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Literature / Kristin Lavransdatter

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Kristin Lavransdatter is a trilogy of historical novels written by Nobel laureate 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.

The cycle follows the life of Kristin Lavransdatter, a fictional Norwegian woman living in the 14th century.

Won Sigrid Undset the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928.

Kristin Lavransdatter provides examples of:

  • Altar the Speed: Subverted. Kristin keeps her wedding date unchanged despite her hidden pregnancy. She knows everybody will be counting backward on their fingers and Erlend will look bad because of it.
  • A Man Is Always Eager: Inverted with Lavrans Bjorgulfsson. While he did sire six children with his wife, he was generally unresponsive about sex, due to how bitterly she rejected his attempts at pleasing her early in their marriage.
  • Attempted Rape: Bentein tries to rape Kristin, but she fights him off.
  • Arranged Marriage: Lavrans Bjorgulfsson and Ragnfrid Ivarsdatter (Kristin's parents)
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: A thematic undercurrent in the book. Kristin dishonors her parents, cheats on her fiance, betrays her religion, ruins her reputation beyond repair, helps murder a woman, and causes several people extreme emotional agony, all so she can be with Erlend...which leads her into an unhappy marriage because all the qualities that made her affair with him so exciting make him unsuited to be a husband and father. She herself grows to acknowledge this, admitting that she threw away every blessing she had to get what she wanted and thus has no right to complain about how it turned out.
  • The Black Death: It sweeps through Norway in book three. Characters make reference to the personification of the plague, an old crone holding a rake in one hand and a broom in the other. As a nun, Kristin is bound by charity to offer help to any and all sufferers. She hears of the plague killing most of her sons, and in the end, she dies of it.
  • Character Title: The trilogy is named after its protagonist.
  • Character Witness: Simon does this for Erlend when he gets into legal problems.
  • Chaste Hero: Despite having fathered six children with his wife, Lavrans can do without sex quite nicely, and genuinely doesn't understand why everybody else around him seems to want it so much.
  • Cool Old Lady: Aashild Gautesdatter, who is a skilled healer, beautiful even in her old age, married to a much younger man, and lived at court when she was a young girl. When she is accused of witchcraft, the parish priest even defends her, saying that peasants are all to quick to accuse a woman of witchcraft if she's a little smarter than her neighbors.
  • Courtly Love: Ulf reveals at the very end, after her death, that he secretly carried a torch for Kristin. She never knew and he never acted on it; he just supported her as best he could. The priest he's speaking to praises him for this.
  • Daddy's Girl: As a child, Kristin is close to her father.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Subverted for Intense Drama. Kristin names her last son Erlend, after her husband... who is alive and well, and Kristin knows it. Naming the baby Erlend is a public statement that her husband is dead to her, and all her friends are horrified. The baby sickens and dies, and everyone sees this as divine punishment for Kristin's refusal to forgive.
  • Defictionalization: The Kristin Days are held every year on the first weekend of July at Jorundgard Middelaldersenter in Norway where the main attraction is a theater production of the book(s) in addition to lectures, fairs and other Kristin-themed activities.
  • Destructive Romance: Kristin and Erlend. Their romance is full of passion and thrives when they can't be together, such as when they start their secret affair or when Erlend is arrested for treason—at the cost of bringing ruin onto Kristin's character, her reputation, and her relationships. Furthermore, the thrill of sneaking around is the only thing that sustains their romance; they have clashing beliefs, clashing values, and have nothing to really talk about, which is a major problem when they're married and living together. Indeed, Kristin comes to realize that passion alone is not enough for a marriage, and is frequently torn between bitterness and affection for her husband.
  • Dinner and a Show: The first time Erlend and Kristin entertain Munan Baardson and his family, Munan becomes drunk at dinner and insults and harasses the other guests. Kristin is appalled, but Munan's wife continues eating supper as if nothing strange is going on.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Simon is very kind, but Kristin chooses Erlend over him.
  • Even the Guys Want Him: Naakve romances most of the young maidens in his parish, then a traveling knight meets him and tries to convince him to become his "squire".
  • Faint in Shock: Kristin faints at a party when she sees Erlend for the first time after many weeks of longing—in front of her fiance and his entire family.
  • The Fair Folk: Kristin meets the huldra as a child.
  • Fetishized Abuser:
    • Played Straight in the first book. Erlend is a shady individual who treats Kristin very unkindly, yet Kristin finds all of this enticing; being is the reason she falls in love with Erlend. She wrecks her own life just to be with him.
