character. Both reads gave me the same overwhelming immersive experience. As I read the beginning of one crucial scene in the last volume, the memory of my first reading of it returned to me—viscerally—as if the courtyard and its occupants were right in front of my eyes: an eerie phenomenon.

I didn’t want this tome to end. I lingered over its final pages; I was left bereft—not by the ending, but because it ended.
35 reviews2 followers
January 20, 2009
I've seen Kristin Lavransdatter described as a book about a young woman who "defies her family and faith to follow the passions of her heart." Well, yes. But while today that might be seen as a virtue, it is decidedly not portrayed as such in Kristin Lavransdatter. This is not a feminist book. Despite how often Sigrid Undset wrote about "the immoral kind" of love, she was no proponent of the burgeoning emancipation movement. She is fairly unique among those who write about illicit love because she focuses less on the act than on the consequences of the act.

This is a book about sin and redemption. The consequences of Kristin choosing herself before God — a thing called sin — echo, and echo, and echo for the rest of her life, affecting not only Kristin herself but everyone she loves.

One might dismiss the effects of sin in the book as being simply the effects of guilt and the social burdens imposed by the time period depicted, and say that now that we have destroyed the concept of sin and of guilt we are better off. But the effects are not all internal to Kristin and cannot all be dismissed as a product of guilt. And what is wrong with guilt? Only in rare cases does one feel excessive or harmful guilt that one should not feel. In most cases, as in Kristin's case, guilt is simply the voice of one's conscience. To fail to heed it is to shut down an integral part of one's self.

Undset understood sin. She understood that it is a real thing, with real consequences. She understood its nature as choosing the self over God. And she understood that redemption comes, ultimately, from the cross, as evidenced by the aptly titled final portion of her book.

I am not at all surprised that Undset converted to Catholicism soon after writing Kristin Lavransdatter — I'm just astonished that she wasn't Catholic when she wrote it!
Profile Image for ladydusk.
447 reviews181 followers
March 5, 2022
Oh. How painful. But beautiful. But painful.

Externals and internals. Marriage. Children. Birth. Death. Stubbornness. Selfishness. Selflessness. Plenty and Want. Springtime, harvest; feast and famine.

And Jesus. Woven in and throughout.

Oh. I am undone. My heart is wrenched.
Profile Image for Ashley.
16 reviews6 followers
September 16, 2008
Brilliant and beautiful! I just finished Kristin Lavransdatter and it has easily earned a place in my favorite books ever. Sigrid Undset won the Nobel Prize in Literature for Kristin Lavransdatter while still in her prime and it was well earned. For those reading it for the first time, I strongly recommend the most recent translation by Tiina Nunnally. The original translation into english by Charles Archer, which I tried to read unsuccessfully several years ago, is filled with unauthentic arhaic language that is not true to Sigrid Undset's original Norwegian text which was written in clear and beautiful modern prose despite its medieval context. Nunnally's translation is natural and easy to read as well as authentic.

It is the historical epic of the passionate and headstrong Kristin Lavransdatter. The trilogy, now compiled into one massive volume (1124 pages) is well worth the time and the biceps gained from lugging it around. I read it over several weeks and truly savored every bit. The story is set in 14th century medieval Norway and follows Kristin from childhood to death, through her choice to defy her gentle and devoted father's wish that she marry the honorable and kind, but unglamorous Simon. Instead, while spending a year in a convent in Oslo, she falls for and marries an impulsive young knight, Erlend Nikulausson. Erlend is truly devoted in heart to Kristin, but is plagued by his own scandalous past and inability to act responsibly and Kristin has some hard consequences to deal with because of her willfulness. But, to quote Brad Leithauser in his introduction to the book, "her unshakable guilt in no way paralyzes her and she carries on with her life."

Undset's potent message is that even though we may experience pain and sorrow over our choices one cannot squander one's life in regret and bitterness, failing to recognize the blessings and happiness we have been given. Kristin struggles to maintain the balance between a repentant heart and self-loathing and torment. In the end she comes to realize in a beautiful way that her life has been full of wonderful blessings, including her life with Erlend. A passage close to the time of Kristin's death when she is looking at her wedding ring illustrates:

"She opened her eyes and looked at the ring lying in the dark palm of the smith. And her tears burst forth in torrents, for she felt as if she had never before fully understood what it signified. The life to which this ring had married her, over which she had complained and grumbled, raged and rebelled. And yet she had loved it so, rejoicing over it, with both the bad and the good, so that there was not a single day she would have given back to God without lament or a single sorrow she would have relinquished without regret."

Truly a book that has deepened my appreciation of life.
Profile Image for Rachel.
38 reviews80 followers
March 11, 2012
Seven reasons why I really, really want to love Kristin Lavransdatter

1) I have long-standing crushes on both Scandinavia and ye olden days, and this book is a free trip straight to the heart of 14th-century Norway. Undset's portrayal of the life of one woman, from childhood until death, is fascinatingly intertwined with the tensions between the Catholic present and pagan traditions in medieval Norway. And her writing so evocative. You can just smell the cook-fire smoke in the wooden rooms, see the vistas of Kristin’s home valley and feel that itchy, stanky homespun tickling the back of your neck.

2) The amount of research Undset put into this project must have been just massive, yet it is integrated seamlessly with the story. None of this, "And now Kristin, you must put on this bridal crown, the wearing of which has been popular among our people from approximately 900 AD, though some records indicate the tradition originated in Sweden," historical-fiction awkwardness for Undset, no siree bob.

