Study Guide

Kristin Lavransdatter

by Sigrid Undset

Kristin Lavransdatter Summary

Overview (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Kristin Lavransdatter is a trilogy. The first novel, The Bridal Wreath, depicts the eponymous character’s girlhood and adolescence during the fourteenth century. Kristin’s early childhood is idyllic. She lives on Jøundgaard, a prosperous estate in Gudbrandsdal, Norway. She has a very close relationship with her father, Lavrans Bjøgulfsøn, the master of the estate and a pious, respected man. One rare childhood tragedy is the crippling of her little sister Ulvhild in an accident.

With puberty, Kristin’s life becomes troubled. Arne Gyrdsson, Kristin’s close peasant friend, worships Kristin and dies defending her honor. Kristin rejects her parents’ spousal choice, the mature and pious Simon Darre, because she is not romantically attracted to him. While residing temporarily at a nunnery in Oslo, Kristin is seduced by Erlend Nikulausson, a worldly knight. Kristin is accidentally complicit in the death of Erlend’s former mistress, Eline Ormsdatter. The headstrong Kristin breaks church rules requiring chastity, truthfulness, and obedience to one’s parents. She also goes against the cautionary teachings of her friend and adviser Brother Edvin, a wandering friar. Kristin’s parents do not approve of marriage to the impulsive, immature Erlend, but love-smitten Kristin is determined to marry him and they relent. Secretly pregnant at her marriage celebration, the physically ill bride experiences doubts about her marital choice.

The second novel in the trilogy, The Mistress of Husaby, describes Kristin’s difficult life as a spouse and mother. Throughout her first pregnancy, she worries that the child will be deformed because of her sins. Erlend’s estate at Husaby is in disarray, a result of his mismanagement. Kristin is almost continually pregnant, bearing several sons who survive infancy. The constant pregnancies wear her out and interfere with her closeness to her husband. Kristin blames Erlend for ignoring his sons...

(The entire section is 808 words.)

Kristin Lavransdatter Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In Kristin Lavransdatter, Undset told the entire life story of the eponymous character in chronological order in three books. A supporting cast of characters grows old with Kristin over the time period 1320-1350 c.e. The author vividly describes the setting in medieval rural Norway. It is a brutal world with much violence and many pagan superstitions. The Viking era had ended when King Olaf Haraldson converted his kingdom to Christianity. However, many of the Viking behaviors continued, such as drunkenness, brutal talk, and vicious fights begun with little provocation. Just as Norway is undergoing a conflict between pagan and Christian ways, the book’s characters struggle between spirit and flesh.

The first book, The Bridal Wreath (also known as The Wreath), depicts Kristin’s idyllic childhood. She grows up secure and well loved on her father’s prosperous feudal estate. She is especially close to Lavrans, her father. He is an admirable figure, respected and honorable. Her protected, happy life is interrupted only by an accident that seriously injures her little sister, Ulvhild.

With puberty, Kristin’s rebellious nature surfaces. Her childhood friend Arne, a peasant, dies in a fight defending her honor. Her parents arrange her marriage to Simon, a good and wise man of her landowner station in life. Kristin, however, does not love Simon, and to delay marriage she spends a year in a nunnery. The trilogy does not contain much humor, but the nunnery section introduces Kristin’s roommate, Ingebjørg, who provides amusement with her vanity and vacuous comments. While staying at the nunnery, Kristin meets the love of her life, Erlend, a worldly knight. Erlend is handsome and charming, but he is also immature and careless. His mistress, Eline, has already borne him two children. Kristin inadvertently contributes to the death of Eline in a confrontation.

Erlend seduces Kristin, who becomes his willing intimate partner because of her sexual attraction to him. Going against the wishes of her parents, the headstrong Kristin marries Erlend as The Bridal Wreath concludes. Pregnant and nauseated at her wedding feast, Kristin experiences doubts and regrets. The wedding crown, or wreath, is a great weight upon her head.

In the second book, The Mistress of Husaby (also known as The Wife), Kristin pays a heavy price for her earlier sins. The book...

(The entire section is 1009 words.)

Kristin Lavransdatter Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Lavrans Björgulfsön and his wife, Ragnfrid Ivarsdatter, are descended from powerful landowners. Although Kristin was born at her father’s manor, Skog, she spends most of her childhood at Jörundgaard, which falls to Lavrans and Ragnfrid upon the death of Ragnfrid’s father. Kristin’s childhood is exceedingly happy.

A second daughter, Ulvhild, is crippled at the age of three. Lady Aashild, a declared witch-wife, is sent for to help the child. Kristin becomes well acquainted with Lady Aashild that summer.

When she is fifteen years old, Kristin’s father betrothes her to Simon Andresson of Dyfrin. One evening, Kristin slips away to bid good-bye to a childhood playmate, Arne Gyrdson. On her way home, Bentein, Sira Eirik’s grandson, accosts her. She escapes after a fight with him, physically unharmed but mentally tortured. Later that year, Arne is brought home dead after fighting with Bentein over Bentein’s sly insinuations regarding Kristin. Kristin persuades her father to put off the betrothal feast and permit her to spend a year in a convent at Oslo.

Soon after entering the Convent of Nonneseter, Kristin and her bed partner, Ingebjorg Filippusdatter, go into Oslo to shop, accompanied by an old servant. When they become separated from the old man, they are rescued by a group of men riding through the woods. In that manner Kristin meets Erlend Nikulaussön, the nephew of Lady Aashild. In July, Kristin and Erlend meet once more at the St. Margaret’s Festival and that night vow to love each other. The following morning, Kristin learns from Ingebjorg of Eline Ormsdatter, whom Erlend stole from her husband, and by whom Erlend had two children. Later that summer, while visiting her uncle at Skog, Kristin and Erlend meet secretly, and Kristin surrenders to Erlend. During the following winter, Kristin and Erlend manage to meet frequently. In the spring, Kristin tells Simon of her love for Erlend and her desire to end their betrothal. He agrees, much against his will. Lavrans and Ragnfrid unwillingly accept Kristin’s decision.

When Erlend’s kinsmen bring suit for Kristin’s hand in marriage, Lavrans refuses. During the winter Erlend and Kristin plan to elope to Sweden. While they are making their plans at Lady Aashild’s home, Eline overtakes them. Discovered by Erlend when she is trying to give poison to Kristin, she stabs herself. Erlend and Sir Bjorn, Lady Aashild’s husband, put her on a sled and take her south to be buried. Kristin returns home.

The following spring Erlend’s relatives again make a bid for Kristin’s hand, and worn out with suffering—Ulvhild’s death and Kristin’s unhappiness—Lavrans agrees to the betrothal. During Erlend’s visit at Whitsuntide, Kristin becomes pregnant. On the night of the wedding, Lavrans realizes that Kristin already belongs to Erlend. He gives to Erlend what Erlend already possesses.

After her marriage Kristin moves to...

(The entire section is 1205 words.)