Critical Evaluation

(Essentials of European Literature)

THE SON AVENGER gathers together the many threads of Olav Audunsson’s story and brings to an inevitable and tragic close the second of Sigrid Undset’s long novels dealing with Norse life in the Middle Ages. Some critics have complained that THE MASTER OF HESTVIKEN lacks the human warmth of KRISTIN LAVRANSDATTER (1920-1922). This judgment is true for an obvious reason: Olav’s sin is greater than Kristin’s, his remorse is more terrible, and his confession is denied him when he dies speechless at the end. Like KRISTIN LAVRANSDATTER, THE MASTER OF HESTVIKEN is a great work of the historical imagination and of Christian morality. The novel lives in its gradual, richly detailed evocation of the past and in the writer’s ability to create men and women who are true to the hopes, passions, and sufferings of humanity of any time or place.

THE SON AVENGER specifically deals with the effects of Olav’s concealed sin on his children’s lives and on his own old age and death. Because of his old misfortunes in the uplands, he denies Cecilia a match with a man from that part of the country, making way for her unhappy union for Jorund Rypa. By this decision, every kind of evil springs—from Eirik’s broken match with Gunhild Bersesdatter to the murder of a cripple. The last and worst consequence is that Olav believes Cecilia guilty of murder; his stroke comes on at the realization of the monstrous wrong...

(The entire section is 508 words.)