Kristin Lavransdatter
Kristin Lavransdatter is the common name for a trilogy of historical novels written by Nobel
Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...

 laureate Sigrid Undset
Sigrid Undset
Sigrid Undset was a Norwegian novelist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928.-Biography:Undset was born in Kalundborg, Denmark, but her family moved to Norway when she was two years old. In 1924, she converted to Catholicism and became a lay Dominican...

. The individual novels are Kransen (The Wreath), first published in 1920, Husfrue (The Wife), published in 1921, and Korset (The Cross), published in 1922. Kransen and Husfrue have also been published in English translation under the titles The Bridal Wreath and The Mistress of Husaby.

This work formed the basis of Undset receiving the 1928 Nobel Prize in Literature
Nobel Prize in Literature
Since 1901, the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded annually to an author from any country who has, in the words from the will of Alfred Nobel, produced "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction"...

, "principally for her powerful descriptions of Northern life during the Middle Ages"; her work is much admired for its historical and ethnological accuracy.

Plot introduction

The cycle follows the life of Kristin Lavransdatter, a fictitious
Fiction is the form of any narrative or informative work that deals, in part or in whole, with information or events that are not factual, but rather, imaginary—that is, invented by the author. Although fiction describes a major branch of literary work, it may also refer to theatrical,...

Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

 woman living in the 14th century. Kristin grows up in Sil
Sel is a municipality in Oppland county, Norway. It is part of the traditional region of Gudbrandsdal. The administrative centre of the municipality is the town of Otta....

 in Gudbrandsdalen, the daughter of a well-respected and affluent farmer. She experiences a number of conflicts in her relationships with her parents, and her husband
A husband is a male participant in a marriage. The rights and obligations of the husband regarding his spouse and others, and his status in the community and in law, vary between cultures and has varied over time...

 Erlend, in medieval Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

. She finds comfort and conciliation in her Catholic faith.

The Wreath

Kristin Lavransdatter is the daughter of Lavrans, a charismatic, respected nobleman in a rural area of Norway, and his wife Ragnfrid, who suffers from depression after the loss of three infant sons and the crippling of her younger daughter Ulvhild in an accident. Raised in a loving and devoutly religious family, Kristin develops a sensitive but willful character, defying her family in small and large ways. At an early age, she is exposed to various tragedies. After an attempted rape raises questions about her reputation, she is sent to Nonneseter Abbey
Nonneseter Abbey, Oslo
Nonneseter Abbey, Oslo was a Benedictine nunnery located in Oslo, Norway.-History:Nonneseter Abbey is mentioned for the first time in 1161, but was founded before that, possibly by as much as several decades previously. It was dedicated to the Virgin Mary...

, a Benedictine nunnery in Oslo
Oslo is a municipality, as well as the capital and most populous city in Norway. As a municipality , it was established on 1 January 1838. Founded around 1048 by King Harald III of Norway, the city was largely destroyed by fire in 1624. The city was moved under the reign of Denmark–Norway's King...

. This proves to be a turning point in her life.

She has been betrothed since childhood to a neighboring landowner's son, Simon Darre, but falls in love with Erlend Nikulaussøn, from the estate of Husaby in Trøndelag
Trøndelag is the name of a geographical region in the central part of Norway, consisting of the two counties Nord-Trøndelag and Sør-Trøndelag. The region is, together with Møre og Romsdal, part of a larger...

. Erlend has been excommunicated
Excommunication is a religious censure used to deprive, suspend or limit membership in a religious community. The word means putting [someone] out of communion. In some religions, excommunication includes spiritual condemnation of the member or group...

 by the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 for openly cohabitating with Eline, the wife of a prominent judge; she has left her elderly husband to live with him, thus flouting both religious and social law. They have had two children together, Orm and Margret. These children have no legal rights since they were born of an adulterous relationship.

