Kristin Lavransdatter, I: The Wreath

Introduction by Tiina Nunnally
Translated by Tiina Nunnally
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“[Sigrid Undset] should be the next Elena Ferrante.” —Slate

A Penguin Classic

Kristin Lavransdatter 
interweaves political, social, and religious history with the daily aspects of family life to create a colorful, richly detailed tapestry of Norway during the fourteenth-century. The trilogy, however, is more than a journey into the past. Undset's own life—her familiarity with Norse sagas and folklore and with a wide range of medieval literature, her experiences as a daughter, wife, and mother, and her deep religious faith—profoundly influenced her writing. Her grasp of the connections between past and present and of human nature itself, combined with the extraordinary quality of her writing, sets her works far above the genre of "historical novels." This new translation by Tina Nunnally—the first English version since Charles Archer's translation in the 1920s—captures Undset's strengths as a stylist. Nunnally, an award-winning translator, retains the natural dialog and lyrical flow of the original Norwegian, with its echoes of Old Norse legends, while deftly avoiding the stilted language and false archaisms of Archer's translation. In addition, she restores key passages left out of that edition.

Undset's ability to present a meticulously accurate historical portrait without sacrificing the poetry and narrative drive of masterful storytelling was particularly significant in her homeland. Granted independence in 1905 after five hundred years of foreign domination, Norway was eager to reclaim its national history and culture. Kristin Lavransdatter became a touchstone for Undset's contemporaries, and continues to be widely read by Norwegians today. In the more than 75 years since it was first published, it has also become a favorite throughout the world.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

Sigrid Undset is a major figure in early-twentieth-century literature. A Norwegian born in Denmark in 1881, she worked with the Norwegian underground during the Second World War, fled to Sweden in 1940, and later came to the United States. She is the author of many works of fiction as well as several books for young readers and a number of nonfiction titles. Her novels encompass a variety of settings and time periods, ranging from medieval romances such as the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy—generally considered to be her masterwork—and The Master of Hestviken tetralogy to modern novels such as The Winding Road, Ida Elisabeth, and The Faithful Wife. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928. Sigrid Undset died in 1949. View titles by Sigrid Undset
By the Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

“[Sigrid Undset] should be the next Elena Ferrante . . . whose huge commercial success suggests there is a market for series in translation about fierce, complicated women navigating their culturally conservative European milieu. . . . If HBO is looking for its next miniseries, it should give Kristin Lavransdatter the proper adaptation it deserves. Rereading the trilogy this fall, I kept thinking of Olive Kitteridge, another powerful novel about a prickly mother turned into a worthy HBO miniseries. This trilogy includes illicit sex, affairs, a church fire, an attempted rape, ocean voyages, rebellious virgins cooped up in a convent, predatory priests, an attempted human sacrifice, floods, fights, murders, violent suicide, a gay king, drunken revelry, the Bubonic Plague, deathbed confessions, and sex that makes its heroine ache ‘with astonishment—that this was the iniquity that all the songs were about.’ ” —Ruth Graham, Slate

“[My favorite fictional hero or heroine is] probably Sigrid Undset’s strong-willed, sensual, self-destructive and ultimately rock-solid Kristin Lavransdatter. . . . Kristin’s eponymous trilogy bears many rereadings. Right away one somehow identifies with this daughter of medieval Norway; soon one compassionates her in her sufferings. . . . For all her faults [she] inspires love in many around her, including this reader. Her faith and loyalty make her quite beautiful to me. Like Murasaki and Dos Passos, Undset tells the story of a whole life.” —William T. Vollman, The New York Times Book Review

“Wildly rewarding . . . Kristin’s saga, rich with detail, has shades of Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ tragedy and Brideshead Revisited’s piety, but more than anything, the story is deeply human. . . . Her journey from maid to sinner to pilgrim to matriarch . . . is gorgeous, fresh, and propulsive in Nunnally’s translation.” —The Atlantic

“We consider it the best book our judges have ever selected and it has been better received by our subscribers than any other book.” —Book-of-the-Month Club

“The finest historical novel our 20th century has yet produced; indeed it dwarfs most of the fiction of any kind that Europe has produced in the last twenty years.” —Contemporary Movements in European Literature

“As a novel it must be ranked with the greatest the world knows today.” —Montreal Star

“Sigrid Undset’s trilogy embodies more of life, seen understandingly and seriously . . . than any novel since Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov. It is also very probably the noblest work of fiction ever to have been inspired by the Catholic art of life.” —Commonweal

“The first great story founded upon the normal events of a normal woman’s existence. It is as great and as rich, as simple and as profound, as such a story should be.” —Des Moines Register

“No other novelist, past or present, has bodied forth the medieval world with such richness and fullness of indisputable genius. . . . One of the finest minds in European literature.” —New York Herald Tribune

“A master . . . writing in a prose as vigorous, articulate and naturalistic as the novel it re-creates, Tiina Nunnally brilliantly captures a world both remote and strangely familiar.” —Judges’ citation, PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize

