The Cross

Having accompanied Jackie on a shopping trip in steady rain all morning, I settled down to completing my reading of “Kristin Lavransdatter” by Sigrid Undset. So engrossed in the book, especially the lyrical closing sections, I was not tempted to go out into the sunshine which returned later in the afternoon.

The Cross is the third of the trilogy in Undset’s Nobel prize-winning saga produced by Picador as a single volume.

In this work there is much focus on domestic and farming life, that does also feature in the first two books, in my reviews of which I have spoken of the marvellously poetic prose engaging all senses.

I defy anyone reading this extract not to be transported to the delightful bucolic scene:

“She went to the byre herself to help in the milking. It was ever pleasant to her, this hour when she sat in the dark close in to the swelling cow-flank, and felt the milk’s sweet breath in her nostrils. Swish, swish, came the answer from the inner darkness, where the byre woman and the herd were milking. ‘Twas all so restful, the strong, warm smell in the byre, the sound of a withy-band creaking, of a horn knocking against wood, of a cow moving her feet in the miry earth floor of the stall, or whisking her tail at the flies. — The wagtails that nested here in the summer were gone now—-“

We have more details of customs and law relating to inheritance, to tenancy, to land ownership.

As with all societies there are complex relations between landowners and servants. Although not always followed, tradition has it that each are treated with respect and consideration, often mutually supportive.

Marriages are expected to be lifelong. They are arranged between fathers but only performed with the woman’s consent. A child born out of wedlock is frowned upon and denied inheritance. As we see, women are often in love with another man whose child they bear. Provided they are married before the birth the issue is acceptable. Unrequited or forbidden love lasting a lifetime is the lot of some of the protagonists.

Details of the pains of childbirth are well described, and we are shown the stresses and strains of parenting over time.

Even after prolonged estrangement kindred are expected to support each other in times of need. As we see inter-familial and nuclear family relationships ebb and flow as the years go by. Undset depicts loyalty, betrayal, and the difference between forgiving and forgetting transgressions.

Politics, international relations, including intrigue and warfare, feature strongly in this book.

Death and dying, both sudden and lingering, with the grieving consequences are sensitively covered.

The author’s deep, insightful, knowledge of human nature informs her complex study of relationships.

The closing sections mentioned in my opening paragraph, including remembrances of a life with its pleasures, regrets, and the people of importance, are written sensitively and with no apparent haste to finish.

Readers who have accompanied me on my delightful progress through this work, will know that each of the three books has been reviewed individually. Next, I will combine them in an overall assessment of “Kristin Lavransdatter”.

This evening we dined on more of Jackie’s classic cottage pie with firm broccoli and cauliflower, crunchy carrots, tender green beans, and meaty gravy.

The Mistress Of Husaby

Already on the first page of this second part of the “Kristin Lavransdatter” trilogy, the author demonstrates the range of her descriptive skills incorporating all the senses: “The ground sounded hollow under the horses’ hoofs, for the earth was as hard as iron with the black frost. The air was full of steam from the men and the horses; the bodies of the beasts and the men’s hair and furs were white with rime. Erland seemed as white-haired as the Abbot; his face glowed from his morning draught and the biting wind” evokes the harsh weather which is itself a significant protagonist in the saga. All the seasons are similarly expressed.

This longest, central, section explores the position of the medieval Catholic Church, to which Sigrid Undset had recently converted in her own time; and its interface with still extant ancient mythology. The Church dominated the calendar operating from one saint’s day mass to another, and feast days like Christmas.

Priests were seen as the arbiters of conflict and upholders of morals, especially relating to sex, love, and marriage; these last demonstrated significant struggles with punitive conscience and lax desire over strict mores. Loyalty through periods of trying times is seen as paramount.

Children born out of wedlock or subject to step-parents were of lesser standing than the offspring of legitimate marriage, leading to significant family issues for the major characters.

Childbirth was a difficult process taking its toll on mothers constantly pregnant. Medical care of all kinds was in very early stages, resulting in deaths which could be saved today.

There is much on politics, warfare, and international relations in this episode of the work; we have a failed revolution and its consequences, including torture. Punishments differed according to the social and economic status of miscreants.

We learn how people at all levels lived; their hardships, their dwellings, their clothing, their jewellery, and their weaponry.

Undset’s deep understanding of human nature; her ability to convey conversation and to detail unspoken thoughts, is put to good use in her characterisation, with which she conveys the ebb and flow of relationships between the main personnel.

The fluent, often poetic, prose carries us along with it. “From the gateway a pack of farm-dogs rushed out barking at the newcomer. Inside the courtyard a flock of shaggy goats were picking their way about, dark in the clear dusk – they were tugging at a heap of pine-branches in the midst of the yard. Three little children in thick winter clothes ran about amongst them” conveys everyday action in addition to the more significant exploits.

“Now the sun was below the mountaintop, the golden radiance grew paler and the red more rosy and soft. After the bells had fallen silent, the soughing of the woods seemed to grow again and spread abroad; the noise of the little beck that ran through the leafwoods down in the valley sounded louder on the ear. From the close nearby came the well-known clinking of the bells of the home cattle; a flying beetle hummed half-way round about her, and was gone” incorporates both sight and sound.

Removals Collection

Early this morning Neil and Sam from New Forest Removals visited to collect the Grandfamily’s belongings for transport to their new home after the bank holiday.