3) Kristin is a strong, well-characterized female lead, which is rarer than one would hope and something to appreciate in the fiction world.

4) Undset bestowed convincing three-dimensionality upon the host of characters who parade in an out of her >1100 pages.

5) The book contains some of the most beautiful and powerful descriptions of motherhood and mother-love I have yet encountered in a work of fiction, including the real pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and sleep-sharing stuff that that doesn’t usually make the cut.

6) Not that I’m a total snob or anything, but…the Nobel Prize, for cripe’s sake!

7) And, to cap it all off, the narrative glue that holds all of this together is an epic love story.

I mean, sounds pretty amazing, right?? What kind of a lover of obsessively-researched historical fiction could fail to be enthralled by this one?

…but just can’t.

Well, as it turns out, the kind that I am, apparently.

So after mulling it over for a while, here’s my major problem with this book:

Stylistically, Undset intertwines a serious realism faithful to the pacing and events of life with the kind of jarring melodrama that would do the soaps proud. And for me, that combo just didn’t work. Even at 1124 pages, this book ain’t big enough for the both of them. And man, I wish the draaama was the one to go. The rest of the book deserves better.

Take Undset’s treatment of death, for instance. Many characters died abruptly with little apparent symbolic purpose in the story which, great. Make this a vividly textured saga with the narrative arc of real life. But then the death of another character was so out there that had Kristin’s amnesiac evil twin showed up instead, it would have felt refreshingly believable by comparison.

And it was similar with the central love story. On the realistic side, we have two passionate people who engage in repetitive loops of guilt, blame, recriminations, frustrations and misunderstandings and long periods of minimal emotional growth. Okay, fine. Painful, but could feel authentic. But then other times, the characters stubbornly adhered to paths that seemed completely at odds with their personalities and the moral world of the book as Undset herself created them, but conveniently led to maximum soap opera-y drama down the road. Which, I think, is why the entire Kristin/Erlend love thing left me cold from beginning to end. Stone cold. Like will-you-guys-shut-up-and-get-out-of-the-story-so-I-can-read-more-about-minor-characters-because-at-least-I-don’t-want-to-throttle-them cold.

Now, I don’t think that unrealistic drama has no place in literature. It totally does. Even Shakespeare did the twins thing. But if you are going to go that route, a spoonful of humor really helps the melodrama go down. Kristin Lavrandatter’s strengths are the vibrancy of its world and Undset’s tone of dignified seriousness. The soapiness just felt silly, and it distracted me from the solemn beauty of the book. Those medieval times: minimal medicine and maximal religious tensions. Plenty of exciting stuff could happen without a single stretch, I promise. The section I ended up liking best focused on the late life of Kristin’s early suitor, because it united the good stuff with emotions and events that felt convincingly human and epic without jumping the shark.

One more tiny issue: Undset’s occasional nonlinearity didn't add much for me. Something totally shocking and unexpected would happen, be dismissed in a couple of sentences, only to be explained after dozens, or even hundreds of pages of waiting. Minor quibble, though.

Overall, I am glad that I read it, but I wanted so badly to luurrrrve it. Oh well. Maybe I should give its evil twin a call…
Profile Image for Werner.
Author 3 books579 followers
June 19, 2015
In my recent review of Heather Day Gilbert's God's Daughter, I commented that her style in some ways reminds me of Undset's. Perhaps that's a function of the fact that both ladies' writing is shaped by a Christian world-view (Undset was an adult convert to Roman Catholicism), both focus their historical writing on medieval Scandinavian culture, both do a great job of getting inside their character's heads, and both created strong female protagonists. (Though Undset's other major work, which I read as an omnibus volume before this one, the quartet of novels collectively titled The Master of Hestviken, has a male protagonist.) Undset, however, set her work at a later time (the 13th or, in this case, 14th centuries) and covered her main characters' entire lives starting in childhood, which gives her work more of an epic scope. (Of course, in her case, we're also dealing with the body of work produced in a lifetime, not a single first novel.) She also concentrates on fictional rather than on actual historical figures (though the latter sometimes appear briefly here).

The three novels that form this trilogy are The Wreath (the title is also sometimes translated The Bridal Wreath), The Wife, and The Cross. The Goodreads description is reasonably accurate. Human relationships play a central role in this saga, especially the marriage relationship (and Kristen's marriage is often a stormy one, despite having married for love; she and Erlend are two strong-willed and sometimes ill-assorted people, with very real human imperfections), but also parent-child relations and other family and social relationships. But (although the Goodreads description ignores this fact), Undset is as concerned with her characters' relationship with God as with their human relationships; this gives the novels an added dimension of spiritual depth that was a definite plus for me. Kristin is a wonderfully realized, dynamic and proactive character (no docile doormat she!), who's easy to care about and like even when she's doing things you'd advise her against if you could. Medieval Norway comes to life here as vividly as if you'd journeyed there in a time machine, and the plotting held my interest from cover to cover. (The Cross ends in 1348-49 --no spoilers here, but readers familiar with European history will know what was going on at that time.)

Commenting on the prose style of a work you've read only in translation is a tricky business, especially since I don't remember if the translation I read was the Nunnally one cited above or not. I can say that I remember it as eminently readable, well adapted to the tone and subject matter, and with dialogue that sounded authentic but not overly archaic or stilted.

