Book one begins the story of Kristin, daughter of Lavrans Bjorgulfson, a wealthy landowner. Sober and religious, Lavrans lavishes love and attention on Kristin, who grows into a loving and gentle, yet stubborn and passionate woman. Kristin falls in love with a handsome but dissolute nobleman, Erlend Nikulausson, who has a bad reputation with women.
Erlend is not the sort of husband Lavrans wants for his daughter, and he refuses permission for their marriage. For two years Kristin stubbornly waits, refusing to marry anyone else. Finally, seeing Kristin’s sorrow, Lavrans relents.
The second volume describes Kristin’s life as wife and mother. Kristin’s passion for Erlend cools somewhat during years of constant work, the birth of seven sons, and Erlend’s imprisonment for political intrigue.
The last book tells of Kristin’s later years, when, his lands forfeit to the crown, Erlend and Kristin return to her childhood home. Kristin hopes for a normal home like the one she experienced as a child, but Erlend is not happy, and eventually he and Kristin separate. Her sons grown, Kristin enters a convent.
Medieval religious attitudes fill this novel. To Kristin, God is the source of love and compassion, and through her hard experiences she learns that the love which her father had for her mirrors the Creator’s love for His children. Like her own father, God does not compel his stubborn and willful children to obedience; rather he loves them and cares for them even when they make mistakes. The novel reflects Sigrid Undset’s own search for God, which culminated in her conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1924.
Allen, Walter Gore. Renaissance in the North. London: Sheed & Ward, 1946. This study contains an informative essay by the author on Sigrid Undset’s conversion to Catholicism at the age of forty-two, discussing its influence on both her contemporary-based and medieval-based works.
Bayerschmidt, Carl F. Sigrid Undset. New York: Twayne, 1970. This book-length study of Undset argues that it was the empirical side of Christianity that Undset emphasized rather than the dogmatic. A comprehensive biography.
Brunsdale, Mitzi. Sigrid Undset: Chronicler of Norway. Oxford, England: Berg, 1988. A comprehensive and wholly contemporary revaluation of Undset’s canon, placing her firmly within a Norwegian historical and cultural context. Especially informative on the often neglected minor characters in the novel.
Gustafson, Alrik. “Christian Ethics in a Pagan World: Sigrid Undset.” In Six Scandinavian Novelists. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1968. Places Undset within the context of European and Scandinavian modernism. Shows how her Christianity differentiated her from other modernist authors but also suggests that the spiritual dilemmas faced by the characters in Kristin Lavransdatter have their counterparts in the modern age.
Lytle, Andrew. Kristin. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1992. This loving tribute to Undset’s masterwork summarizes the plot and testifies to the book’s moral values and its enduring emotional core. Filled with a tender affection for the book’s central character. The most passionate criticism in English Undset has stimulated.
Winsnes, A. H. Sigrid Undset: A Study in Christian Realism. Translated by P. G. Foote. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1953. This book-length study of Undset as a writer in the realist tradition interprets, among other things, Undset’s tendency to indulge in lengthy descriptions and analyses of mental states.