This friendly, efficient, and personable pair loaded their van smoothly and quickly. After the weekend they will transfer these items to a smaller vehicle for delivery on Tuesday.

This afternoon I read another 50 pages, taking me past the half-way point of Sigrid Undset’s “Kristin Lavransdatter”.

We dined this evening on Jackie’s tangy lemon chicken; roast sweet and white potatoes; firm broccoli; and tender green beans.

My Ancestry Thoughts Confirmed

My DNA results have confirmed my thought that I probably have Viking Ancestry:

66% England and Northwestern Europe predominantly north – East Midlands, Yorkshire and North England – 12% Scotland, 10% Sweden and Denmark, 1% Norway are pretty convincing. The southwestern English elements would have come from my father.

I now have the added intrigue as I continue reading “Kristin Lavransdatter” of the possibility that my ancestors may have lived like those in the novel

This evening, with my appetite back, with the others in the kitchen, I enjoyed roast chicken, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and parsnips, cauliflower; still from a tray on my knees in the sitting room, and drank water.

Blossom From Bedroom Window

This was a cool day of intermittent bright sunshine and showers on which there must have been a rainbow somewhere.

I didn’t go out to investigate, but Jackie took all except the first of her

blossom pictures from the bedroom window, including one from the front garden featuring the tall Amanogawa cherry.

Obviously my aim at an average of 50 pages of “Kristin Lavransdatter” has gone out of the window lately, however I did manage 59 today.

This evening we all dined on another of Jackie’s wholesome cottage pie meals. My slightly larger portion was taken in the same manner as yesterday.

The Garland

Jackie and I both had eye tests at Boots opticians this morning. After two years Mrs Knight required no change of prescription. I was given solution in my eyes to confirm the need for a cataract operation discovered two years ago, but declined on referral to NHS because it was not considered ripe enough. We will see if it is well enough matured this time. In the meantime it was a while before I could see with unblurred vision. However I eventually opened my current book.

Having reached the end of the first part of “Kristin Lavransdatter” by Sigrid Undset, I now realise that this lengthy tome is in fact a trilogy first published between 1920 and 1922, of which the first is translated in this edition as “The Garland”.

Kristin Lavransdatter is a trilogy of historical novels written by Sigrid Undset. The individual novels are Kransen (The Wreath), first published in 1920, Husfrue (The Wife), published in 1921, and Korset (The Cross), published in 1922. Kransen and Husfrue were translated from the original Norwegian as The Bridal Wreath [The Garland in this edition] and The Mistress of Husaby, respectively, in the first English translation by Charles Archer and J. S. Scott.

This work formed the basis of Undset receiving the 1928 Nobel Prize in Literature, which was awarded to her “principally for her powerful descriptions of Northern life during the Middle Ages”.[1] Her work is much admired for its historical and ethnological accuracy.” (Wikipedia)

I will therefore review each part in turn as I read them and bring it all together in a closing post.

Here we follow our leading lady from her childhood to her youthful marriage.

Undset has the gift of excellent prose in which to describe the essence of medieval Norway’s lands, terrain, weather, peoples and places. We learn how the characters of the family saga feel, think, dress, and struggle with conscience in an essentially Catholic country. The author follows the protagonists’ conflict between the laws of religion and the urges of the body and its emotions. She has deep insight into the minds of both men and women. This work was written at the time of her own conversion to the faith that forms such an important factor in it.

The action sequences are prolific and detailed, flowing along at a very fast pace.

“Light, fluted clouds were floating over the high, pale-blue heavens, and the sun was glittering on the dancing ripples of the water. It was quite spring-like along the shores; the fields lay almost bare of snow, and over the leaf-tree thickets the light had a yellow shimmer and the shadows ere blue. But in the pine-forests up on the high ridges, which framed in the settled lands of Akersbygd, there were glimpses of snow, and in the far blue fells to the westward, beyond the fjord, there still showed many flashes of white,” is just one of the many engaging paragraphs that keep us turning pages rich in metaphor and in simile like “at the words of the prayer, it was as if her longing widened out and faded little by little like rings on a pool”. She incorporates all the senses into sounds, smells, sights, touch, and taste. Her poetic imagery must have been very challenging for the translators.

There are many editions of this work, in individual parts or in the whole. It will be apparent that I would recommend it to my readers, but not in the edition I have, simply because almost 1,000 pages has,

necessarily, been so tightly bound as to need a very strong grip to prise apart the centres of the pages determined to conceal their edges. The leaves pictured here describe the burning of the church, the significance of the timing of which should become apparent without my suggesting it to readers wishing to follow the saga.

The book contains a few drawings in the helpful notes, one of which is of the Norwegian stave-church.

This evening we all dined from King’s House excellent Chinese takeaway with which I drank more of the Côtes du Rhône.

No Pressure

I spent much of the day making further inroads into

Including a few pages of notes this small print browned almost 1,000 pages paperback has laid on my shelves for 50 years because I found it daunting to begin.

How wrong I was. Two days ago I opened it in earnest. Racing through it today I realised that if I averaged 50 leaves a day it would take 20 days uninterrupted reading to reach the end. I have now reached p119, so I will aim for this. I won’t regard it as a deadline because I don’t need the pressure. The book will carry me along and I will only pause when it tells me I need a break. Let us see how it goes.

This evening we all dined on Jackie’s lemon chicken, savoury rice, and tender green beans with which she drank Hoegaarden and I drank M&S Côtes du Rhône Villages 2022.