    • Deconstructed in the second and third books, set after Kristin and Erlend's marriage. She learns the painful consequences of marrying an abuser.
  • Greater Need Than Mine: When Lavrans and Ulvhild are injured at the same time, Lavrans insists they treat her first.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Kristin starts out like this. People remark on her blond hair, and she is sweet, innocent, and beloved in her neighborhood. Until she meets Erlend...
  • Heel Realization: Kristin has hers early in The Wife, when she realizes just how many people she hurt so she could marry Erlend, who she isn't even all that happy with. This leads to her going on a pilgrimage and marks her maturing from a spoiled young lady.
  • The Hero Dies: The books follow Kristin's whole life, so naturally end when it does. Specifically, she catches the Black Death after caring for victims of it.
  • Heroic Bastard: Erlend's kinsman Ulf was born out of wedlock and, while a bit cantankerous, is extremely loyal to his friends and family.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The nuns at Kristin's convent, Kristin included, at the end of The Cross. They tend to victims of the Black Death, catch it, and die themselves.
  • The High Middle Ages: The novels take place in the late 1200s and early 1300s.
  • Historical Fiction: The novels take place in the late 1200s and early 1300s.
  • Ladykiller in Love: The Casanova Erlend falls in love with Kristin.
  • Love Triangle: Two, both deconstructed.
    • The first is between Simon, Kristin, and Erlend; Simon is engaged to and in love with Kristin, who finds him nice but boring and is passionately in love with Erlend. When she decides to break her engagement with Simon, it humiliates him because they've already set the wedding date, utterly crushes her father when he realizes what man she picked for herself, destroys her reputation, and lands her in an unhappy marriage.
    • The second is between Simon, Kristin, and Kristin's little sister Ramborg. Over the years, Ramborg falls in love with Simon, who is still pining for Kristin, who feels terrible about how she treated him but still doesn't see him romantically. Simon eventually marries Ramborg more to appease Lavrans than anything else, but treats her like a child instead of a wife. This combined with Ramborg realizing he still loves her sister embitters her considerably, which sours her feelings towards him.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Kristin and Ulf are accused of adultery when her eighth son is born, due to their their close friendship, her being on poor terms with husband, said husband not acknowledging the child in any way, and her naming the babe after Erlend.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Erlend has promised himself to both Eline and Kristin. Eline tries to poison Kristin when she finds out about this. Kristin forces Erlend to choose between them and does nothing to prevent Eline's death.
  • Oblivious to Love: Kristin genuinely does not realize that her eventual brother-in-law Simon is still in love with her. Nor does she realize that Ulf is, too.
  • The Old Gods:
    • Kristin sacrifices to them when Simon's son is ill, and the guilt of betraying their Christian faith haunts her and Simon (who knew but did not stop her) both.
    • Comes up again at the end of The Cross, when a group of terrified men try to sacrifice a child to appease Hel and end the Black Death. Kristin stops them.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Kristin and Ulf, who is Erlend's kinsman. Any potential awkwardness that might arise from her strained marriage to one of his beloved family members never does; they're always there for the other emotionally, they help the other with legal or financial troubles, they always stick up for each other, and they're even mistaken for being lovers at one point. However, Ulf's words when she dies indicate the feelings ran deeper on his end; the priest he's speaking with compliments him for never acting dishonorably towards her.
  • Redemption Equals Death: While a pious woman, Kristin spends most of her life struggling with or outright rejecting God's will (with poor results). Near the end of it, she decides to join a convent. Two years later, she catches the Black Death from her patients and dies, but at peace with her faith.
  • Settle for Sibling: Kristin leaves her betrothed Simon for Erlend. Simon ends up marrying her little sister, but never really gets over Kristin.
  • Screaming Birth: Many, many, many pages are devoted to the birth of Naakve. There is screaming on every page.
  • Silver Fox: Erlend continues to turn heads even after his daughter Margaret has married and borne a child.
  • Stay with Me Until I Die: Simon begs Kristin to sit with him while he's dying so he can confess his undying love to her. She stays, but he ultimately takes the words to his grave.
  • Super Window Jump: Margret's paramour, when surprised by Erlend.
  • Swiss-Cheese Security: The convent Kristin is sent to has lax enough security that she's able to slip away several times to be alone with Erlend without getting caught.
  • Sword Plant: Subverted. Simon Andresson is sitting on a wooden bench, talking to his fiancé and fiddling with his dagger. He stabs the bench with the dagger and only winds up bending the point so badly it won’t go back in its sheath.
  • Thrown Down a Well: During the Black Death, some desperate townspeople attempt a sacrifice to the pagan goddess Hel by throwing the child of a local prostitute down a well.