Sigrid Uundset won the Nobel Prize for Literature, at a time long before the Nobel Prize selection process had degenerated into an excercise in "political correctness." If you read her masterworks, I believe you'll understand why, and agree that her award was profoundly deserved!
Profile Image for  amapola.
282 reviews32 followers
February 4, 2019
"tutto fu bene, anche il mio male"

Il romanzo che fece guadagnare il Premio Nobel alla scrittrice norvegese Sigrid Undset è il racconto della vita di una donna ambientato in un Medioevo scandinavo realistico e affascinante con le sue luci ed ombre.
Kristin (la sua personalità, i suoi amori, il rapporto con il padre, con i figli, con la società del tempo) e il mondo umanissimo e variegato dei personaggi che la circondano (contadini, nobili, guerrieri, generosi o peccatori) sono resi con la forza del capolavoro: nulla è censurato, ma tutto viene approfondito ed esaltato in uno sguardo positivo sulla vita.
Letto e riletto: romanzone!
Profile Image for Timothy Hallinan.
Author 49 books419 followers
July 22, 2011
This is my favorite novel of the year. I read it about 30 years ago in the old translation and loved it, but the Tiina Nunnaly rendering is beautifully simple, without the creaking archaisms of the other, which was done in the 1930s, I think.

Reading this again reaffirmed my conviction that many modern historical novels are pap of the tenth magnitude, identifying the sympathetic characters for the drowsy reader by giving them value systems and attitudes that didn't evolve for centuries. The main male character is always sympathetic to the feminist perspective; you can also spot him by the fact that he's the one who's friends with the Moor. The heroine probably spends half her life in men's clothes, wandering the forest with a bow in her hand and looking for a man to outshoot. To read these things, you'd think the Forest of Arden was wall-to-wall with comely armed maidens, when in fact this kind of gender switch (especially dressing in men's clothes) was sufficiently rare that it was one of the pretexts for burning Saint Joan at the stake.

It's a crap technique, a shortcut that violates both history and good taste; dress a modern character in a jerkin and set him down among louts who have never flossed, and you've got a hero. Ken Follett comes, or rather, leaps to mind.

Sigrid Undset will have none of it. The three novels that make up Kristin Lavransdatter are set in the 14th century, and she gives us 14th-century people, both female and a dazzling array of male characters. Sigrid's epic traces a life that's charted by what people of Kristin's time regarded as a mortal sin, and virtually everything that happens in the 1200 or so pages has its roots in that. Kristin herself is a towering character, resilient, strong, even valiant, and also petty and clinging and fearful. If the men in her life were any more dissimilar they'd be members of different species; everyone oohs and aahs when a man writes good female characters, but in Kristin Lavransdatter, Undset creates an entire gallery of males, including Kristin's many, many sons, and every one of them convinces.

I think this is a masterpiece. I'd also bet a large sum of money that Margaret Mitchell read it before she wrote Gone With the Wind. Kristin, Erland, and Simon are like Ur-figures for Scarlett, Rhett, and Ashley. And this triangle, as potent as it was in GWTW, has a whole different, and even primal energy here.

Just a great, great read. Undset was the first woman ever to win the Nobel for literature, and she had it coming.
Profile Image for Laura.
151 reviews45 followers
October 1, 2022
I started getting interested in Kristin Lavransdatter this past winter. I really want to visit Norway for some time, and I wanted to learn more about Europe in the Middle Ages. If you want to read about medieval times without getting bored, this book is a great choice. I am glad I spent the summer reading this book, since it included so much history and such unique characters. (By the way, reading about the Middle Ages during the summer is a unique experience, and I strongly recommend it.) However, it is more than just a historical novel about the Middle Ages. The characters have really insightful feelings that make you want to understand the world. Every character is complex and not simply good or bad, which makes the most interesting characters. Kristin Lavransdatter is about a passionate and courageous woman who is from a good, noble upbringing in medieval Norway. She marries Erlend Nikulaussøn and becomes a mother to seven sons, who are all fair and comely. Kristin and Erlend have a tempestuous life together. Kristin Lavransdatter has trouble in her relationships with her parents and her husband, but she finds comfort and conciliation in her Catholic faith. I really enjoyed this book, because the characters seem very real and it is historically accurate. Sigrid Undset is a very insightful person. Kristin Lavransdatter won the Nobel Prize in 1928 for its accurate and vivid descriptions of the Middle Ages. It is clear the author put her heart into this masterpiece, this epic historical novel. Kristin Lavransdatter is a spirited heroine who is very memorable. It is a story of love, emotions, marriage, motherhood, and life's mysteries. It was very worthwhile.
Profile Image for El.
1,355 reviews503 followers
September 3, 2014
[ETA movie review at the end.]

Man, I don't even know how to review this book. It's really big, and full of melodrama, and it took me a pretty long time to read; and now that I'm done I'm somewhat tired and will be glad not to have to think about this anymore.

Don't get me wrong, this is a fine book. But I didn't love it. At times, I didn't even like it. There was a lot of talky-talk, and maybe that's my own fault for reading the entire kit-and-caboodle in one collection as opposed to reading the three books individually. At times it felt like I was stuck in 14th-century Norway and couldn't get out. On paper that sounds great - it's really not so great when you think about stuff that was going on in 14th-century Norway.

Things I liked:
- Massive books make me happy. Really. Truly. Despite how little it seemed to work for me with this book.
- Descriptions galore. My girl Sigrid knew who to write scenery, and it makes me want to go to Norway stat. Makes me want to run around in the woods in the snow and make snow angels with the birds and shit.
- This was clearly very well researched. I give Sigrid props for that, because as much as I love doing my own research, I have a feeling I would have petered out halfway through and there'd be a lot of really glaring mistakes. I couldn't help it - at times I forgot that Undset wrote this in the 1920s; it feels very much like it was written three or four hundred years ago.

