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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 808

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.

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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 yet feels left out when he does bond with them. Kristin obsesses over these and other difficulties, which she interprets as retribution for her earlier sins. She becomes a cold mother and a bitter, complaining wife. She prays regularly but without sincerity, and she makes a painful pilgrimage to St. Olav’s shrine, seeking atonement for her sinful role in the death of Eline.

Subthemes of the second novel concern Kristin’s father, her brother-in-law, her stepdaughter, and her first betrothed, Simon Darre. Kristin notices that Erlend lacks many virtues possessed by her father, Lavrans. In declining health, Lavrans grows close to Kristin’s mother, Ragnfrid, after a marriage in which they were distant. Lavrans advises Kristin to be respectful toward her husband. Lavrans dies, followed soon thereafter by Ragnfrid. Gunnulf, Erlend’s brother, a wandering friar, advises Kristin spiritually, encouraging her to blame Erlend for her sins. The monk secretly loves Kristin, which fosters a love/hate relationship between the brothers. Kristin has a difficult relationship with her headstrong stepdaughter, Margret. When Erlend catches Margret having an affair with a married man, Erlend cuts off the man’s hand. Subsequently, Erlend has difficulty finding Margret a husband. Finally, despite Kristin’s rejection of him as her parents’ spousal choice, Simon carries a torch for Kristin his whole life. Marrying Kristin’s sister Ramborg, he continues to have contact with Kristin and occasionally helps her; notably, he prevents Erlend’s execution following a conviction for treason.

At the start of the last novel in the trilogy, The Cross , the now bitter Kristin obsesses over many issues. She feels slighted by neighbors. She finds fault in her sons and her husband. She has ambitions for her sons and worries that they might lose their highborn status. She...

(The entire section contains 1817 words.)

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