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1069 pages, cloth
First published January 1, 1920
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.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.
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.
“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.”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.
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.
“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.”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.
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.
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.
'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'.