Things I didn't like:
- The characters. Really. I didn't like many of the characters. The ones I did like disappeared for one reason or another. That's disappointing. In addition to that, the characters that did exist for more than one appearance were terribly flat and uninspiring. I learned a lot about Kristin, sure, and her relationship with certain people. But her gazillion kids that she kept pooping out? I have no idea who they were. As they got older, it made it easier because they started to have real lives outside of the little world Kristin tried to keep them wrapped up in, but when they were kids? Forget it. Hell, one of the kids (I don't remember which one) just sort of appeared out of nowhere. I barely even remember there being talk of Kristin's pregnancy. And I don't care what anyone says, I am not convinced that the majority of the characters were even necessary.
- As well-researched as the book was, and as beautiful as the descriptions of the scenery were, I think Undset often got tired of writing. She'd be all chatty about something and then all of a sudden she'd end the paragraph with something like, "Then he left." What? What happened? Why did that scene end? It's like Undset's bedtime snuck up on her, or the nurse called her from the waiting room, and she had to quickly finish up the scene lest she not be able to continue it later. Whatever, it was distracting and annoying, and made it hard for me to really get involved in the story.
- I wanted to beat the crap out of just about everyone. This is separate than my complaint about the characters. Just 'cause I say so. Seriously, everyone was exasperating.

But in the end, it's a touching story, if you can muddle your way through all the melodrama. There's a lot of whining and tears, some strange and often sudden aggression, lots of talk about religion while at the same time lots of talk of forest fairies and whatnot. It must have been hard to live in the 14th-century in Norway. No one had any idea what the hell was going on. Superstition was the impetus for any decision, and then when said decision didn't turn out so a-okay, then there'd be lots of talk of forgiveness and the need to repent.

I'm glad I read this in any case. It's a Nobel Prize winner, though for why I'm not entirely sure other than it's written by a woman and was controversial for its time (there's talk of sex and pregnancy! Say it ain't so!). Kristin has the ability to be a strong-minded and forceful woman, but then she would slip back into this pathetic shell of a girl which infuriated me beyond believe.

I can see how many people love this book, even though it didn't work for me. I'm rating it the way I am because of the beautiful scenery. I think Undset's real skill was nature writing, but since I don't know jack about her, I don't know if she ever did anything along those lines or what. I read Gunnar's Daughter by her a few years ago and didn't care much for it either; though I see my brother read it recently and he gave it a whopping five stars.

It is possible that Undset doesn't work for me, period. For now, though, I am pleased to be done, I feel very accomplished. And now this goes on to my brother so he can read it and we can fight about it.

[ETA, 04/01/12: So I watched the movie version of this. I know, right? Who even knew there was a movie version of Kristin Lavransdatter? But really, it exists, and the stunning Liv Ullmann directed it. That's right, the chick from those Ingmar Bergman movies. She was his "Molly Ringwald". She's wonderful.

Unfortunately, the movie version of Kristin Lavransdatter wasn't that great. She directed it in 1995 but it felt more dated than that. And I think she was trying to go for some Bergman effects but fell sort of short. (And, yes, it pains me to say this.) There were dramatic scenes which was fitting, I suppose, because the book itself was so OMG-dramatic; still, it's even more frustrating to actually witness it than it is to just read about it.

And, seriously, the book is a gazillion pages long - the movie itself is only three hours. You can't cram all that shit into three hours. In fact, she barely even scratched the surface. She only focused on one or two major themes, and in the process spent a lot of time showing people crying upon close-ups and some frolicking among trees. Yes, for real.

So, meh on the movie, meh on the book. Still a bunch of thumbs up for Liv Ullmann though. For what it's worth.
Profile Image for Geoff.
444 reviews1,190 followers
Want to read
August 14, 2015
I just bought this book with money and later I am going to read it with my eyes and brain.
Profile Image for Trace.
949 reviews39 followers
May 9, 2018
Wow. I will be mourning over finishing this book, for a very long time I think. Giving it a 5 star rating seems so inadequate.

This book has shot straight to the top of my list of all time favorite novels. I have so many thoughts about this masterpiece. I don't have the time right now to put my thoughts in an orderly fashion - so here they are VERY randomly and I know that it won't do this novel justice, but here they are nevertheless:

* The single most exquisite work on the topic of motherhood that I have EVER read. The author captures the heroines thoughts and feelings regarding motherhood MOST perfectly. This book is worth reading for this theme alone. It brought tears to my eyes so many times. For me, it was the central theme.

* I know that not everyone will agree with me on this, but I feel strongly that Kristin's life was portrayed as a woman's/ mother's Pilgrim's Progress. The novel depicts the lifelong struggle of the Christian life... ending with a sacrifice of love.
Her progress was so real and authentic and relate-able. I would not have enjoyed it as much, has Kristin been a more perfect Christian throughout her entire life. It was the upward journey that captivated me.

* The theme of restraint was woven throughout. I felt that this was such a virtue of Kristin as a mother - she often had the restraint to let things left unsaid to her children and husband. Not always though - she showed a lack of restraint many times but the author always showed the consequence for this lack of restraint.

