Four Takes on Kristin Lavransdatter

By Hannah Piecuch

I finished Kristin Lavransdatter in late October, a month ahead of this reading group’s schedule. And I didn’t want to spoil it for any of you! So here is what I read, re-read, and listened to in order to quell my appetite for discussion. 

Slate Magazine | Why Sigrid Undset should be the next Elena Ferrante

When I was invited to join Project Redux, this was the first article I read about Kristin Lavransdatter, as I weighed whether I was interested. Ruth Graham’s synopsis is remains an intriguing one: “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.’ And yet all the outward drama is deployed in service of a story about an ordinary woman’s quietly shifting interior life.” Graham says this trilogy should be adapted as the next bingeable period drama—and I have to agree. 

LitCentury Podcast | On Desire (and its Absence) | On Catholicism and Doomscrolling

A two-part series with writers Sandra Newman and Catherine Nichols. They discuss Lavrans and Ragnfrid’s marriage and speculate over whether those characters envy Erlend and Kristin’s romance, even as they worry for their daughter. And they also argue that Sigrid Undset borrows some bad troupes from the romance genre (the obsession with how hot Kristin is in comparison with all other characters, for one). They also offer insight into Undset’s personal life. She had just left marriage to a partner who was much like Erlend when she wrote Kristin Lavransdatter—is this a revenge epic?

The Paris Review | Cooking with Sigrid Undset 

There is a lot more than boiled beef brisket, barley bread, and mead in this essay. Valerie Stivers ruminates on the novel’s brutal realism, Undset’s conversion “pagan catholicism”, the allure of the Elf Maiden, and her own obsession with making the perfect bowl of oatmeal when her children were small. 

The Atlantic | The bookstore strikes back

Ann Patchett is not writing about Kristin Lavransdatter directly in this essay, but about how she came to own her bookstore, Parnassus Books in Nashville. When I read this next quote in passing I felt like I was part of a secret club, just for reading the trilogy: “The bookstore of my youth was Mills. My sister and I used to walk there every day after school, stopping first to check out the puppies in the pet shop across the street, then going on to admire the glossy covers of the Kristin Lavransdatter series, which is what girls read after they finished Little House on the Prairie and its sequels back before the Twilight books were written.” It made me wonder what I would have made of Kristin and Erlend when I was twelve. 

Hannah Piecuch is a staff science writer at Oceanus magazine and a designer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. She holds an MFA in fiction, but has not written a word of fiction since completing it. She enjoys winter ocean swimming, long woods walks with her dogs, and eating oysters in months that contain “r”. She lives on Cape Cod with her husband. 

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