Kristin Lavransdatter – Mistress of Husaby

The second book of the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy is really the anatomy of a marriage.  Sigrid Undset sculpts an realistic profile of a difficult marriage.  Kristin has to face the weaknesses of her husband; eventually, with the help of her father no less, she sees some of her faults.  Early on, she compares her daily life with that of her parents.  There is a contrast in the orderly manner in which her folks carried on their affairs and the reckless neglect that has been the M.O. of her husband’s estate.  Studying the three marriages in this book (Kristin’s, her parents’, and her sister’s) would be fodder for some great discussion.

Which makes me wonder: how much of an issue is housekeeping in a marriage?  Not just sweeping the floor and doing laundry, although it includes that; but, how do we reconcile different approaches, different mindsets to work and leisure? 

In the first section, The Fruit of Sin, Kristin struggles with the guilt of her sexual immorality and disloyalty to her parents.  She embarks on a solitary pilgrimage, walking twenty miles by herself to the Archbishop, who can give her absolution.   When she arrives at the cathedral she ponders the architecture.

Human beings had never compassed this work of their own strength – God’s spirit had worked in holy Öistein, and the builders of this house that came after him.  Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven – now she understood the words.  A reflection of the glory of God’s kingdom witnessed in these stones that His will was all that was fair.  Kristin trembled.  Aye, well might God turn in wrath from all that was foul – from sin and shame and uncleanness. (snip) The singing cut into her like a too strong light. (snip) The undeserved mercy broke her heart asunder; she knelt, crushed with penitence, and the weeping welled up out of her soul as blood flows from a death-wound. (pp 100-101)

In a parallel scene her husband takes a risky, solitary trip on foot to Lavran’s estate and seeks to make peace as well as make amends with his father and mother-in-law.  We see in Erlend a man who can charm and persuade, a fearless warrior who leads men into battle, but a man who finally lacks self-control.  Undset does such a good job of showing strengths and weaknesses: in Erlend, in Kristin, and in their marriage.

“You must have known it yourself, Erlend – a thicket of briers and thorns and nettles had you sowed around you – how could you draw a young maid in to your side and she not be torn and wounded and bleeding –” (p.87)

The rest of this book is not driven by plot as much as character development.  Kristin and Erlend have seven sons.  As Kristin’s marriage struggles wax and wane, the love between her father and mother becomes deeper and more secure. 

…all other love is but as an image of heaven in the water-puddles of a muddy road. (p.139)

And she tried to shut out from her mind all care for things wherein she could take no hand.  She would only think of those matters in which she could do some good by her carefulness.  All the rest she must leave in God’s hand.  (p.167)

For in her soul sin still had its being, as the root-tissue of the weeds is inwoven in the soil.  It flowered and flamed and scented the air no longer, but ’twas still there in the soil, bleached, but strong and full of life. (p. 281)

I haven’t finished the trilogy yet and I’m ready to begin re-reading it.  I have read the older Charles Archer translation.  Next time I’ll read Tiina Nunnally’s 1997 translation.  There are other Sigrid Undset books on my list. Another new author to explore.  Sigh.  Life is good.

3 thoughts on “Kristin Lavransdatter – Mistress of Husaby

  1. Carol, you describe the book so well! It is such a joy to read your posts. I am reminded once again how much I enjoyed that second book of the trilogy. Maybe I should reread the whole thing Blessings!

  2. Carol, once again you have brought another author to captivate my mind. Your description is delicious. I felt drawn into the book. While I am smack dab in the middle of a Trollope chonicle, I am excited to look for this trilogy in the near future. Thank you for once again broadening my mind and enriching my life. Blessings and love, M in SC

  3. I read the older translation toward the end of last year/beginning of this one.  I have to say I was not quite as impressed as you are!  I liked many things about the trilogy, but I also found it a bit frustrating.  I did absolutely love Kristin’s father, though. I have thought that at some point, I might read the newer translation.  The way the author showed life during that time was stunningly wonderful, and I would certainly recommend the books for that alone. I wasn’t too impressed with the Archer translation, though.

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