Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

40 Inspirational Classics for Lent

Yes, I’m including fiction, too, in this series of posts about recommended reading for Lenten learning and devotions. I learn a lot from fiction.

Because I have been so steeped in our own 20th/21st century cultural milieu and, of course, in stories with Hollywood endings, I truly thought that this novel of a medieval Norwegian teenage girl who “follows her heart” and marries the man who sweeps her off her feet (and also seduces her) would end in a happily ever after for the couple. Even though I know that’s not usually the ending in real life for that sort of beginning, I also have seen enough movies and read enough books in which following one’s emotions in disregard of parents, church, and community is rewarded.

Undset is more realistic than all of those Hollywood-influenced writers. Not that Kristin lives a completely horrid and pain-filled life after her youthful fall into sin and indiscretion; she doesn’t. She simply reaps what she has sown. Kristin chooses to marry an irresponsible but charming man, and as the two have a family and grow old together, her husband remains untrustworthy and quite attractive at the same time. Kristin remains both willful and desirous of spiritual riches. This combination makes for a life and marriage filled with joy at times, but also plagued by disaster and the consequences of poor choices.

I’m afraid that I’m not making this book sound good enough to induce you to pick it up and read it. The book is three volumes long, over a thousand pages, and it takes commitment to even begin such a hefty narrative. However, I believe you will be rewarded both intellectually and spiritually if you decide to read Kristin Lavransdatter. And I’m not the only one:

Mindy Withrow: “The internal seasons of Kristin’s soul change with the frozen winters and golden summers of Jorundgaard. Here Nunnally’s translation abilities stand out—clearly Undset gave her unparalleled material in the original Norwegian—with gorgeous word choices in soaring descriptions of natural beauty, descriptions that are never extraneous but always reflective of Kristin’s heart.”

Superfast Reader: “Despite the alienness of 13th Century feudal Norway, Undset’s books feel fresh, immediate, and alive, thanks to her depiction of Kristin, an exceptionally complex character.”

Word Lily: “One of my favorite aspects of this trilogy is how it is set so long ago and yet so many of the characters’ lessons are applicable to life today. The portrait the story paints of life in the Middle Ages both confirms and challenges my perception.”

Shelflove: “Kristin and her family step living from the pages, imperfect, stubborn, loving, exhausted, praying, scolding, laughing.”

Carrie at Mommy Brain: “While reading Kristin’s story, I learned so much about the religious customs of the day, about the way government and legal matters were handled, about the day to day life of a woman on an estate, about how children were raised, about how the plague devastated complete towns.”

Carol Magistramater: “I first heard of Kristin Lavransdatter reading a book list; I took note when Elisabeth Elliot named it her favorite novel.”

Also: A Striped Armchair, A Work in Progress, CaribousMom, New Century Reading.

And I’ve also written about this book before. So, if you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for? (I am told by very reliable sources that the Tina Nunnally translation is more complete, more literary, and more readable than the older translation by Charles Archer. Either way, it’s a great and valuable story.)

9 thoughts on “Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

  1. I third it! I read the trilogy with Charles Archer’s translation. But I have Tina Nunnally’s at hand to read.

    Kristen L. is a book that stays with you long after other books have dissipated into the gray matter of the mind. I still remember the experience of reading it.

  2. Yes!! One of the greatest reads of all time. I do like the Nunnally translation, though some of the archaicisms of the older version are quite beautiful.

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