Kristin Lavransdatter

Undset, Sigrid. Kristin Lavransdatter: the Bridal Wreath. Translated by Charles Archer. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1922.

The first thing I have to point out is there were two things going against this book (for me, anyway). One is sheer size. The entire novel is a trilogy, well over 1,000 pages. Add another sixty pages if you want to include the author’s notes. And the print is small. Real small. The second “negative” is that it is a translation, originally written in Norwegian. It seems I never do well with translated works. It’s almost as if the translator, no matter how hard he or she tried, lost something essential to the flavor of the book. I can’t explain it other than something always gets lost in translation. I know that’s cliche of me to say, but in this case I mean it literally, 100%. Note: I just found out that there is another, more recent translation that seems to be superior to the one I read. Darn.
Having said all that I should also point out (again) Kristin Lavransdatter has three volumes: The Bridal Wreath, the Wife and the Cross. I decided to read The Wreath in June, The Wife in July and The Cross in August. My chances of actually finishing the thing are much better when broken out this way. Another confession: while this might be a lengthy tale it’s also very good and easy to read.

I read this book because a) June is the best time to visit Norway and if you haven’t guessed by my tirade, the author is Norwegian; and b) June is the best month to get married (or divorced) in and Kristin is about the marriage of Kristin…eventually. The book starts with “The Bridal Wreath.” Kristin is a very young child traveling with her father across Norway. In true 14th century fashion Kristin is betrothed to a wealthy, reputable man in a neighboring town. As Kristin grows up she becomes increasingly rebellious, so much so that when she is nearly raped her community has doubts about who is telling the truth. As a result her family decides to send Kristin away to a convent to hide out until the rumors die down. While at this convent she falls in love with the dashing Erlend, a man who has reputation problems of his own. Excommunicated by the Catholic church because of an affair with a married woman, Erlend manages to seduce Kristin as well. Before they can be married Kristin becomes pregnant. The title of this section of Kristin Lavransdatter is in regards to the wreath wears on her wedding day. It is supposed to signify virginity but Kristin wears it with shame, too embarrassed to tell anyone it is a lie.

Author fact: Undset was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928.

Book Trivia: Kristin Lavransdatter was made into a movie in 1995.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging Up the Past Through Fiction” (p 79)’, and Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Norway: The Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162).

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