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.