About

“[Sigrid Undset] should be the next Elena Ferrante.” —Slate

A Penguin Classic

Kristin Lavransdatter 
interweaves political, social, and religious history with the daily aspects of family life to create a colorful, richly detailed tapestry of Norway during the fourteenth-century. The trilogy, however, is more than a journey into the past. Undset's own life—her familiarity with Norse sagas and folklore and with a wide range of medieval literature, her experiences as a daughter, wife, and mother, and her deep religious faith—profoundly influenced her writing. Her grasp of the connections between past and present and of human nature itself, combined with the extraordinary quality of her writing, sets her works far above the genre of "historical novels." This new translation by Tina Nunnally—the first English version since Charles Archer's translation in the 1920s—captures Undset's strengths as a stylist. Nunnally, an award-winning translator, retains the natural dialog and lyrical flow of the original Norwegian, with its echoes of Old Norse legends, while deftly avoiding the stilted language and false archaisms of Archer's translation. In addition, she restores key passages left out of that edition.

Undset's ability to present a meticulously accurate historical portrait without sacrificing the poetry and narrative drive of masterful storytelling was particularly significant in her homeland. Granted independence in 1905 after five hundred years of foreign domination, Norway was eager to reclaim its national history and culture. Kristin Lavransdatter became a touchstone for Undset's contemporaries, and continues to be widely read by Norwegians today. In the more than 75 years since it was first published, it has also become a favorite throughout the world.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

Author

Sigrid Undset is a major figure in early-twentieth-century literature. A Norwegian born in Denmark in 1881, she worked with the Norwegian underground during the Second World War, fled to Sweden in 1940, and later came to the United States. She is the author of many works of fiction as well as several books for young readers and a number of nonfiction titles. Her novels encompass a variety of settings and time periods, ranging from medieval romances such as the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy—generally considered to be her masterwork—and The Master of Hestviken tetralogy to modern novels such as The Winding Road, Ida Elisabeth, and The Faithful Wife. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928. Sigrid Undset died in 1949. View titles by Sigrid Undset

Praise

By the Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

“[Sigrid Undset] should be the next Elena Ferrante . . . whose huge commercial success suggests there is a market for series in translation about fierce, complicated women navigating their culturally conservative European milieu. . . . If HBO is looking for its next miniseries, it should give Kristin Lavransdatter the proper adaptation it deserves. Rereading the trilogy this fall, I kept thinking of Olive Kitteridge, another powerful novel about a prickly mother turned into a worthy HBO miniseries. This trilogy includes illicit sex, affairs, a church fire, an attempted rape, ocean voyages, rebellious virgins cooped up in a convent, predatory priests, an attempted human sacrifice, floods, fights, murders, violent suicide, a gay king, drunken revelry, the Bubonic Plague, deathbed confessions, and sex that makes its heroine ache ‘with astonishment—that this was the iniquity that all the songs were about.’ ” —Ruth Graham, Slate

“[My favorite fictional hero or heroine is] probably Sigrid Undset’s strong-willed, sensual, self-destructive and ultimately rock-solid Kristin Lavransdatter. . . . Kristin’s eponymous trilogy bears many rereadings. Right away one somehow identifies with this daughter of medieval Norway; soon one compassionates her in her sufferings. . . . For all her faults [she] inspires love in many around her, including this reader. Her faith and loyalty make her quite beautiful to me. Like Murasaki and Dos Passos, Undset tells the story of a whole life.” —William T. Vollman, The New York Times Book Review

“Wildly rewarding . . . Kristin’s saga, rich with detail, has shades of Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ tragedy and Brideshead Revisited’s piety, but more than anything, the story is deeply human. . . . Her journey from maid to sinner to pilgrim to matriarch . . . is gorgeous, fresh, and propulsive in Nunnally’s translation.” —The Atlantic

“We consider it the best book our judges have ever selected and it has been better received by our subscribers than any other book.” —Book-of-the-Month Club

“The finest historical novel our 20th century has yet produced; indeed it dwarfs most of the fiction of any kind that Europe has produced in the last twenty years.” —Contemporary Movements in European Literature

“As a novel it must be ranked with the greatest the world knows today.” —Montreal Star

“Sigrid Undset’s trilogy embodies more of life, seen understandingly and seriously . . . than any novel since Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov. It is also very probably the noblest work of fiction ever to have been inspired by the Catholic art of life.” —Commonweal

“The first great story founded upon the normal events of a normal woman’s existence. It is as great and as rich, as simple and as profound, as such a story should be.” —Des Moines Register

“No other novelist, past or present, has bodied forth the medieval world with such richness and fullness of indisputable genius. . . . One of the finest minds in European literature.” —New York Herald Tribune

“A master . . . writing in a prose as vigorous, articulate and naturalistic as the novel it re-creates, Tiina Nunnally brilliantly captures a world both remote and strangely familiar.” —Judges’ citation, PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize

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