Erlend and Kristin begin a passionate romance which is sealed with Erlend's seduction of Kristin and their eventual complicity in Eline's death, both grievous sins in the eyes of Church and State. Lavrans forbids their relationship, but after three years of Kristin's defiance and the death of Ulvhild, he no longer has the strength to oppose Kristin. He consents to her marriage to Erlend. Erlend and Kristin are formally betrothed, but she becomes pregnant before the wedding. Out of shame, she keeps this a secret from everyone, including Erlend, and is wed with her hair loose and wearing the family bridal crown —- privileges reserved for virgin brides.

This section of the trilogy is named for the golden wreath Kristin wears as a young girl, which is reserved for virgins of noble family. It symbolizes her innocent life before she meets Erlend; after he seduces her, she is no longer entitled to wear it, but does so out of fear of her sin coming to light.

The Wife

The second book opens with Kristin's arrival at Husaby. She is suffering from remorse for her sins and fears for her unborn child. Her relationship with Erlend is no longer the careless one of days past, as she can see that he is impetuous and wasteful of his possessions although his passion for her is unchanged. She gives birth to a son, Nikulaus (Naakkve for short), who to her surprise is healthy and whole in spite of the circumstances of his conception.

After confessing to her parish priest, Kristin undertakes a pilgrimage to St. Olav's shrine
Nidaros Cathedral
Nidaros Cathedral is a Church of Norway cathedral located in the city of Trondheim in Sør-Trøndelag county, Norway. It was the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Nidaros from its establishment in 1152 until its abolition in 1537. Since the Reformation, it has been the cathedral of the...

 in Trondheim
Trondheim , historically, Nidaros and Trondhjem, is a city and municipality in Sør-Trøndelag county, Norway. With a population of 173,486, it is the third most populous municipality and city in the country, although the fourth largest metropolitan area. It is the administrative centre of...

 to do penance and give thanks for her son's birth. She donates her golden wreath, which she wore undeservedly after her seduction by Erlend, to the shrine.

Over the following years, Kristin and Erlend have six more sons together and Kristin becomes the head of the household. She must deal with her husband's weaknesses while running the estate, raising her children as well as those of Erlend's former mistress, and trying to remain faithful to her religion. During these years, her parents die and her remaining sister Ramborg is married to Simon Darre, although he secretly still loves Kristin. Ramborg is only fourteen when she is married, but has pushed for this wedding as she has loved Simon since her childhood. She understands little about what marriage means, particularly to a man who has been in love with someone else for many years.

Erlend, impulsive to the point of recklessness, runs foul of the political powers of his time and is imprisoned. Through the efforts of Kristin's former fiancé, Simon, his life is spared but his property must be forfeited to the crown. Husaby is lost to them. The only property left to the family is Kristin's childhood farm, Jørundgård.

The Cross

Kristin, Erlend, and their children return to Jørundgård but fail to gain the acceptance of the community. Hardship forges strong family bonds and highlights Kristin's sense of obligations to her family and her faith. However, she and Erlend become estranged from Simon and Ramborg after Erlend and Ramborg become aware of Simon's continuing love for Kristin.

Kristin becomes increasingly concerned about the future of her sons now that Erlend has lost their inheritance. After an argument on this subject in which she compares him unfavorably with her father, Erlend leaves the manor and settles at Haugen, the former home of his aunt Aashild.

He and Kristin reunite there briefly during his absence after the dying Simon extracts a promise from Kristin to ask Erlend's forgiveness for her harsh words. They conceive an eighth son together, but Erlend refuses to return to the manor, instead insisting Kristin must move to Haugen to be with him. Kristin is very angry and hurt, and when she gives birth, she names her son Erlend. This is a terrible breach of custom, as local superstition maintains that children must not be named after living relatives or one of the two will die. In this way, she demonstrates that she considers her husband dead to her. The superstition is borne out, as the child weakens from the time he is given his father's name and soon dies.

Due to the jealousy of her foreman's estranged wife, Kristin is publicly accused of adultery and complicity in the death of her child. Her sons rally around her, and one of them rides to inform Erlend. Erlend immediately sets out for Jorundgård, but upon his return to the farm he is accidentally slain in a confrontation with the locals and dies in Kristin's arms after asserting her innocence.

