Top critical review
Trilogy of Ancient Norway
on September 13, 2017
The following are three reviews of the portions of this trilogy:
The Wreath (Kristin Lavransdatter, #1) by Sigrid Undset
This is the first book in a trilogy set in Norway in the fourteenth century. The central character is Kristin Lavransdatter who we first meet as a young girl spending a good deal of time with her father on visits to various parts of their large estate farm in eastern Norway. Through the father-daughter interactions we, the readers, get an introduction to rural life, farming, social customs and religious beliefs of early 14th century Norway. We also fall in love with the sweet innocent girl that Kristin is at that point in the story.
Later, when Kristin has been engaged to a local notable man, quite a few years her senior, she is unsure about the marriage. Her understanding and caring father agrees with her plea to let her spend a year or so in a convent near Oslo. Through Kristin's experiences in the convent we learn about both 14th century city and convent life.
She may be living at the convent, but her life is certainly not cloistered. She is allowed to go into the city for market and social occasions. Through these trips she meets Erlend who becomes the love of her life. But she is betrothed to another man, so things get complicated.
Breaking the engagement of course has its own difficulties. But it turns out that her new love, Erlend, has had a wife and a paramour with whom he has two children. Kristin's parents think Erlend is an unwise choice for their daughter, so several years pass in which their marriage is forbidden.
They eventually become married by the end of this book, but by then Kristin is pregnant and has been an accomplice in the murder death of Erlend's former mistress. So their marriage begins under the cloud of guilt for grave sin. This is in contrast to the young innocence with which the book began.
Sigrid Undset won the 1928 Nobel Prize in Literature largely because of the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy. This book provides a well done descriptive portrayal of 14th century Norway. But the plot itself impresses me as a soap opera sort of romance novel. At this point I haven't read the second and third books of the trilogy so it's possible my appreciation of the story may improve as I advance through the trilogy. It's clear to me that guilt is going to be part of the coming plot of the next two books. Also, I'm pretty sure her new husband (in my opinion) can not be trusted to be a faithful companion. We'll see if my suspicions are correct.
The Wife (Kristin Lavransdatter, #2) by Sigrid Undset
This is the second book of the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy. In my review of the The Wreath , the first book of the trilogy, I indicated I didn't feel optimistic about the marriage that took place at the end of the first book. This second book of the trilogy focuses on their married life (about 16 years covered by this book) during which they have seven children. The husband ended up not being as bad as I had feared. Based on fourteenth century expectations he could be rated as a mostly good husband, but certainly not perfect.
As a matter of fact the husband ends up taking some very reckless action near the end of the book that causes him to be placed in prison by the king. He's headed for certain execution which causes Kristin to exert her influence on an old admirer who in turn lobbies people in power to spare his life. These actions by Kristin are something of a turnaround for her because her relationship with her husband had become distant and cold. But when his life was in jeopardy her feelings of loyalty kicked in.
This book is full of many varied characters with differing strengths and weaknesses. The level of detail regarding everyday life is impressive. The description of the delivery of Kristin's first child is about as painful and drawn out as a written description can be. The same can be said for the death of Kristin's father near the end of the book. Thus I credit the author with good writing.
This book is as close one can get to a time machine for a visit to fourteenth century life in Norway. The author received the 1928 Nobel Prize for Literature based largely on Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy.
The Cross (Kristin Lavransdatter, #3) by Sigrid Undset
This is the third book of the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy. Here are links to my reviews of the previous two books, The Wreath and The Wife . This book covers the final third of Kristin's life (circa 1299-1350).
The final years of anyone's life is full of endings, separations and goodbyes. The same was true for Kristin. First she is separated from her younger sister due to an insult given between their husbands. Then when her brother-in-law dies her sister quickly remarries and moves to a distant estate. Then a disagreement with her husband caused him to live separately from her. He is killed when he returns to respond to a rumored scandal. Then her seven sons disperse, get married, or join a monastery. In the end she feels unwanted at her home estate and joins a convent.
The story ends with her showing bravery and strong Christian faith in the face of The Black Plague. In the end she clearly deserves to be honored as a saint—if she weren't a fictional character.
Sigrid Undset won the 1928 Nobel Prize in Literature largely because of the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy. The trilogy provides a well written portrayal of 14th century Norway.
The following is a quotation from this book that demonstrates the ability of Undset (the author) to describe internal human thoughts and emotion. It is Kristin anticipating the fact that her sons are approaching adulthood and will soon be leaving her care. These are feelings with which most parents can identify.
"Was this how she would see her struggle end? Had she conceived in her womb a flock of restless fledgling hawks that simply lay in her nest, waiting impatiently for the hour when their wings were strong enough to carry them beyond the most distant blue peaks? And their father would clap his hands and laugh: Fly, fly, my young birds."
They would take with them bloody threads from the roots of her heart when they flew off, and they wouldn't even know it. She would be left behind alone, and all the heartstrings, which had once bound her to this old home of hers, she had already sundered. That was how it would end, and she would be neither alive nor dead.