Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
Translated by Tina Nunnally
Penguin Classic, New York, 2005
Bought used at local bookstore.
I’m finished and, no matter how much this book drove me crazy, there were parts of it I actually enjoyed. The historical political and social information, Undset’s descriptions of the land and of daily life in 14th century Norway, and the struggle between old and new beliefs held my attention when the sturm and drang would have driven me to distraction.
The Cross even presents us with a contemplative, resentful Kristin, a women who begins to question her role and her position in her changing society.
She sat there and let the old, bitter thoughts rise up like good friends, countering them with other old and familiar thoughts – in feigned justification of Erlend.
He had certainly never demanded this of her. He had not asked her to bear and of the things she had taken upon her own shoulders. He had merely conceived seven sons with her…
Erland hadn’t asked her to restore order to Husaby and his other estates. He hadn’t asked her to fight with her life to save him. He had borne it like a chieftain that his property would be dispersed, that his life was at stake. Stripped and empty-handed, with a chieftainlike dignity, and calm he had accepted the misfortune; with chieftainlike calm and dignity he lived on her father’s manor like a guest.
And yet everything that was in her possession lawfully belonged to her sons. They lawfully owned her sweat and blood and all her strength. But then surely she and the estate had the right to make claims on them. Page 725/726.
The Cross portrays the village social structure of the time, both within the family and the larger community and the restrictions brought about by the Catholic church. I was again fascinated by the mix of new beliefs and old beliefs. The community’s response to the naming of Kirsten and Erland’s eighth child, Kirsten’s journey to the graveyard to save Simon’s only son, the ravens and the crows.
… People took it as an evil omen that all the sea birds had suddenly disappeared. They usually flocked by the thousands along the stream that flows through the countryside from the fjord and resembles a river in the low stretches of the meadow but widen to a lake with salt water north of Rein Convent. In their place came ravens in unheard of numbers. On every stone along the water sat the black birds in the fog, uttering their hideous shrill cries, while flocks of crows more numerous than anyone had ever seen before settled in all the forests and groves and flew with loathsome shrieks over the wretched land. Page 1106.
I think that is a rather beautiful description of the atmosphere created by the Black Death. That is the kind of writing in this massive novel that held my attention.
Undset was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928 for her depiction of life in Norway and Sweden during the middle ages. I found that, aside from the melodrama, guilt-ridden self-hatred and weeping, Kirstin Lavrandatter presents that life in a deep and detailed manner, one that I thoroughly enjoyed.
I have to thank Richard and Emily and the other participants for this read-along. Without them I would have given up after The Wreath! Now, to the Great White Whale!