Sunday Salon: Impressions

Today I finally settled down with my copy of Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter. First Sunday in a while where I could just read. So I have a few more essays breathing down my back, and maybe a few exams coming up too, but hey – what are Sunday afternoons for, if not relaxing?

Am I being unorthodox by posting notes as I go? Richard and Emily said towards the end of the month, but now that I’ve got a separate place to put these sorts of longer-term reading projects, I think I’d like to record things as they happen. Of course, I’ll tidy it all up and put everything into perspective after I’ve read the entire novel, but it’ll be interesting to see what sort of thought-trail I’ve left behind while I’m reading. If that makes any sense at all, let me know. These days I’m finding it increasingly hard to articulate myself.

Onto the novel itself. A lot of readers have been referring to it as ‘modernist’ fiction, and I had my doubts – but now that I’ve begun to read it myself, I think I can say for certain that I disagree. In my opinion (and purely my opinion, mind), not every novel that was composed in the early 1900s can be classified as ‘modernist’, just as not every piece of literature written in recent times is ‘postmodern’. I suppose what I’m trying to get at is that these sorts of labels that we give to books aren’t about the time period that they were written in; rather, they reflect the style, form, intent and thematic concerns of the writer. Probably, in the very near future, I will have to eat my own words. Because I  Leithauser mentioning in the Introduction something about Kristin’s character being a vessel for Undset’s own standing on certain issues of her time (i.e. the 1920s). Will try to be open-minded as I read, but thus far, Kristin Lavransdatter is not what I would call ‘modernist’. Feel free to argue with me on this one.

Also, writers – and books – have a way of shattering assumptions. We often build up expectations only to find that we’ve been entirely wrong. For instance, earlier this year when I read Anna Karenina, I assumed – from the title and from everything and nothing I’d ever heard about the book – that it was going to be a portrait of Anna’s life. And in many ways it was. Yet clearly Tolstoy, at the same time, paints us a picture of nineteenth century Russian society in that book. It’s one that is intricate and goes far beyond Anna’s life and death. Here, the opposite occurred. I sort of dived into this readalong without really knowing anything about Sigrid Undset, except that she won the Nobel Prize almost a century ago; and without knowing a thing about Kristin Lavransdatter, except it was a historical fiction set in medieval Norway. So I’d expected to be reading a grand epic, on the scale perhaps of a Leo Tolstoy. I was therefore surprised to find that from what I’ve read so far, Kristin Lavransdatter is neither an intimate portrait of a woman’s life, nor a grand tapestry of characters – but an ode to the beauty of Norway. I suppose later the focus will shift to Kristin, but I think Undset’s writing shines most dazzlingly when she writes about the land itself.

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11 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: Impressions

  1. Thank you for this post. I have wanted to read this book for a few years now, and it will definitely be the next book I buy. I for one, will look forward to your comments on what you think of this book.

    A further thought: what are you studying?

  2. You are being delightfully unorthodox! More power to you.

    I definitely agree so far (I’m around page 200?) that it’s not “modernist” in the hit-you-over-the-head experimental way that someone like Woolf or Joyce is. I had my doubts, as well, about the modernist label, and I’m still holding out judgment. From what I’ve read elsewhere, Undset does use some typically modernist techniques like stream of consciousness, but it certainly seems like this is a quieter, subtler version of modernism, if indeed that’s a useful label to apply to it at all. But then, E.M. Forster is routinely called modernist, and the stuff of his I’ve read seems pretty traditional to me as well. I guess it’s all down to how you define “modernism” – Kristin does share the modernist goal of interrogating and criticizing the past and the institutions of authority, if nothing else…although the relationship between Kristin and Erlend seems so capital-R Romantic…but then again, we have 800+ pages to travel with them throughout their lives, so maybe we’ll be back to the critique of Romanticism so beloved of Modernist authors.

    Heh. I have obviously not made up my mind about this issue, either. :-)

    1. Wow, pg200!! I’m like, fail to the max then, because I’m only on about page 24!!! Yes I agree with everything you say! Sadly, I have never read Forster so can’t argue with you on that point, but I agree that it does interrogate and criticize the past (particularly religion, I think, later on??)

      1. Not at all! You’ve posted about it and I haven’t yet. :-) Basically, I’m just really bad at moderating my reading…once I start something, that’s it – it may as well be finished already.

        And forgive my spoilers about what happens a little later! I’ll try to contain myself. :-)

  3. I love your pictures. And I’m so excited to read your comments as you readalong. I’m so excited to go and find this book now and you’ve only written one post of impressions!

    1. I’m sorry to say I’m not the photographer!! I know it’s very bad of me not to give credit where it’s due, but they’re mostly all photos I’ve had saved on my computer for years! Hope it’s not illegal or anything…………… hm, it probably is, actually!!

  4. I’m only a chapter into the book, Tuesday, so I’m afraid I can’t comment on any of these weighty questions yet. However, I think it’s great that you’re posting as you go. The readalong is your friend!

    1. I’m on the first chapter as well!! Pg 24, or thereabouts! So they’re pretty much open-ended questions/points I want to think about as I read :)

  5. .I looked on Amazon for this book and it comes in at over £15.00 which I’m afraid is out of my budget, being unemployed at the moment. So as not to loose out on this read I ordered the book from my library, which is the Charles Archer and JS Scott translation. I have read the comments on this translation so I am dubious about this read: nethertheless, I will persevere. The copy I have is very old, it was first lent out on the 25 August 1969, and it has those old fashioned brown tickets that slip into an envelope on the inside of the book

    1. Oh no! Hahah, I’m pretty poor being a full time student and all. I do work part time but that money all goes towards clothes and food, and the occasional book splurge. What I did was as soon as I got my pay, I went to the bookstore and bought this book….. then didnt buy food for a week. As in, I packed my lunches hahah. Goshh, the things I do for books :)

      Hmm, I’m glad you’ve decided to read the Archer! I hope the language doesn’t put you off too much – the Amazon preview pages I read were pretty hard to get through!! But it’ll be all the more interesting to compare thoughts, don’t you think?

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