After handing the farm over to her third son and his wife, Kristin returns to Trondheim, where she is accepted as a lay member of Rein Abbey
Rein Abbey, Norway
Rein Abbey was a Roman Catholic religious house for women located in Rissa on the Fosen peninsula to the northwest of Trondheim, in Sør-Trøndelag, Norway.-History:...

. When the Black Death
Black Death
The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. Of several competing theories, the dominant explanation for the Black Death is the plague theory, which attributes the outbreak to the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Thought to have...

 arrives in Norway in 1349, Kristin dedicates herself to nursing the ill before she herself succumbs to the plague.

Related Works

Undset wrote a tetralogy
A tetralogy is a compound work that is made up of four distinct works, just as a trilogy is made up of three works....

, "The Master of Hestviken
The Master of Hestviken
The Master of Hestviken is a tetralogy about medieval Norway written by Sigrid Undset. It was originally published in Norwegian as two volumes Olav Audunssøn i Hestviken and Olav Audunssøn og Hans Børn, from 1925 to 1927. Hestviken is a fictional mediaeval farm on the East side of the Oslo fjord....

", which takes place around the same time as Kristin Lavransdatter. Kristin's parents make a brief appearance in this book, near the end of the part called "The Snake Pit". They are depicted as young married people, playing with their baby son. They are a happy and prosperous couple at their first home in Skog, before Kristin's birth. The unfortunate life of Olav, the main character of "The Master of Hestviken", stands in stark contrast to the happiness and good fortune of the young couple. Anyone who has read "Kristin Lavransdatter" knows that Kristin's parents eventually lose all their sons in infancy, and suffer many other misfortunes and sorrows.

Characters in Kristin Lavransdatter

  • Kristin Lavransdatter, the protagonist
  • Lavrans Bjørgulfsson, her father (also referred to as Lavrans Langmandsson)
  • Ragnfrid Ivarsdatter, Kristin's mother
  • Simon Darre (also called Simon Andresson), initially engaged to Kristin, later her brother-in-law
  • Erlend Nikulausson, the reckless and handsome man who seduces and marries Kristin
  • Ulvhild Lavransdatter, Kristin's younger sister, left chronically ill and unable to walk after an accident
  • Bjørgulf, Haavard, and Sigurd Lavransson, Kristin's three brothers who died in infancy
  • Ramborg Lavransdatter, Kristin's youngest sister, eventual wife of Simon Darre
  • Åashild Gautesdatter of Dovre, a wise woman skilled in magic and the healing arts whom Kristin befriends. She is Erlend's aunt; formerly married unhappily to his uncle Baard Munanson, she is suspected by some of Baard's murder by poison.
  • Laurentius Lagmand, brother of Lavrans' grandfather, fled Sweden with his bride Bengta
  • Lady Bengta, taken out of a Swedish convent by Laurentius Lagmand and carried off to Norway
  • Kristin Sigurdsdatter, Lavrans' mother, who died at his birth; Kristin Lavransdatter is her namesake.
  • Inga, Lavrans' stepmother, whom Kristin calls grandmother
  • Åasmund Bjørgulfsson, Lavrans' half-brother, master at the Skog homestead
  • Gyrid, Åasmund's wife
  • Ketil Åasmundsson of Skog, son of Åasmund and first cousin to Kristin
  • Sigurd Kyrning, husband of Åasmund's oldest daughter Ragna
  • Ivar Gjesling, father of Ragnfrid and grandfather of Kristin
  • Trond Ivarsson (also called Trond Gjesling) Ragnfrid's brother
  • Ivar, Borgar, Guttorm, and Haavard Trondsson (also called Gjeslings), sons of Trond, first cousins of Kristin, and friends of Erlend.
  • Ingebørg Olavsdotter, a novice in nonneseter with Kristin, becomes somewhat of a friend
  • Sigurd Eldjarn of Sundbu, first cousin to Kristin (her mother's sister's son)
  • Arne Gyrdson, Kristin's childhood friend and foster-brother
  • Sira Eirik, parish priest at Kristin's childhood home in Jørundgaard
  • Bentein Priestson, grandson of Sira Eirik. and murderer of Arne
  • Sira Solmund, new parish priest at Jørundgaard, succeeding Sira Eirik
  • Guldsveinen, Lavrans' horse
  • Soten, Erlend's horse
  • Margygren, Erlend's ship
  • Gunnulf Nikulausson, Erlend's brother, a priest
  • Lady Gunna, Kristin's neighbor and midwife
  • Sira Eiliv, parish priest at Husaby, Erlend's home
  • Eline Ormsdatter, Erlend's mistress in his youth
  • Orm, son of Erlend and Eline and stepson of Kristin
  • Margret, daughter of Erlend and Eline, and stepdaughter of Kristin
  • Gaute Erlendsson, Erlend's mother's father
  • Nikulaus Munanson, Erlend's father
  • Baard Munanson, Nikulaus's brother, first husband of Åashild
  • Magnhild, mother of Erlend and sister of Åashild

