Kristin Lavransdatter

Kristin Lavransdatter III: The Cross
by
Sigrid Undset

Translated
by
Tiina Nunnally
Reviewed
by
Faith Flaherty
Kristin Lavransdatter is a trilogy of historical novels written by Sigrid Undset. This edition is a translation by Tiina Nunnally, which I found very understandable.  Notes are included for further explanation, in the back of the novel. 

The Cross is about the life of a Norwegian woman living in the fourteenth century.  The culture was completely foreign to me.  I found the customs fascinating. 

I was particularly interested in the fact that there seemed to be no capital punishment.  Two men were killed and the perpetrators weren’t arrested, thrown in prison and subjected to inhumane deaths.  Instead, they had to make restitution.  The details weren’t given, just that they had to give property and money to the victim’s family.  The perpetrators were worried that banishment may sometimes be required, as part of restitution.

Another cultural and historical fact that surprised me was that priests were married.  The priests’ wives, and children, and even their bastard children, were casually referred to as frequently as other villagers’ families.  It was as common as the hay in the fields.

I was also impressed by the people’s devout allegiance to their church.  They unquestionably believed their religion.  They would complain about this priest being lazy or stupid, but they had no doubt about the priest’s charisms when it came to celebrating the Mass, or other sacraments.  They prayed all day at prescribed times and used prayerful ejaculations.  They breathed faith.

The Norwegian medieval theology was curious.  Most people couldn’t read.  Only a couple of Kristen’s seven boys were interested in learning.  Otherwise, it wasn’t really necessary.  So the people couldn’t do research in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, but they knew their faith and its practices.  Their prayer life, piety, work, and family life were all interwoven together.  Even when a group of ignorant men wanted to offer the human sacrifice of a child to satisfy an angry god, the people knew better.  This was a time of sickness.  The black plagued devastated the area, and people were desperate. 

The novel itself started with too many characters.  I had to write them down to keep them straight.  I wrote about two pages worth before I became too interested in the story to bother to stop and write down who was who.  From then on, Kristen and her family’s life took hold of me.  My life stopped and Kristen’s ruled.

Needless to say, I enjoyed the novel.  Kristen’s life was hard, yet so identifiable that one can easily relate.  Sigrid Undset tells a spell binding story with memorable characters.  I am still thinking about the book, even though I finished it weeks ago.  It definitely is a classic.

Comments

Your review tempts me to read it.
Faith said…
The book reminded me of a Russian novel. The characters are too many but the story is riveting.

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