The novel is part one of a trilogy about the life of a Danish woman in the middle ages. Kristen Lavransdatter (literally the daughter of Lavrans) is the cherished child of a devout noble family in rural Denmark. She is her father’s favourite child and consequently grows up to be slightly spoiled and willful. Although her parents arrange a suitable engagement to a kind boy from a neighbouring family, sixteen year old Kristen falls in love with the dashing Erland – a handsome and unscrupulous knight. Erland, who has been living with a married woman for ten years, and is excommunicated from the Catholic Church, seduces Kristin on several occasions. Complications ensue – including murder, adultery and badly disappointed parents.
What the Armchair Critics Thought:
It was quite interesting to read about the adventures of a teenager in the fourteenth century – as written by a woman in the 1920s. Undset’s book shows that strong human emotions are a constant through human history. We discussed how our perception of a novel is coloured by our personal experiences and age – such that we would sympathize with Kristen’s parents and Erland’s abandoned lover – rather than with sixteen year old Kristen.
We had a lot of difficulty with the translation by Charles Archer – which was stilted and awkward. Combined with the Danish names and unfamiliar religious and social customs, it made heavy going. A newer translation by Tiina Nunnally is considered much more readable and would have greatly added to the enjoyment of the novel. The notes and sketches at the end of the book were helpful. Recommended if you can obtain the 2005 rather than the 1920 translation.