(Note: two brothers married two sisters.)
  • Bjørn Gunnarsson, Lady Åashild's second husband
  • Baard Peterson, Erlend's foster-father and brother of Erlend's grandfather, Gaute Erlendsson
  • Ulf Haldorsson, servant and friend to Kristin and Erlend, illegitimate son of Baard Peterson
  • Haldor, Ulf's nephew, servant of Kristin
  • Jardtrud Herbrandsdatter, wife of Ulf
  • Sunniva Olavsdatter, wife of Thorolf; her brief affair with Erlend has tragic consequences
  • Thorolf Aasulfson of Lensvik, Sunniva's husband
  • Haftor Olavsson of Godøy, friend of Erlend and brother of Sunniva
  • Andres Gudmondson of Dyfrin, Simon Darre's father
  • Gyrd and Gudmund Darre, Simon's brothers
  • Sigrid and Helga Andresdatter, Simon's sisters
  • Geirmund Hersteinsson of Kruke, Sigrid's husband, harpist and singer
  • Gjavvald Arneson, originally betrothed to Sigrid
  • Lady Halfrid of Mandvik, Simon's first wife
  • Arngjerd Simonsdatter, Simon's illegitimate daughter by Lady Halfrid's servant Jorunn
  • Ulvhild Simonsdatter, daughter of Simon and Ramborg
  • Andres and Simon Simonson, sons of Simon and Ramborg
  • Bjarne Erlingssøn, son of Erling Vidkunssøn.
  • Jammaelt Halvardsson of Ælin, Ramborg's second husband
  • Brynhild Fluga (also called Brynhild Jonsdatter), owner of a brothel in Oslo and mother of two of Munan Baardson's children
  • Naakve, Bjørgulf, Gaute, Ivar, Skule, Lavrans, Munan, and Erlend, sons of Kristin and Erlend (Ivar and Skule are twins).
  • Signe Gamalsdatter, Ivar's wife
  • Jofrid Helgesdatter, Gaute's wife
  • Erlend Gautesson, Kristin's grandson
  • Kristin Gautesdatter, Kristin's granddaughter (mentioned, but does not otherwise appear)

Undset put some real historical characters into the novel:
  • King Magnus VII
    Magnus IV of Sweden
    Magnus Eriksson as Magnus IV was king of Sweden , including Finland, as Magnus VII King of Norway , including Iceland and Greenland, and also ruled Scania . He has also vindictively been called Magnus Smek...

     (also called Magnus Eiriksson), King of Norway and Sweden 1319-1343
  • Lady Ingebørg Haakonsdatter
    Ingeborg of Norway
    Ingeborg of Norway , was a Norwegian and by marriage Swedish princess and royal duchess with a position in the regency governments in Norway and Sweden...

