Kristin Lavransdatter:
The Garland; The Mistress of Husaby; The Cross

Sigrid Undset

translated from the Norwegian
Alfred Knopf 1930
A book review by Danny Yee © 1999
Perhaps as a result of the austere binding on the library copy, I approached Kristin Lavransdatter, a thousand page historical novel set in 14th century Norway, with some wariness. And it is certainly not light reading, with its share of illness and plague, sudden and unexpected episodes of violence, death, and other human tragedies. Like the Icelandic family sagas which inspired Undset, however, Kristin Lavransdatter offers an ultimately positive view of human existence.

Kristin Lavransdatter tells the story of one woman from childhood to death, through betrothal and an illicit affair, marriage and marital discord, and childbirth and motherhood. There is too much in it to grasp in a single reading, let alone summarise in a brief review. Among other things it encompasses the complexities of kinship ties and family relationships, the pitfalls of reputation and status in tightly knit rural communities (and briefly of the high politics of Sweden and Norway), and the variety of religious beliefs and practices. Undset handles the changes in pacing needed in a novel covering half a century, convincingly connecting events and depicting changes over a lifetime.

Kristin Lavransdatter is a powerful and moving treatment of universal themes. It is also a compelling portrait of a unique individual in her historical and social context — that is, it succeeds as a historical novel, in the depiction of a world that can stand by itself and is not parasitic on the present.

March 1999

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%T Kristin Lavransdatter
%S The Garland; The Mistress of Husaby; The Cross
%A Undset, Sigrid
%M Norwegian
%F Archer, Charles
%F Scott, J.S.
%I Alfred Knopf
%D 1930
%O hardcover
%G ISBN 0394432622
%P 945pp