* Romans 8:28 kept ringing through my head throughout the novel. Instead of marrying the sensible and wise young man that her father chose for her, Kristin marries a man who has more pride than wisdom (and whom she dearly loved) and in many ways, she pays dearly for that choice. But "all things work together for good". This actually would be a wonderful novel for young women to read.

* A powerful theme of loyalty, friendship and kinship was present. Friendship and loyalty so strong and fierce that it made me catch my breath at times.

* I loved learning about 14th century Norway!!! The historical aspect of this novel was very well done. Apparently Sigrid Undset was very well educated in Norse culture and medieval literature.

* Likewise, I also loved learning about 14th century burgeoning Christianity.... complete with lingering superstitions...

I wish every woman could read this jewel. So lovely. This audio book kept me company on my commutes to and from work for the last 5 months. I will miss these characters deeply.
Profile Image for Patrizia.
506 reviews140 followers
July 25, 2020
Il ritratto di un mondo in cui coesistono religione e credenze popolari. Una donna che rivendica il diritto di scegliere assumendosi la responsabilità delle scelte fatte, dilaniata tra la fede nella propria volontà e il senso di colpa.

“A Dio non aveva mai chiesto se non di poter vivere secondo la propria volontà. Ed ora si trovava qui non perché avesse peccato e volesse riparare e scontare, ma perché ancora una volta, quasi al termine del suo cammino terreno, si preparava a prendere una grave decisione.”

Un libro denso, in cui la vita di Kristin e della sua famiglia si intreccia alle vicende storiche della Norvegia del 1300. La Undset mette a nudo i suoi personaggi, regalandoci pagine di profonda introspezione, di conflitti interiori difficilmente sanabili cui fanno da sfondo paesaggi mozzafiato, inverni rigidi, primavere rigogliose con una scrittura fluida e coinvolgente.
Profile Image for Cindy Newton.
622 reviews129 followers
November 22, 2017
This is considered a great work of literature, and Ms. Undset received the Nobel prize. Despite these indisputable facts, this just did not work for me--I don't know why. I was very caught up in the story at the beginning and on the edge of my seat wondering if Kristen would get caught with Erland or if she would marry him before her condition became obvious. Reading about her grappling with life as a new wife and mother is also interesting. As the story progresses, though, my interest waned. There are long passages with no action.

It's almost like reading a diary written by a narrator--the story seems to have no purpose. We follow Kristen throughout her life, its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows, its moments of drama and its day-to-day monotony. We feel her fears, worries, dreams, and ambitions. Her love for her family and her religious faith are the only overarching threads. I guess I couldn't fit this comfortably onto a plot graph--what is the main conflict? Her moments of doubt in her faith?

Ultimately, I felt like I was reading the biography of someone who hadn't really accomplished anything of moment. I know that I have read this wrong and have completely missed the point, but this is just how I feel at the end of this massive book. I'm giving it three stars because I did like quite a lot of it, but I was just so ready for it to be over by the end.
Profile Image for miledi.
114 reviews
July 21, 2020
Il romanzo racconta la vita di una donna, una donna volitiva, forte, passionale; la seguiamo, passo dopo passo, dall’infanzia fino alla sua morte. Quella di Kristin è una vita travagliata, sofferta (il matrimonio, i figli, i tradimenti del marito, le incomprensioni con la famiglia d’origine, gli sbagli, le colpe…), ma misteriosamente è anche un cammino di redenzione che sfocia, alla fine, in una conversione. E’ uno sguardo positivo quello con cui la Undset accompagna Kristin (e noi) nel suo percorso, tutto il bene e tutto il male sono abbracciati e con il passare del tempo si caricano di significato.
Ambientato in un Medio Evo scandinavo realistico (non fantasy), tra luci ed ombre, santi e peccatori, è un romanzo bellissimo. Un capolavoro.
Profile Image for Erik Graff.
5,007 reviews1,117 followers
August 8, 2014
This is one of the finest novels I have ever read. Until reading about it to write this note, I had not realized that it was one of the first novels to describe the entire life of a woman who was not a royal. My estimation of the book may be influenced by the fact that I purchased and read it in Norway while spending two months there visting family. Consequently, I was able to visit several of the sites which play a part in the novel while reading it.
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,429 reviews2,510 followers
August 14, 2017
I enjoyed volume 1 (4-stars), made it through volume 2 - just, (3-stars), staggered through volume 3 only through judicious skimming (2-stars) so am settling for a 3-star rating overall with individual thoughts on each volume below:

Volume 1: The Garland (4-stars)
In the spirit of the bildungsroman, we first meet Kristin as a young child of 7 and it's her close relationship with her father which fills the early part of the book. Her colder, troubled mother sits in the background and it's not till the end of this volume that we understand the complicated dynamics that underpin the family. As Kristin grows, her unconscious sensuality works as a catalyst on the young men of her acquaintance, setting the theme for her adolescence when it's her own sexuality which comes to the fore.

Written in the 1920s, this reminded me of Thomas Hardy: the attention to rural rituals and calendar, the focus on young womanhood - and, in places, Kristin recalled Tess to my mind. What's very different, though, is that Undset structures her story around a strict moral, Christian compass. Whereas Hardy's Tess is 'a pure woman', Undset is quite sure that Kristin is not. As the volume progresses, the dominant thematics of sin and guilt emerge (and Undset herself converted to Catholicism). Sin, we're shown, once welcomed, becomes a burden on Kristin's soul and proliferates, leading to a particularly over-heated scene towards the end. The volume finishes with Kristin getting what she thought she wanted all along, but finding her victory more hollow than she expected.

