Women of every age will find a treasure in this coming-of-age novel set in 4th-century Norway.
In 1920, a Norwegian woman named Sigrid Undset published a historical novel called Kristin Lavransdatter. A few years later, Undset would be received into the Catholic Church. And a few years after that, she would win the Nobel Prize for literature and donate all the prize money to charity. One of the charities she supported served mentally disabled children, and her passion for this arose from being a mother of two children of her own who struggled with disabilities, one of whom she had adopted.
Undset is a remarkable woman and deserves to be a feminist hero simply for her life-story alone.
But Kristin Lavransdatter reflects the personality of its author. Written at a time when women in novels were often either docile and lacking personality or sinful seductresses heading to a bad end, Kristin is neither. Set in medieval Scandinavia, the trilogy follows Kristin as she grows up, makes mistakes, sins, and fights her way to redemption and happiness. Her life is real, her experiences difficult, the choices she makes disastrous, but she also matures as a woman, finds forgiveness, and follows an interior journey of spiritual development.
The novel is long, but the fascinating descriptions of medieval life and the content of the story make it worth it. This book is probably best suited for teenage girls and older because of the challenging subject matter, but I can think of no better book for my own daughters to read during this period of their life as they too are finding their place in the world.
Here are 5 reasons I want my daughters to read Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter:
Kristin makes mistakes with boys
I mean, she makes huge mistakes. As she approaches marriagable age, a local man named Simon shows his interest. He is kind, good, and a steady provider, so of course Kristin impulsively rejects him. Instead she attaches herself to an errant knight with no money and no morals, follows him out of town, and conceives a child with him.