Kristin Lavransdatter: Thoughts

Making my way steadily through The Wreath. Up until now, I haven’t been casting my ‘critical eye’ over this book, because I’ve been reading it to relax. Of course, there’s something perverse in my reading something like Kristin Lavransdatter to relax, but it really has been pleasant to let my mind rest – and sometimes wander – as I read. For too long I’ve read books with ulterior motives, trying to pry out the ‘deeper meanings’ (where often, none exist) and trying to dissect or take apart the stories that novelists work so hard to construct together.

Edit: Steph’s words, not mine, but it’s what I actually meant to say –

This is simply a book that I’ve been having fun reading and just haven’t felt the need to rush through. I’m enjoying the time I spend with the book, and as easy as it is to flip the pages, I feel I’m not doing so mindlessly but am instead really reveling in the time spent. I feel like I am reading for the sake of reading, rather than for the sake of finishing the book.

Okay, whatever. My point is that I’m enjoying Kristin Lavransdatter because it’s so traditional. Clear, unadorned prose (Undset, or Nunally at least, is very frank and straightforward, but still poetic), linear narrative, well-drawn characters, an almost mystical setting. Everything is interwoven so masterfully, and with such confidence, that I’m very easily drawn into Kristin’s medieval Norway.

As for the ‘Modernist v Not’ question that I brought up in my last post, I’ve made up my mind: this  book is certainly not Modernist. Sigrid Undset might have been a ‘modern’ woman, striving to understand the changes wrought in society by the approach of moderneity. Yeah, yeah. A lot of that will probably be reflected in her work later on. From what I’ve read about the book, plot-wise, I can even begin to see themes that correlate with those of other novels from the 1920s. But is this book a product of modernity? No. Completely wrong box to put it in. The deeper I fall into this book, the more I realize that Kristin Lavransdatter is a homage to beautiful golden-haired maidens; to majestic stain-glass windowed cathedrals, and tolling bells, and homely villages snuggled deep in the Norwegian mountains; to great storytelling; to humanity – its beauty and blemishes both. To Romance.

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8 thoughts on “Kristin Lavransdatter: Thoughts

  1. This is an interesting post. I am following this read; however, as I explained in an earlier post I have the book from my library which is the Charles Archer translation. I think I’ve made a mistake in this book: I did read the comments earlier about this translation and I must say I tend to agree. I am now on page 127 and have come across a problem with the story jumping around a little. Please tell me that when Kristin and Erlend sheltered from the storm in an old barn that they had sex together (apologies for those who have not got this far), and later when they met in the loft? I ask this because my translation does not actually say that they did, in fact I detected a slight jump in the narrative. I would like to know if this is to do with translation per se or just the translation of Charles Archer. I believe that it is for the translator to translate as accurate as possible the text and not to impose their views of the text.

    1. Oh no!! Jennifer, I’ve not gotten that far yet! I’ve been reading ‘steadily’, but only about 5-10 pages a day – I’m still only on pg58!! Hmmm, well I don’t think that’s really related to translations, because you know, there’s a lot of sex going on in Madame Bovary but none of it’s really explicit. Same for the Balzac I recently read.

      Most probably, anything sexual was merely hinted at, even in Undset’s original? A lot of guesswork here, since I’ve clearly never read the original. When I read about Archer leaving things out in his translation, I assumed it was more generally chunks of the narrative, and not him censoring sex scenes… Er, I’ll get back to you on this after I’ve read the particular scene that you’re referring to :)

  2. Thank you for this reply on my comments. I am so sorry to have spoilt what is to come. I think I have lost confidence in this text: so I have decided that I am going to purchase the Tina Nunnally translation, so that I won’t feel that I am missing out on the discussions regarding the text

    1. Nahh, it’s alright, I read the Introduction beforehand, which is basically a HUGE ‘plot spoiler’. Good luck getting your hands on a copy of the Nunnally!

  3. I was a little peeved with that intro – huge plot spoiler indeed!! Oh well. Your blog is lovely. I’m looking forward to your thoughts about the rest of the book. :)

  4. Tuesday, after not exactly loving The Wreath (although I loved the descriptions of the setting and the era) and then reading how others felt the same, your take is a fresh departure and actually made me realize a few things. One of my qualms was that I felt the storyline too ordinary and yet, you say you like that it is very traditional. You are actually making me think twice about this point. I do love that it is a homage to romance, too, except that I wish it weren’t done so very conventionally. Though the ending makes me hopeful about this. Hope that you continue to post a little about your progress..

  5. Beautiful thoughts. I agree with you that the setting is lovely and I love the description of Kristin Lavransdatter as an “homage to beautiful golden-haired maidens”! That’s great and oh so true :)

  6. I agree totally – this book is not Modernist, for the very reasons you mentioned. And you’re also right in that it’s really hard to find any deeper meaning in this narrative because there probably isn’t any beyond the historical setting. I found myself flying through the pages like I do with few books.

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