Kristin Lavransdatter – The Cross – by Sigrid Undset

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

Translated by Tina Nunnally

Penguin Classic, New York, 2005

Bought used at local bookstore.

I have read this 1100+ page novel as part of a read-along organized by Emily and Richard.  Many others read along.

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!


Filed under Historical Fiction, NobelPrize, Read-Along

14 responses to “Kristin Lavransdatter – The Cross – by Sigrid Undset

  1. This has to be the best line ever: ” 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 would also throw in self-centeredness, selfishness, and endless self-flagellating over sin! Still, I’m glad I read it….

  2. Haha, it drove me crazy too! It was the other way around for me. What pushed me to continue was the progress of the story, but what annoyed me was Undset’s writing.

    Like you, though, what I also appreciated most were the social, political, and historical aspects.

  3. I agree, it’s worth reading for the historical perspective. But I’m now done with Undset!

  4. tuulenhaiven

    I guess I have to agree that the details of life in 14th century Norway continued to be sifted in gently and in an approachable way, even if the characters were unbearable and hard to relate to.

  5. Gavin, thanks for reading along with us! I’m sure Melville will be much more enjoyable for you, but it was great to have your company amid all my misery. Better luck next time, I guess!

    • Richard – It was fun seeing everyone’s different responses to KL, but I am so sorry you suffered so much! Thanks for slogging through it with us, and Happy New Year!

  6. Pingback: Moby Dick Monday « Page247

  7. Gavin, I’m glad you found this somewhat worthwhile in the end. I relate to your reaction to the sturm & drang – very aptly put. Thanks so much for reading along, & enjoy the white whale!

  8. Well I don’t seem to have everyone else’s stamina. I’ve given up. For now, anyway.

    But I do agree with the general consensus: that Undset’s descriptions of life in medieval Norway were beautifully done, it was just the DRAMZ I couldn’t take anymore.

  9. I did feel that Undset made her characters very human, and far from perfect. Even when she would comment on how handsome/beautiful they were! Like many of us participating, I feel the trilogy could have been shorter.

  10. I also enjoyed the historical descriptions. Also the path of the human soul on earth that is prtrayed. We arrive as one (individual) and we leave as one (individual)

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