Kristin Lavransdatter in a nutshell

No series on great literature would be complete without its attention to Sigrid Undset, Norwegian novelist converted to the faith, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928, four years after her reception into the Church. His two most famous works are Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken, both of which are multi-volume historical epics set in medieval Norway. The first was published in three parts between 1920 and 1922 and the second in four parts between 1925 and 1927.

Although Kristin Lavransdattercontrary to The Master of Hestvikenwas written before Undset was received into the Church, the seeds of conversion are evident in the tone and tenor of the story, in its moral fabric, and in the pervasive atmosphere of Thomistic ethical reality.

The plot of the novel follows the trials and tribulations of the eponymous heroine from her childhood to her death.. Young Kristin betrays her family, and in particular her wise and holy father, by succumbing to a willful passion and its painful and complex consequences. The reader grimaces as the stubborn girl makes mistake after mistake, failing to walk the path of wisdom and virtue with faith and reason.

She learns from her mistakes, sometimes painfully slowly, learning to live with their consequences, loving even though she is often deprived of the love she needs. It is as wife and mother, embracing the struggle and pain of married life, that she comes of age, seasoned with the experience of a life lived for others.

The novel is grounded in Norwegian history, of which Undset had extensive knowledge, and in the spirit of Norse sagas, which she was equally familiar with. The action is pedestrian in the best sense, taking place at the slow, steady pace of the seasons of the year and the speed at which a person can move on foot or on horseback. Such a rhythm allows the reader to enter fully into the time in which the story takes place by entering into the time taken by the characters themselves.

It slows us down so we can see with eyes unclouded by the pace and frenzy of modern life, inviting a contemplative, unhurried approach to the unfolding of events as they unfold. This aspect of Undset’s novel might remind some readers of the wanderings of The Fellowship of the Ring in Tolkien’s classic, which is steeped in the same pre-industrial rhythm as Kristin Lavransdatter and shares the same heroic spirit of the Norse sagas, whose love was shared by both authors and whose influence served each of them in terms of inspiration and aspiration.

Although the pacing and historical and cultural context might suggest analogies to Middle-earth, the character development and the connection between actions and their consequences might invite parallels to Jane Austen’s novels or perhaps to The bride by Alessandro Manzoni. Certainly, the characters in Undset suffer the consequences of their actions and achieve wisdom by living with such consequences, much like the characters in Austen’s novels and Manzoni’s masterpiece.

The power and depth of Kristen Lavransdatter originates from the author’s deep understanding of the meaning of life. This manifests in the way his characters grapple with reality as a quest for that deeper meaning the author already grasps. Readers of the novel also grapple with this reality, empathizing and sympathizing with Kristin as she learns to deal with a weak, unfaithful husband and learns the meaning of life and love through her experience. to be a mother in difficult and painful circumstances. .

The power of the story and the power of Undset as a storyteller is evident in the way the reader is drawn into the very presence of the angst and anger of the situations in which Kristin finds herself. We suffer with the eponymous heroine as she hungers for true happiness, finding solace in raising her children but feeling dissatisfied in the sense that she lacks the fullness of life. Only as she matures, painfully slowly, does she begin to find and feel the fullness of the love that had always eluded her.

We will end with a few words about Undset’s other works. His other great historical saga, The Master of Hestviken, also set in medieval Norway and follows the sad fortune of Olav Audunssøn who, like Shakespeare’s Lear, is more sin than sin. As with Kristin Lavransdatter, the key characters find solace amid life’s whirlwind of misfortunes in their Catholic faith and are fortified by the wise counsel of holy bishops and priests.

Sigrid Undset’s later works were mostly set in contemporary Norway, but echoed historical sagas in their depiction of characters who learn from their mistakes, gaining sanity and sanctity in the process. These include Ida Elizabeth and The wild orchid, the last of which tells the story of Paul Selmer and his slow and hesitant journey to the Catholic Church. A shameless “conversion novel” The wild orchid traces the protagonist’s journey from skepticism to faith in the context of failed relationships.

At the novel’s climax, Paul still hasn’t taken the decisive step of submitting to Holy Mother Church, but he seems about to. His definitive crossing of the threshold is recounted in the sequel, the burning bushwhich leads him deeper into the mystery of life through the embrace of death, the ultimate paradox of Christian life.

Sigrid Undset’s legacy as a novelist is rooted in the realism of the scholastic philosophy of which she was a diligent student. His novels expose the superficiality of relativism and present the deepest metaphysical understanding of the fundamental morality on which all human life and society is based. She sees the real world in which people face the bitter consequences of selfish choices and in which suffering is inevitable, yet potentially redemptive. She sees it and shows it to her readers with crystal clarity enriched with Christian charity. Deep down, his fiction shows us that accepting and embracing suffering is not only the beginning of wisdom, which it is, but also, and paradoxically, it is the path to lasting peace and joy.

Editor’s Note: This is the fortieth in a series of articles explaining the great works of literature “in brief”.

Comments are closed.