Kristin Lavransdatter – The Wreath – by Sigrid Undset

Kri0143039164.01._SX140_SY225_SCLZZZZZZZ_ Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

Translated by Tina Nunnally

Penguin Classic, New York, 2005

Bought used at local bookstore.

I am reading this 1100+ page novel as part of a read-along organized by Emily and Richard.  There ar e many others joining us.

Kristin Lavransdatter, written in three parts by the Nobel prize-winning Norwegian author Sigrid Undset, is a historical novel that follows the life of a woman in fourteenth century Norway.  We first meet Kristin when she is seven, travel  up to the mountain pastures with her father.  Her best friend, Arne, travels with them.

As they came over the ridge, the wind rushed towards them and whipped through their clothes-it seemed to Kristian that something alive which dwelled up there had come forward to greet them.  The wind gusted and blew as she and Arne walked across the expanse of moss.  The children sat down on the very end of the ledge, and Kristin stared with big eyes-never had she imagined the world was so huge or so vast.

The first part of the novel, The Wreath,  follows Kristin through her childhood and adolescence.  We see Kristin first as a beloved daughter,  and member of a  large extended family.  I enjoyed her relationship with her parent’s and family friends and felt empathy when she is stricken by loss.

We then see Kristin as a young women struggling between guilt and pleasure.  She refuses her arranged marriage and finally “marries for love” but, in her own eyes,  Kristin is a “fallen women”, she has given in to passion before marriage and it is clear she will suffer for it.

I found it difficult reading about Kristin’s struggles with quilt and her passions for the man she falls in love with.  It is a melodramatic, overwrought presentation.

I do feel Undset has created a world very like the one that actually existed in Northern Europe in the 1300’s.   The intrusion of the church into the pagan world view, the poverty, the struggles for land and wealth between families, and the place of women in that patriarchal society are all clearly drawn. I am fascinated by the growing power of the Catholic church and the church’s consolidation of wealth and power.   Undset’s descriptions of the land, the people and their daily life are quite beautiful, some almost mystical.  I find I am more interested in the historical aspects of this book than in the main character, Kristin Lavransdatter.

It will be interesting to follow Kristin’s life through the rest of this book.  I am very curious about other readers thoughts.


Jason at 5 Squared

Richard at Caravana de recuerdos

Emily at Evening All Afternoon

softdrink at Fizzy Thoughts

Valerie at Life Is A Patchwork Quilt

Frances at Nonesuch

Jill at Rhapsody In Books

Lena at Save Ophelia

Dawn at She  is Too Fond of Books

E.L. Fay at This Book and I Could Be Friends

Sarah at What We Have Here Is  A Failure to Communicate


Filed under Historical Fiction, Read-Along, Review

24 responses to “Kristin Lavransdatter – The Wreath – by Sigrid Undset

  1. Totally overwrought! The line when she says she could die from her unhappiness at not being able to marry Erlend still bugs me.

  2. I’m enjoying everyone’s thoughts on this book so far, and I look forward to hearing what you think of the next two books in the trilogy. I, for one, absolutely loved this Kristin Lavransdatter.

  3. I, too, am more interested in the historical aspects of the book than the main storyline, although I’m also intrigued by some of the auxiliary storylines (Kristin’s parents’ relationship, and whatever’s going on among Erlend’s kinsmen in Book 2). I think the scene at the very beginning, where they go up to the mountains, might still be my favorite! But I also feel like reading this as a group has helped me kind of understand the more melodramatic aspects around Kristin – especially EL Fay & Jason’s posts.

    I look forward to peoples’ thoughts on Part 2!

  4. You read 2666 and now this! You overachiever you! The plot sounds fascinating from a historical perspective. I hope you get a little investment in Kristin, however, to make those 1,100 pages go a little faster!

    • I hope to see Kristin mature a bit in part 2. I really am enjoying the historical aspects of the novel.

      The only way I could read these monster books is by doing it with a group, having a deadline and having interactions with other readers!

  5. lena

    Everyone seems to be loving the setting more than Kristin herself. I’m hoping to start The Wife today and am sincerely hoping that Kristin’s story picks up!

    As always, it is great to hear your thoughts :)

  6. I definitely agree with you about “Undset’s descriptions of the land, the people and their daily life are quite beautiful, some almost mystical.” To me, Undset seems like a Norwegian Leni Riefenstahl, with much of the book constituting a paean to nature and the Aryan perfection of body and soul.

    • Interesting, the idea about Leni Riefenstahl. I’m not familiar with her work. I think Undset was deeply immersed in the history of her own country and trying to describe it as accurately as possible.

  7. I too love the setting more than Kristin herself. Glad to see I’m not alone!

    I definitely agree that Undset’s depiction of Norway feels very mystical. I wonder if it can be considered a bit of proto-magic realism?

  8. “It is a melodramatic, overwrought presentation.” Yes. Big yes. And as others seem to be chiming in, the natural landscape holds more fascination for me than the human characters here. Hoping for more from The Wife.

    • I am also hoping for more of a connecting with Kristin in The Wife. I am enjoying Undset’s writing and all the history. I think I am intrigued by this time period.

  9. With all the mention of melodrama with KL, I think that many long storylines — whether it’s a big book such as “Gone With the Wind”, or a trilogy such as KL, will have a lot going on. If it didn’t, no one would want to keep going or pick up the next volume :-).

    As for the ending, my impression was not that Kristin felt guilty about marrying (she wasn’t feeling good because she was pregnant), but that it was Undset (by foreshadowing) setting Kristin up for future disappointments…at least that is what I’m assuming will happen with Kristin, because if she was going to live happily ever after, her story would have ended at Part I.

    I feel like this is such a book-club like discussion going here, and I’m glad about that :-)!

    • I agree with you about the foreshadowing, I think Kristin will “suffer for her sin”. With all this great discussion I am excited to read The Wife.

  10. tuulenhaiven

    I agree that Undset’s skill at bringing 14th century Norway to life is one of the great things about the book. “Overwrought” storyline aside, she is an interesting and at many times extremely lovely writer.

    Glad you’re liking it so far!

  11. I hope part two is much better than part one, Gavin, since I found this to be only a very average story punctuated with occasional flashes of descriptive goodness. You’re totally right about the excess of melodrama and overwrought scenes.

    • Richard – At first I was afraid The Wife would be overdone and that I would loose interest in the novel, but after reading everyone’s comments and learning that other people feel The Wreath is the “worst” part of the trilogy I am excited again. Here’s hoping they are right!

  12. Just finished it yesterday (so late), but agree with you, am also more interested in the historical aspects than Kristin herself. ALthough I was hoping to read more about Lavrans and Ragnfrid. I thought theirs was a more interesting story than Kristin’s and Erlend’s.

    I don’t mind melodrama so much, but this was just not a remarkable enough read for me, but like everyone else hoping Book 2 gets better.

  13. Lu

    It is melodramatic, but I wonder if part of that is that the literature that we do have from that time period is painfully overwrought and dramatic. Maybe Undset was simply mimicking it? I’m not sure. I’m looking forward to reading the next two sections to see if my opinions change or get stronger. It’s definitely an interesting read, if not quite what I was expecting.

  14. Pingback: Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset, Simone de Beauvoir « Regular Rumination

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