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Kristin Lavransdatter I: The Wreath (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 1, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Norwegian

About the Author

Sigrid Undset (1882-1949) was born in Denmark, the eldest daughter of a Norwegian father and a Danish mother. Two years after her birth, the family moved to Oslo, where her father, a distinguished archaeologist, taught at the university. Her father's interest in the past had a tremendous influence on Undset. She was particularly entranced by the dramatic Old Norse sagas she read as a child, later declaring that her exposure to them marked "the most important turning point in my life."

Undset's first published works—the novel Mrs. Marta Oulie (1907) and a short-story collection The Happy Age (1908)—were set in contemporary times and achieved both critical and popular success. With her reputation as a writer well-established, Undset had the freedom to explore the world that had first fired her imagination, and in Gunnar's Daughter (1909) she drew upon her knowledge of Norway's history and legends, including the Icelandic Sagas, to recreate medieval life with compelling immediacy. In 1912 Undset married the painter Anders Castus Svarstad and over the next ten years faced the formidable challenge of raising three stepchildren and her own three off-spring with little financial or emotional support from her husband. Eventually, she and her children moved from Oslo to Lillehammer, and her marriage was annulled in 1924, when Undset converted to Catholicism.

Although Undset wrote more modern novels, a collection of essays on feminism, as well as numerous book reviews and newspaper articles, her fascination with the Middle Ages never ebbed, and in 1920 she published The Wreath, the first volume of her most famous work, Kristin Lavransdatter. The next two volumes quickly followed—The Wife in 1921, and The Cross in 1922. The trilogy earned Undset worldwide acclaim, and her second great medieval epic—the four-volume The Master of Hestviken (1925-1927) —confirmed her place as one of the twentieth century's greatest writers. In 1928, at the age of 46, she received the Nobel Prize for Literature, only the third woman to be so honored.

Undset went on to publish more novels—including the autobiographical The Longest Years—and several collections of essays during the 1930s. As the Germans advanced through Norway in 1940, Undset, an outspoken critic of Nazism, fled the country and eventually settled in Brooklyn, New York. She returned to her homeland in 1945, and two years later she was awarded Norway's highest honor for her "distinguished literary work and for service to her country." The years of exile, however, had taken a great toll on her, and she died of a stroke on June 10, 1949.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Trade Paperback Edition edition (December 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141180412
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141180410
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #91,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

105 of 107 people found the following review helpful By M. Tedholm on October 17, 2002
Format: Paperback
When I was about 12 I tried to read Kristin Lavransdatter, and gave up quickly. The Archer translation was filled with "difficult" language: medieval archaisms seemed to slow down the language somehow. Kristin was written in the 1920s and takes place in the middle ages, but the archer translation (the one most readily available) alienated me from it so much that I gave up. Nunally's language is fresh and clear. It doesn't have the artificial ring of a translation. I don't know Norwegian, but I feel like she stayed as close as she could to Undset's original syntax and language.
Oh, and the story is great, too. The timeless problems of forbidden love, children born out of wedlock, and familial conflicts are presented through the eyes of a perfectly ordinary woman: Kristin Lavransdatter. It's been said she was the first perfectly real woman in all literature. In "The Wreath," the reader encounters Kristin's early life to her marriage and the difficult decisions she makes. Nunally writes of Kristin's actions without condemnation, but with compassion. I think this impartiality gives the book more power. THe reader is left to judge Kristin. Also, this is not one of those overwrought books in which every sentence must be analyzed for symbolism. One can read into Kristin Lavransdatter on many levels, but it does not consist wholly of linguistic capering as so many modern novels do. At the very least, it's just a great story with some extremely memorable characters.
Undset was the first woman to win the Nobel prize for literature, and largely because of Archer's *hesitation* LOUSY translations, she's fallen into obscurity in the USA, at least. Hopefully with the advent of Nunally's fresh new translations of Kristin Lavransdatter and Jenny, Undset will once more reappear on the literary landscape.
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62 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Built for Comfort ( on September 17, 1998
Format: Paperback
At last we have a readable translation of the first volume of KRISTIN LAVRANSDATTER, THE WREATH, one which is faithful to Sigrid Undset's style in Norwegian. I have to admit I could never read the old one all the way through because of the creaky, pseudo-medieval style the translators adopted -- it sounds like a bad Sir Walter Scott parody. I do read Norwegian myself, and can vouch for the faithfulness and accuracy of Tiina Nunnally's translation. Her style is fluid, clear, and lyrical, reflecting Undset's style perfectly. Readers who have struggled through all the archaic lingo such as 'tis, 'twas, wot, trow, and methinks are in for a treat. Volume 2 of the trilogy, THE WIFE, will be out in 1999.
KRISTIN LAVRANSDATTER is a historical soap opera par excellence set in medieval Norway. The headstrong heroine does not always do what is "best" for her by the standards of this quite strict Catholic society, and her love affair with the dashing Erlend Nikulaussøn gets her in plenty of hot water with her family -- not to mention her betrothed, Simon Darre.
I predict this new version will banish the old one to dustbins and library sales once all three volumes are released. And let's hope that Penguin Books will see fit to publish them all together in a handsome clothbound edition.
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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
Pay no attention to anyone who says the book is "slow" or "hard to read", unless they were talking about some other translation. Tina Nunnally's translation lets Sigrid Undet's genius shine through at last. (The previous translation was dreadful.) The first volume of "Kristin Lavransdatter" brings you the full spectrum of medieval life, from the constant threat of violence to the ambiguous attitudes on sexuality, the hyper-religiosity at odds with a still-thriving pagan sensuality that wants to legitimize itself. The character of Kristin shows all these conflicts and how they might have played out in the soul of a woman who will not let herself be treated as property in a patriarchal society. Make sure you buy this translation! I cannot wait for the third volume to be published in April 2000.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Sammy Jo on July 6, 2002
Format: Paperback
If you like historical novels, this is the book for you. Sigrid Undset meticulously researched life in Norway during the Middle Ages, and she brings that world to life for us in her classic trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter. The story is great to boot. Undset won the Nobel Prize for literature, and this is her finest work.
The Wreath is the first novel in the series, and in it we follow Kristin as she comes of age. She is a passionate girl, and this is the story of her passion. We might want to read the tale as the story of a girl overcoming the obstacles of her era to realize her dreams, but there is more to the story than that. Kristin's romance with Erland Nikulausson creates havoc in all the lives around them. Undset was a convert to Catholicism, and this is a Catholic novel. Kristin finds her true love, yes. But will it bring her true happiness? Undset presents the heroine's plight with sympathy, but she presents the consequences of her choices with honesty. This first novel sets the stage, and in the next two we will follow on Kristin's journey to know herself and the world around her. It's a great novel about a great life.
While Kristin is the focus of the novel, Undset also fully brings to life her family and friends. We meet some great characters along the way. From Arne Gyrdson, Kristin's devoted childhood friend to Fru Aashild, the wise woman who teaches her much about the ways of the world, to Brother Edvin, the saintly monk who offers her spiritual direction, we meet characters that we will long remember. The relationship of Kristin's parents Lavrans and and Rangfrid is especially poignant.
To enter gingerly into the translation wars, I have read both versions. For myself, I prefer this one.
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