In the Wilderness Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Olav Audunssøn has little desire to stay on at Hestviken through the summer following his wife’s death. When the sons of the English armorer in Oslo ask him to be shipmaster of their boat on a trading voyage to London, it is plain that the idea pleases him. Eirik, Ingunn’s son by the Icelander, also wants to go on the trip, but Olav tells him nay—he must remain at Hestviken and be companion to little Cecilia, the daughter Ingunn bore in her last years.

In England, two adventures befall Olav. At evensong in the Dominican’s church, he sees a woman so much like dead Ingunn that for a moment his breath fails him. She resembles Ingunn completely, and yet she is young enough to be his daughter. With her is a blind man, apparently her husband. Olav sees her again, at mass and evensong, and after a time they begin to exchange glances and smiles. One night, her serving woman stops him after the service and leads him to a great house outside the walls. The strange woman is in the garden, her only dress a thin silk shift. For a moment Olav feels that he is about to clasp Ingunn again. Then he realizes that she is only a wanton wife seeking sport with a stranger. Thrusting her from him, he runs away.

At another time he goes with his shipmates to a famous shrine north of London. Separated from his companions, he wanders in the woods until he encounters some men beside a brook. That night they attack him for his rich dress and jewels. While Olav fights with the robbers in the dark, he feels the battle surge he knew in his outlaw youth. Later it seems to him that he was tempted by pleasures of the flesh and of violence, sent to lead him away from the path of redemption he must follow to atone for the secret slaying of Teit, Eirik’s father.

When Olav sails home in late summer, he finds Eirik grown taller and strong for his age and Cecilia fairer than ever, with promise of great beauty. Resolving that Liv, the slatternly serving woman, is unfit to train the daughter of Hestviken, he weds Liv to Arnketil, his housecarl, and sends the pair to live at Rundmyr, the farm he manages for Torhild Björnsdatter, who bore him a son out of wedlock two years before. One day he goes across the fjord to Auken, where Torhild is living, to discuss his arrangement. Seeing his son and Torhild again, he thinks of asking the woman to return and keep his house, but he sadly puts the thought out of his mind.

After Liv and Arnketil move to Rundmyr, the place begins to have a bad reputation because of the dicing, wenching, and worse that goes on there. At last Sira Hallbjörn, the priest, warns Olav to keep Eirik away from that thieves’ den. Olav is of two minds about Eirik. He wants to like the boy whom he claimed as his heir, yet he cannot abide Eirik’s insolence and boasting. He realizes that he should give more time to his training but shrinks from that duty because of the old clash...

(The entire section is 1187 words.)