Book Review: The Mistress Of Husaby (Kristin Lavransdatter II)

The Mistress Of Husaby (Kristin Lavransdatter II), by Sigrid Undset

While admittedly the first novel of this series [1] was mildly irritating in that it reminded me of people I have known in the past and still know today who are far too much like the main character, with this novel I think I really appreciated what it is about the author’s work that is so remarkable.  Ultimately, I think the achievement of this work cannot be separated from the author’s worldview.  Without being either Catholic or Norwegian, I feel that the author taps into what it means to be both of those things in making this book a compelling novel about a woman growing up from young adulthood into adulthood as a fierce and strong woman who pays the price for having chosen to be with a heedless and thoughtless man and living with integrity according to that mistaken choice.  The author compellingly creates a world where people take their rights as freeborn citizens in Norway and their faith as late medieval Roman Catholics seriously, as the author takes her faith and nationality seriously, and the result is a novel that makes the past come alive in ways that are beautiful, compelling, and deeply melancholy at the same time.

This novel of more than 350 pages is divided into three parts.  In the first part, Kristin and her husband Erlend pay the price of sin, both through the penance that is required of them and in the fruit of suspicion and mistrust that fills the space in between the two.  Kristin shows herself to be a loyal wife and devoted mother, but struggles to encourage her stepchildren–one of whom dies young and the other proves herself to be a spoiled but beautiful brat later on.  In the second part of the novel, Husaby, we see that Kristin has been very fertile in bearing her husband lots of children, which her husband finds mildly irritating as there are many mouths to feed and he is not the best lord when it comes to earning money from his lands.  We also see Kristin’s parents die and see her grow up and wrestle with her alienation from them and from the chaos and disorder that is a part of her home life.  Finally, in the third section, Erlend Nikulaussön, we see Erland’s efforts at raising up another king for Norway in the face of their national alienation from their Sweden-favoring monarch end him in prison and in torture when an adulterous affair endangers his political ambitions, and we see Kristin as a fierce and loyal wife to her heedless and immature husband.

In this particular novel, we see the importance of freedom and property for Norwegians.  Can this novel be enjoyed by people who don’t share the cultural context of the author, much less her world?  Yes, absolutely.  Undset’s achievement in making the world come alive in part allows the reader to see this world through the eyes of her character.  We see how political enemies can unite over the mistreatment of someone who deserves to be treated with respect, and see how the forms of law must be respected.  We can see how wronged people treat others with loyalty and respect, and reflect upon their own wrongs as well that have led up to this.  We see people caught up in the midst of sin and folly and regretting bitterly its consequences but unable to undo what they have done in the past.  All of this is very well done, and all of this brings the moral universe of fourteenth century Norway to light and make it a place that the reader can understand even without sharing that worldview for oneself.  Having finished this novel, I feel a lot better about finishing the series as a whole.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Book Review: The Mistress Of Husaby (Kristin Lavransdatter II)

  1. Dora Benet says:

    I had one reader contact me directly on Goodreads saying she wanted to read my book but that they rejected her, which was interesting to hear about the “behind the scenes.” I sent a MOBI to her, and she reviewed it pretty quickly, so I count that as a win.

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