A Medieval Epic
written in the 1920's about a Norwegian
girl in the 14th century. This book was written by Sigrid Undset, who won a Nobel Prize
in Literature for her efforts in this trilogy. This book follows the beautiful Kristin Lavransdatter from the tender age of seven to her death, at about 50 of the Black Plague
The trilogy was originally published in Norwegian, and has been translated into English several times. The trilogy is as follows, with the original Norwegian titles in parentheses:
The Wreath (Kransen)
The Wife (Husfrue)
The Cross (Korset)
Here is a synopsis of each book:
We meet Kristin at age seven, along with her father, Lavrans Bjørgulfsson (also referred to as Lavrans Langmandsson), her mother, Ragnfrid Ivarsdatter, and soon enough, her sisters, Ulvhild and Ramborg Lavransdatter. When Kristin comes of age (around 13-15), her father makes negotiations with the Darre family to betroth Kristin to Simon Darre (also referred to as Simon Andresson), who is several years (and by several I mean he is in his twenties) older than her. During the negotiations, Kristin falls in love with the dashing, handsome and impetuous knight Erlend Nikulausson, who seems to be constitutionally unable to avoid scandal. (He was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church for openly cohabitating with the wife of a prominent judge, Eline Ormsdatter. During their adultery, Eline bears Erlend two children: Orm and Margret.) When Erlend confesses his love to Kristin and she reciprocates, she is still betrothed to Simon Darre. Even so, Kristin begins a clandestine sexual relationship with Erlend, loosing her virginity, and soon enough, is discovered by Simon. She explains all to Simon, and with his help (without revealing her shameful actions) they dissolve their betrothal, stating the non-marital equivalent of "irreconcilable differences" as their reasoning, leaving both parental parties none-the-wiser. After a three year "battle" with her parents, they finally allow Kristin to marry Erlend. On her wedding night at the close of the book, Kristin is stricken with an unshakeable bout of morning sickness as her father gives her away with all the pomp and grandeur appropriate for a virgin bride.
After six months of marriage, Kristin gives birth to her first child with Erlend, a full term baby, conceived three months prior to wedlock. They name this child Nikulaus, Naakkve for short, and in the subsequent years of their marriage Kristin bears Erlend seven more boys. As WikiPedia puts it: "The second book opens with Kristin's arrival at Husaby. She is suffering from remorse for her sins and fears for her unborn child. Her relationship with Erlend is no longer the careless one of days past, as she can see that he is impetuous and wasteful of his possessions although his passion for her is unchanged". They eventually loose their estate, Husaby, after Erlend's political fall from grace, and are forced to live on Kristin's late parent's estate (the one she grew up on), Jørundgård. During this time, her remaining sister, Ramborg, marries Simon Darre. They have two boys and a girl. Prior to Erlend and Kristin's marriage, they pretty much poison Eline, and after the marriage, along with raising her own children, Kristin raises Erlend's bastards.
In this, Kristin sees her boys grow up, along with the birth and quick subsequent death of her eighth baby boy. During the middle to end of The Wife, Kristin and Erlend become estranged, and in the Cross, he leaves her and lives alone on another estate of his. She follows him there after a few months of his absence, and they reconcile, even though afterwards Erlend refuses to return to Jørundgård. When he does eventually return, he is accidentally killed by one of the villagers, and dies (from a deep groin wound) in Kristin's arms. Following this, Kristen's two eldest sons become priests, one marries through peculiar circumstances and inherits Jørundgård, two go and find their fortunes by entering the services of a kinsman, one becomes a sailor, and two die young, one still an infant, the other just before reaching his majority. After Erlend's death, Kristin chooses to live out her remaining years as a nun. When the plague reaches Norway in 1349, Kristin tends to the sick and dying, eventually contracting the disease herself. She violently succumbs to the disease, becoming part of the 1/3 of the European population to do so.
And thus ends Kristin Lavransdatter.
Here is my review of the book on Amazon.
""I thought that when we would be wed, it would be like Christmas every day. Now I see that it has long periods of fasting.", April 10, 2009
And so is the marriage between Erlend Nikulausson and Kristin Lavransdatter. Although he speaks of her almost habitual pregnancies, this somewhat foreshadows their constant union. His reckless and youthful squandering of their infrequent good fortune and their stanch love for the other is what keeps your fingers tense for the next page. This is not a story of daily passion and easy living, but that of nearly spent passion and stubborn love, followed by weighty hardships and never before thought of consequences. Undset gives you the honor of following Kristin from the tender age of seven to almost fifty.
Although I am not a mother and am far too young to be one (by God, I turned fifteen five months ago), you will live through Kristin and see her children -your children- sired, reared and raised all to manhood, fear for their inheritance and lineage, ache when you learn about a child begotten of a mistress, marriages procured through less then socially acceptable circumstances of the day, and weep as she does for their either lost or ruined lives.
Every one of Undset's characters, young, old, dead and gone, are true to form and never deviate from themselves. This is why Sigrid Undset won the Nobel Prize in literature for this profound trilogy, and if you are so lucky as to read this, I know you'd not disagree.
All in all, this book is a masterpiece not just of literature, but of life itself. As you might already be able to tell, I give this book my firm approval and a 5/5 stars for capturing my mind, from which I know is the case, because I constantly think back to these books.
To conclude my review, I say buy, buy, buy, and you'll not regret it. ""
Note: In Medieval Norway, this is how surnames were procured:
For example, my name is Christina. My father's name is James, and so my surname would be Jamesdatter. Making my full name Christina Jamesdatter. My brother's name is Peter, and so his full name would be Peter Jamesson. My father's father's name is James as well, and so my father's name would be James Jamesson.
This explains the name Kristin Lavransdatter. Her father's name is Lavrans. Her Sister's names are accordingly Ulvhild Lavransdatter and Ramborg Lavransdatter. The Lavransdatter girls' mother's name is Ragnfrid Ivarsdatter, telling us that Ragnfrid's father was named Ivar.
Get the picture?