Thursday, May 05, 2022

Cat Hodge on Kristin Lavransdatter

 Cat Hodge, Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter Turns One Hundred:

Though Ingvald and Charlotte Undset were nominally Lutherans, they raised their children in a secular milieu. Undset attended a progressive co-ed school that prepared women for the liberal arts exam required for university admission. Her father wanted her to carry on his work, and talked politics and history with her as if she were an adult. But this idyllic childhood was overshadowed by Ingvald Undset’s failing health, the lingering effect of malaria he contracted two years before Sigrid was born. As she sat by his bedside during his final illness, eleven-year-old Sigrid read to him from a book her grandfather had recently recommended to her, a literary revelation she remembered as “the most important turning point in my life”: Njál’s Saga, the great Icelandic tale of family feud, honor, and fate.

I first read Kristin Lavransdatter while in Italy -- it had been on my list for a while, and I wanted a big book for reading on plane and train -- and found it well worth lugging around.  I read it again for a Fortnighly Book last year. Like the sagas that influenced it, it seems to be the kind of work that shows new lights every time you pick it up.