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Sunday, September 03, 2006

The translation of Kristin Lavransdatter makes a difference. I read the first two volumes published by Vintage, which translates the Norwegian using archaic Medieval English. As a result, the story reads much like a legend or an epic; however, nuances, realism, and comprehensability suffer. My library only had the Penguin-published third volume, which is translated by Tiina Nunnally using modern English. At first the language seemed rather flat, but I ended by liking it more, mostly because I didn't have to dig through obscure wording in order understand the thoughts and feelings of the characters. Undset often relies on implications to convey the importance of various speeches or actions, and even reading the modern translation, the reader can still miss out on momentous occasions: “What just happened?”

One thing that never fails to annoy me is a double standard applied to men and women regarding sexual purity. This is the case in the Kristin trilogy. In The Bridal Wreath, much fuss is made over a Kristin's maidenhood, and apparently it is fair game for general community discussion and conjecture. If it had been generally known at the time of her wedding that she had not remained chaste, she would have been universally condemned and her parents seen as dishonored fools. However, several men in the book, including Erlend and her former betrothed Simon, engage in multiple extramarital affairs and father illegitimate children, yet do not suffer any ill social consequences nor are even regarded as particularly unusual. If sexual purity is important (and I agree with Sigrid Undset that it is) then it is equally so for men and women.

Title:The Mistress of Husaby: Kristin Lavransdatter II
Author:Sigrid Undset
Date published:1921
Genre:Historical Fiction
Series:Kristin Lavransdatter
Number of pages:384


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