This is a surprisingly fast read as the writing is straightforward and the story-telling relatively simple. I'm not as convinced as other reviewers of the historical evocation of C13th Norway, this could just as easily be a C19th rural town. That said, and despite the explicitly moralising tone, this is an engrossing read. This volume ends with Kristin's marriage, and I'm certainly keen to move on to the next section of her story.

Volume 2: The Mistress of Husaby (3-stars)
If vol.1 contains echoes of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, this vol. reminded me at the start of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: another woman in love with a weak but charismatic man finds that marriage brings out all his worst faults. The difference, though, is that Erlend isn't nearly as brutal as Wildfell's husband, foolish and unthinking rather than consciously cruel, and Kristin is a hard character to empathise with as she sits around either weeping, wringing her hands, being passive-aggressive, or frequently all three as she broods about the sinfulness of her soul and gets pregnant with another son (seven, I think, but frankly I lost count).

There's some political goings-on in the last section which livens things up, and the return of Simon from volume 1 . The presence of priests and long (long!) spiritual discussions about sin, confession and redemption really weighed this volume down for me.

Volume 3: The Cross (2-stars)
As the title indicates, the spiritual element is very much to the fore here as everyone is older, thinking about death and the salvation of their mortal soul. There's a last-minute flurry of activity as the Black Death takes hold in Norway

The trilogy overall
There's an old-fashioned feel to the trilogy overall and I think it comes from Undset's own moral, Catholic values (she converted to Catholicism) rather than necessarily being a reflection of the C14th, however much it saw itself in the light of Christianity - just think of bawdy Chaucer, or the writings of the querelle des femmes ('debate about women') that were produced by female as well as male writers in medieval Europe.

Placing this trilogy, which was written between 1920-22, alongside other works of the period such as Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce or T.S.Eliot's The Waste Land, foregrounds its moral nostalgia and certainty, a confidence that was lost by the modernists.

I'm glad I've read this, even if only partially in the latter stages, but can't say I share the adulation it has incurred: if you're thinking about it, then check out this quotation to give you a taste of the moral framework which structures these books:

'A handmaiden of God she had been - a wayward, unruly servant, oftenest an eye-servant in her prayers and faithless in her heart, slothful and neglectful, impatient under correction, but little constant in her deeds - yet had he held her fast in his service, and under the glittering golden ring a mark had been set secretly upon her, showing she was His handmaid, owned by the Lord and King who was now coming, borne by the priest's anointed hands, to give her freedom and salvation'

Still not sure? Volume 1 is the most accessible with a racy second section - just be aware that the overall trilogy is gloomy, dour and humourless, and that any sexual pleasure felt in vol. 1 will be paid for tenfold in the burden on Kristin's soul.
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books700 followers
February 17, 2020
An impressive undertaking. I can't believe this hasn't yet been turned into a TV series--it's like three seasons of a period piece with so much content, drama, and simple truth, already all written.

CONTENT WARNING (a list of topics) :

Things that were wondrous:

-The scope. This is the full life of a woman as a character study. In that study, all the lives she touches are also examined. She is not a woman who was any sort of firebrand but a normal woman in 14th century Norway, but her thoughts, concerns, joys and sorrows, what makes her unique are all very clearly written. You can feel exactly what it's like to have been this person.

-The secret life. This book was written in the 1920s about women who had sex for pleasure, about resenting being a wife and mother, unrequited love and all sorts of very delicate subjects that we struggle to discuss today. There's even a man who is meant to be gay! I was very impressed with the honesty of well-rounded characters.

-The style. I would not have assumed this was written 100 years ago. It all still felt like what I think many authors wish they could accomplish now.

Things that I didn't care for:

-Kristin. Unfortunately, I didn't like the person whose life we followed! Girlfriend is a drama queen. When everything is going well, she's abusive, cruel, and whiny. But the second her man knocks someone out for her or has his head in a noose, she's all "oh, baby, you know I love you, I'll die without you!" Ugh. The difference between high literature and a season of Maury seems to be time period it is about and written during, and long dresses.

-The contemplation. Oh my word we really linger on a lot of things, and one of those things is religion and sin. You'll hear about the first quarter of this book for the entirety of it. I was sort of surprised to see this much detail about these subjects, given how long it took to write a book at the time. You'd think there might be a bit of paraphrasing, but nope. The author was really committed to the bit.

I can see why it has received so many accolades. A really staggering undertaking with extremely nuanced discussions. But it's also a hefty series with enough melodrama for even the most voracious. If you liked Vikings or Downton Abbey, you need this book. If you don't care for shows like that, move along.
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,121 reviews1,203 followers
February 7, 2017
As an omnibus, the length of this classic trilogy is daunting; it was on my to-read list for years before I decided to read just the first, 300-page book. Of course that was excellent and I soon read the rest of the trilogy. While I understand the omnibus packaging – the later books assume knowledge of the earlier ones such that it is akin to one three-volume novel – for me, reading three individual novels worked best.

Kristin Lavransdatter is the life story of one woman, and the people closest to her, in 14th century Norway. The first volume follows Kristin’s childhood and her teenage romance with a man her father would never have chosen for her; the second, her life as a young wife and mother, struggling with the practical and religious fallout from her choices in the first book; and the third, her life as a middle-aged woman navigating complex relationships, while her importance in her sons’ lives diminishes. Kristin is a fascinating character, because she feels entirely realistic and human. Undset never pandered to the faction who insist that female characters be “likeable” (i.e., flawless); she simply presents the character as she is, in all her strengths and weaknesses, noble impulses and bad decisions. But I think most readers will like her and relate to her fight to marry the man she loves and to build a future for her children. It’s not all domestic life, though; political maneuvering, swordfights, and other drama keeps Kristin’s life from becoming too predictable.