    , mother of King Magnus
  • Knut Porse, Lady Ingebørg's second husband
  • Erling Vidkunsson
    Erling Vidkunsson
    Erling Vidkunsson was Lord High Justiciar of Norway, Lord of Bjarkoy and Giske and the Norwegian regent. Erling received the position of drottsete of the country and was probably the most important and wealthy Norwegian noble of his era. Erling Vidkunsson was born into a noble family of Bjarkøy...

    , "Drotsete" (Regent or High Steward) of Norway 1322-1330 under King Magnus. In the story, he is related to Erlend and Lady Halfrid, and is a lifelong friend of Erlend.
  • Munan Baardson, friend of Lady Ingebørg and Knut Porse. In the story he is the son of Åshild and cousin to Erlend.
  • Jon and Sigurd Haftorsson, King Magnus's cousins who plotted to overthrow him
  • Paal Baardson, Chancellor of Norway 1330, an old antagonist of Erling Vidkunssøn.

Literary significance and criticism

Kristin Lavransdatter was notable and to some extent controversial in its time, for its explicit characterization of sex in general and female sexuality in particular; its portrayal of the Catholic faith in the past of a country that was (and is) overwhelmingly Protestant; and its treatment of morally ambiguous situations.

It was the main basis for Undset being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The original translation into English was made in the 1920s by Charles Archer. His choice of archaic and stilted English phrasing ("thee", "I trow", "methinks" etc.) is considered by critics today to cloud Undset's clear prose and make it unnecessarily formal and clumsy. However, to those with some knowledge of Norwegian, who realise that many of Archer's choices deliberately reflect back on the original language (for example 'I trow' from the Norwegian 'tror' meaning "to believe" etc.), the language seems more genuine and resonant rather than archaic. Other bowdlerizations include a sexually explicit scene being edited out of the English edition at the time.
A new and complete translation by Tiina Nunnally
Tiina Nunnally
Tiina Nunnally is an American author and translator.Nunnally was born in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and St. Louis Park, Minnesota. She was an AFS exchange student to Århus, Denmark in 1969-70. She received her MA in 1976 from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a...

 was released by Penguin Classics in 2005, and this translation is considered by many critics to be the superior of the two.

Allusions/references to actual history, geography and current science

Undset's characterizations of the ethnology and history of 14th century Norway have held up as archeological and literary evidence has emerged since its writing.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

  • Kristin Lavransdatter
    Kristin Lavransdatter (film)
    Kristin Lavransdatter is a 1995 Norwegian film directed by Liv Ullman, featuring Elisabeth Matheson, Bjørn Skagestad, Jørgen Langhelle, Lena Endre and Sverre Anker Ousdal, based on Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset. It was the Norwegian entry to the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film...

    , 1995, directed by Liv Ullman
Critics gave it a lukewarm reception at best, and consider it to be more true to the present than the past. But it was viewed by as much as two-thirds of the population, one of Norway's most domestically successful films ever -- an important cultural event.

  • DVD
Actors: Per Kvaernes, Elisabeth Matheson, Anne Kokkinn, Bjørn Jenseg, Erland Josephson
Format: Anamorphic, Color, Dolby, DVD-Video, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
Language: Norwegian
Subtitles: English
DVD Release Date: April 6, 2004
Run Time: 187 minutes

  • VHS
Actors: Torunn Lødemel, Astrid Folstad, Paul-Ottar Haga, Kirsti Eline Torhaug, Joachim Calmeyer
Format: Box set, Color, Director's Cut, Special Edition, NTSC
VHS Release Date: February 19, 2002
Run Time: 180 minutes


  • Several of the sites mentioned in the novels have been made into museums and destination along the Norwegian countryside, including Jørundgard medieval center, The Kristin Days, and other events
  • The plot of Kristin Lavransdatter is an important element in the 2007 Academy Award winning animated short, The Danish Poet
    The Danish Poet
    The Danish Poet is a 2006 animated short film written, directed, and animated by Torill Kove and narrated by Liv Ullmann. A co-production of the National Film Board of Canada and Mikrofilm AS of Norway, it has won both the Academy Award and Genie Award for best animated short film.-Synopsis:The...


External links

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