Kristin Lavransdatter: I The Bridal Wreath
By Sigrid Undset
Set in 14th Century Norway, Kristin Lavransdatter is a medieval love story. Kristin is the daughter of Lavrans and Ragnfrid and is well-loved and a bit spoiled by her father. For years, the family lives a quiet life in their small village going about their daily routines. When Ulvhild, the much beloved second daughter of Lavrans and Ragnfrid is injured, their life is turned upside down and many years pass before the family begins to recover.
In time, a third daughter is born to the couple, Ramborg, and Kristin begins preparing for her marriage to Simon Andressön. Kristin doesn’t show much interest in marriage but knows her father found her a good match even if Simon is someone she is not interested in — physically, emotionally, or intellectually. Her father and Simon agree that Kristin needs to experience the world at large, and she is put into a convent the year before her marriage. While there, Kristin falls in love with Erlend Nikulaussön, a man of her family’s caliber but not one in good standing with the community. Shortly before her marriage to Simon is to take place, she musters the courage to break off the engagement only to be told by her father that he will not allow her to marry Erlend. Years pass before the two are able to marry but somehow it doesn’t feel happy.
The entire time I was reading I kept wondering if it was the translation. It felt awkward and clunky and I had to go back a few times to reacquaint myself with some people and places. It was also very slow moving. Years pass where nothing much happens but somehow I keep reading. It wasn’t the characters that held my interest though — it was the setting. I haven’t read many books set in Norway and I found the lifestyles and small details of life intriguing.
I didn’t really care for Kristin. She seemed vapid to me, caring only about one thing — Erlend. She almost ruined her family by calling off her marriage, and yet, when she got what she wanted, she didn’t seem to be able to appreciate it. She spends her days before the wedding moping around and pining for something else as is she doesn’t really understand what marriage is about. She has very romanticized notions of life and when reality sets in, she panics and feels sorry for herself. I actually wanted to feel sorry for her but couldn’t. Her mother was much the same way and in the end I came to dislike both of them. I also didn’t like the way her life was decided for her but it was the 14th Century and women didn’t make decisions about their own lives. This is something I find I need to remind myself of when reading historical fiction sometimes.
My library has all three books but I don’t know yet if I will continue reading the story. It felt too much like a history lesson for me. Character wise, I didn’t find it a fulfilling read either. Maybe next year.