Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Hestviken. Home of Olav Audunsson’s family, that is the primary setting of the novel. The estate is near an icy fjord, where ocean waves throw up spray against sheer cliffs and rock promontories, which, with fog, block the view in many directions. Physical features of Hestviken symbolize the moods of Olav and his wife, Ingunn. When they begin their life together there, both are optimistic, their feelings buoyed by the beautiful sights and smells of the summer farm. The fragrance of lime trees reminds Olav of his childhood. Ingunn feels healthy and beautiful as she surveys the pleasant scene. However, she soon notices other things that reinforce her downward spiral into depression, such as the monotonous booming of the ocean’s waves in the fjord and the seemingly endless rains.

Manor house

Manor house. Ancestral dwelling at Hestviken that has replaced an earlier and finer house that burned down. The rustic replacement is dark and sparsely furnished. Undset uses her extensive knowledge of medieval home furnishings to give a historically accurate depiction of the home layout and contents. In the dark rooms of the house, the lonely Ingunn torments herself over having borne an illegitimate child, leaving the child with strangers, and failing to be a strong helpmate for the morose Olav. Her plight reflects the difficult lives led by most women in the Middle Ages, lives made up of endless toil with few...

(The entire section is 565 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bayerschmidt, Carl. Sigrid Undset. New York: Twayne, 1970. For general readers, reviewing Undset’s life and major works. A chapter devoted to Undset’s novels of the Middle Ages provides commentary on The Snake Pit, focusing on the moral development of the hero.

Brunsdale, Mitzi. Sigrid Undset: Chronicler of Norway. Oxford, England: Berg, 1988. Summarizes Undset’s achievement in the chronicle of which The Snake Pit is the second part. Comments on the significance of the symbol of the snake; discusses the hero’s relationship with his demanding wife, and his efforts to overcome his pride.

Gustafson, Alrik. Six Scandinavian Novelists. Minneapolis: Published for the American-Scandinavian Foundation by the University of Minnesota Press, 1966. Discussion of the four novels that make up The Master of Hestviken tetralogy. Describes Undset’s concern with the moral development of her hero, and highlights her technique of using historical events to illuminate human concerns.

Whitehouse, J. C. “Sigrid Undset.” In Vertical Man: The Human Being in the Catholic Novels of Graham Greene, Sigrid Undset, and Georges Bernanos. New York: Garland, 1990. Examines Undset’s view of human nature as it emerges in her fiction. Commentary on scenes and characters from The Snake Pit are interwoven into a discussion that highlights the novelist’s generally optimistic vision of humanity.

Winsnes, A. H. Sigrid Undset: A Study in Christian Realism. Translated by P. G. Foote. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1953. A biography of the novelist focusing on the development of Christian themes in her novels.