Many reviews discuss the religion in these books: Catholicism is a major part of the characters’ lives, and the author herself converted. But though religious themes are present throughout, I never found the books preachy. Religion was an essential aspect of medieval life, and Undset captures that well; interestingly, while Kristin is a religious woman by today’s standards and in the eyes of some of the characters, in the context of her time and in her interactions with religious folk she seems far more interested in the secular aspects of her life, but raised to be guilty about that preoccupation.

At any rate, every aspect of life at the time, from social interaction to farming to the layout of homes, seems grounded in solid research that allows the author to create an immersive and believable setting. Few authors could write about such a foreign world in a way that’s both realistic and accessible, but that’s just what Undset does; at times it was hard to believe that the story was set in medieval times, not because there’s anachronism present (there isn’t) but because the characters are so human and relatable regardless.

The writing is excellent, and Nunnally’s translation superb: the prose is smooth and absorbing, very readable but with a hint of distance that puts the reader in mind of ancient sagas. The story has a strong sense of place, and contains beautiful descriptions of the Norwegian landscape. Like the story itself, the writing manages to be entirely accessible to the modern reader and yet faithful to its medieval setting.

In sum, this is an excellent trilogy, and fully deserving of its awards. I give four stars rather than five because it didn’t rock my world (it’s been some time since any book has), and because the middle volume often felt tedious; the second book was perhaps longer than necessary, and only toward the end did it regain strength. That said, the trilogy returns to form with an exceptional final volume. It was overall a great reading experience, providing both depth and entertainment, and one I would not hesitate to recommend.
Profile Image for Saturn.
390 reviews55 followers
March 25, 2020
La vita di Kristin è la storia di una donna forte che sin da ragazzina lotta per l'uomo che ama; si oppone alle consuetudini e alla volontà paterna, mettendo sé stessa in gioco. Anche la sua vita coniugale con Erlend sarà una lunga battaglia, dove le volontà dei due si scontrano e si incontrano in un ciclo continuo. Kristin però è anche una donna molto dura, che non riesce a dimenticare e superare il passato. Questa severità è tanto forte verso gli altri che verso sé stessa. Infatti non riesce a perdonarsi i torti compiuti nei confronti dell'amorevole padre e della chiesa. L'elemento religioso è molto sentito ed è presente in tutta la narrazione. La seconda parte fatta di intrighi politici è la più cupa e la più difficile da seguire. In tutto il libro domina l'amore fra Kristin ed Erlend. Un amore per nulla semplice, molto passionale e radicato in entrambi. La bellissima prosa di Sigrid Undset e il dettagliato approfondimento storico rendono la lettura molto immersiva e coinvolgente. La ricchezza delle descrizioni, la forza e lo spessore dei personaggi mi hanno ricordato le grandi saghe epiche. Anche se in questo libro non ci sono battaglie o guerrieri, c'è però la lotta della vita e i grandi sentimenti che ognuno affronta. L'amore, il dolore, la passione, la rabbia, le sofferenze patite sono tutte parti essenziali del nostro percorso. Ogni tassello è fondamentale e vale la pena di essere vissuto. Anche l'amarezza dei momenti difficili non è che l'altra faccia della gioia e della felicità.
Profile Image for J.M. Hushour.
Author 8 books200 followers
February 4, 2022
A tremendous novel of faith, guilt, and redemption. Sounds contrite, doesn't it? I assure you it isn't.
This is the 1100+ page life of a young woman in early 14th century Norway. That's the plot. Sure, historical events kind of wander in and out of Kristin's story, but they're most peripheral except when they touch upon her family and friends. The skinny of the story is that Kristin rejects the nice guy her father wants her to marry and marries a guy of more questionable ethical decision-making skills, but nothing plays out like you think it does. She spends the rest of her life testing the limits of her self-faith and her need for redemption in the face of family life and personal disaster.
It's a hard novel to review because there is so much quiet, simmering beauty in it and you'll read on for a hundred pages, lost in its naturalistic and quiet beauty before Undset zings you with some spontaneous action or catastrophe (or both!). The intro compares it to the suddenness and abrupt style of the Icelandic sagas, and that maybe. It reminded me more of a really good, long Kurosawa movie.
A quick comparison might beAnna Karenina for its sheer psychological depth and loveliness, but the comparison ends there. Undset's gift is combining the accuracy of her portrayal of the time with a quiet, lulling spiritual beauty that comes and goes like winter and summer in the tale. She had a deep understanding of medieval Norway and an unabashed refusal to hide her own spiritual inner life in her writings and this shines through beautifully throughout.
Much recommended!
Profile Image for Shiloah.
Author 1 book169 followers
January 16, 2018
Simply beautiful. Sigrid Undset is was an artist with a deep understanding of human nature, natural consequences, and history--the medieval history of Norway. This novel series touched many deep cords within me. I'm awakened in new ways. I cried. I was so angry at the choices made. I laughed. I was right there every moment. The description of motherhood and all its joys and sorrows were perfectly described and came alive in beautiful descriptions. I've been pondering on what I could say about a book that touched me so personally, so deeply, and moved me. Normally, I would never read a book that covers a person's life to the end, but THIS, THIS was a well-done masterpiece.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Emily St. James.
106 reviews209 followers
December 30, 2019
When I was in college, a kid in a writing class I was in opined that the only worthy books were about "extraordinary people or extraordinary situations." I bristled against the suggestion but also didn't push back too hard because I couldn't think of obvious counter-examples.

