"Kristin Lavransdatter" by pre-Catholic Sigrid Undset

Kristin Lavransdatter is a mammoth book on medieval Scandinavian Catholic life. Written by Sigrid Undset, her research was instrumental in her conversion to Catholicism. This book has been around for decades and is, with the advent of Kindle and iPad, now able to be read without straining a tricep. I detest most fiction but the slice-of-life historicity is wonderful. Kristin Lavransdatter was made into a movie that was never dubbed into English. I hope this trilogy will be made into a great (Catholic) movie or three, and with real Scandinavians. You just can’t fake their charm or graceful gawkiness. I’d like to read Undset’s bio of Catherine of Siena.


The reviews of the book(s) are very good. It won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928. I’m not sure I will ever get around to reading it, as it seems a bit hard to find (and as a rule I don’t buy novels), but it sounds enjoyable.

The link in the previous post is to the hard cover edition, and it seems out of print. Amazon sells it only as a third-party conduit for other booksellers. New copies are extremely expensive, although used copies cost are available for a wide range of prices.

A paperback version is now available. Each book of the trilogy can be purchased separately, or the entire trilogy as one volume. Here is the link to the one-volume paperback version, published by Penguin Classics:

And, of course, it is also available on Kindle.

If you do buy the book I would go with the new translation by Tiina Nunnally. The older translation by Charles Archer attempts to recreate the feel of the original Norwegian by using a awkward faux ye olde english style that makes the book really hard to enjoy and has got to be one of the worst jobs of translating I’ve ever seen. Archer also took it upon himself to censor some of the naughty bits in the novel which are central to the plot. If you do buy this version you should also purchase the new translation just to see how easy it is for a translator to ruin a book.

Read more about it here

I have read it, and am not surprised to learn that she eventually became Catholic.

Medieval and before, Scandinavian literature is fascinating. I have read the “Heimskringla”, about the conversion of Scandinavia, and found those stories also to be fascinating. And that was very difficult to get. I am lucky to live in Wisconsin. :smiley:

They had a long road in order to become Christian. :irish3::shamrock2: Whether I actually have Irish ancestry or not, I am proud of their part in it.

I have read Charles Archer’s translation and enjoyed it a great deal. I’m happy to hear there’s a new translation and will be sure to look for it. I kind of enjoy the old medievalisms, even if they are fake, but a crisper translation would be easier to follow.
I’ve also seen the movie, there’s a review of it here. I watched it with English subtitles, and had actually forgotten it was subtitled. It’s beautifully filmed, though a little slow in spots for me. The books were much better, but the movie helped flesh it out.

I liked the older translation. Jane Smily’s The Greenlanders, which I also liked, sounded the same. Try also her four part novel, the Master of Hestvikin. I’ve read English translations of some of her modern novels and found them difficult but worth the effort.

I read it as part of a self done Great Books program.

Fantastic book.:slight_smile:

I read the new translation a few months ago, loved it and will read it again… but not for a year or two since it’s a bit of a marathon to get through.

Something I’ve noticed in reviews and things is that they can be divided into two camps:

If they’re not religiously enclined, it’s all about women, feminism, sexuality, restricting people from their desires, and the people who dare to avoid the social and religious conventions, suffering the consequences.

But if they’re Catholic it’s completely different, the book is about repentance, examining your conscience, knowingly doing the wrong thing, and your relationship with God… completely different. I fell into the latter category and when I read about the more secular reading of the book I think, how are they avoiding the elephant in the room? But do I just have a warped viewpoint because I’m Catholic? Anyone have opinions?

(Sorry if this is off topic but I just had to say that to someone, it was bugging me after I glanced at Lonely Planet’s Norway book and it mentioned the secular interpretation under its segment on Norweigian Nobel prize winners. )

Didn’t care for the book, though I don’t remember why. :shrug:

Might try it again one day.

I think you are right on. Of course it’s about repentance, suffering the consequences of sins. Didn’t the author convert after writing it? I think she lived through the events with her heroine, and getting into that mindset helped her see what our choices do to our lives, henceforth it contributed to her conversion to Catholicism.
When you write a book, it has a bigger impact on your life than on the readers’; you live with it for months (and years, in her case). I can see how Kristin’s choices affected Sigrid’s.

I am interested in reading this book. Which one is the best translation?

As a Catholic, a Scandinavian (albeit Swedish and Finnish in my case to Undset’s Norwegian), and a writer, Kristin Lavransdatter is one of my favorites. (There is a Kindle edition, I believe, but I readily found used copies on Amazon. I’m pretty sure I have the older translation.) While my eyes tended to glaze over the intricacies of Medieval Norse politics and battles, I love the central story of Kristin and her family. The only part that didn’t ring true to me is the last scene with her husband. (Won’t go into it so as not to spoil it.)

I just recently read Undset’s The Master of Hestviken for the first time. I was surprised to find that I think I liked that even better. (It’s a four-volume epic but I think it reads quicker than Kristin.)

This is such a favourite of mine, I read it several times years ago. At first I couldn’t understand that the village priest was married but then learned that Catholic clergy in Scandinavia only took a vow of celibacy after the 8th century.

The ending amidst scenes of the plague was also intensely moving because I was working in an Aids-stricken region of rural Africa.

Wonderful, mysterious and compelling novel.

Thanks. It is always good to be patronised…

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.