Well, anyway, now I've read Kristin Lavransdatter, and that can be my go-to.

It is really hard to explain why this is one of the best books I've ever read. On the surface, a book about the life of a medieval Norwegian woman, from the time she is 7 to her death somewhere in her 50s (I think) does not sound all that interesting. Despite the fact that the book is suffused with forbidden love affairs, political intrigue, and even occasional murders, it always returns, in the end, to the life of Kristin as she struggles to eke out an existence amid a harsh landscape that means to wash her from the Earth.

The book is also SUPER Christian. I would argue this is because Kristin herself is super Christian. (Undset steps back from her protagonist's point of view often enough to let you know that, yes, Kristin is flagellating herself a little too wildly because she thinks it makes her Better.) But I get why some readers have been put off by a book that ends with frank discussions of the purpose of sins in the life of a god-fearing person.

Also: If you don't know anything about Norwegian politics of the 1300s (as I don't), large sections of the second book are going to be borderline incomprehensible to you. I figured it out with some diligent Wikipediaing, but good luck if you don't feel like digging in to everybody's beef with King Haakon.

And yet this is maybe the best book I've ever read about the ways that choices we make in our youths imprison us in lives we don't always recognize as we grow older. Kristin chooses to break her engagement to one man in order to marry the man she feels more passion for in the book's first 200 pages, and then the following 900 pages are about how that choice locks her -- and everybody she knows! -- into a course of action they cannot escape. Undset frequently situates these characters against massive, implacable natural landscapes. They pretend to have control over their lives, but they are specks on specks on specks. The Earth can and will toss them aside.

The book also boasts a rich supporting cast of players, and if Undset strains a bit to give everybody a final bow in the book's closing 100 pages, I still gasped a bit when Ulf turned up again with a handful of pages to go. (Good old Ulf!) This book needs to feel like a Life, and lives have people who enter and exit them. It's a unique strength of Undset's that she can introduce a brand new character (a wife for one of Kristin's sons) in the last section of the book and make her seem just as rich and alive as everybody else.

But the center of this book is always Kristin, and her psychology is plumbed by Undset both directly and indirectly. When we realize just how her husband thinks of her at one point, it comes as a slap in the face, because he has no reason to be reverential to her (and he's also right about at least some of what he says). But when she laments how wicked she is and tries to move toward a more pure existence, we feel for her inability to vanquish her most core self. This has been interpreted as a kind of anti-sex, anti-passion stance from Undset, but I find it more likely that so much of the book is inside Kristin's head that it's hard for the reader to not become infected by her would-be piety. That's such a tricky thing to do and do well, and Undset makes it look easy.

Above all, though, the book is one that restores to the center of the human story the women whose lives running farms and managing households while their husbands were off at the center of the narratives we typically tell. Kristin is not a remarkable or great person. She's weak and vulnerable, and the few great things she does are not going to be recorded in the history books. But by the end of Kristin Lavransdatter, you become convinced that history belongs to her as surely as it does anyone better known. These stories are worth telling, too.
Profile Image for Rose Rosetree.
Author 21 books125 followers
February 23, 2023
This trio of historical novels won the author the Nobel Prize in Literature. "Kristin Lavransdatter" was assigned to me in high school, at a time when I could barely imagine what it meant to be an adult woman from New York, let alone a 14th century Norwegian woman.

Sigrid Undset vividly portrays conflicts that arise when Kristen, this independent-minded woman, is pressured to fall in line with her society's all-pervasive, restrictive church; she keenly feels the pressure, and yet she resists.

Which bad boy has won Kristin's heart? That would be Erlend Nikulausson, who has been excommunicated by the church. Kristin marries him anyway, and winds up bearing him seven children.

This historical novel emphasizes the conflicts and complexities of Kristin's inner life, such as her nuances of guilt, vividly portraying her inner life in ways that may -- to my thinking -- reflect mostly the historical time when these novels were actually published, in the 1920's.

Apart from Undset's considerable literary skill, it seems to me that setting the characters 500+ years back in history gave both author and readers a certain kind of freedom; allowing readers to indulge in imagining that their complexity of inner life was normal for all humankind.

Of course, when these books were published, adults could vividly remember going through World War I. Choosing this outwardly different historical setting made it seem as though Kristin's anguish was precisely the kind of inner experience that people have always had.

How credible is that? Maybe like reading a picture book, where the cute little bears or mice are adorably drawn stand-ins for human children. Goodreaders like us, encountering a good yarn, are all too successful at suspending our disbelief.

>i>In a comment below, I'll summarize the main reason why I don't believe that to be true, that women in the 14th century were inwardly identical to women in the 20th century, etc.

Nonetheless, Undset's trio of novels was powerful, vividly credible, both outwardly and inwardly dramatic. As a teenager I didn't know much about much about either time in history, the 1300's or the 1920's. Nor did I have any real-world experience to help me comprehend the problems experienced by Kristin and Erlend. But my amazing English teacher, Monica Lacrouts, chose this assignment well.

Intense inner life, intense conflict?

Ask any girl of 15 and she'll tell you, "I know all about that."
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