After reading the second book, The Mistress of Husaby -- The Wife in the newer translation -- I am somewhat ambivalent about the trilogy. In reading the first book, with the restricted life of the women and the miseries obviously -- to a modern reader -- caused by the religious morality of that period, I naturally assumed that that was somehow the point. But even as I was reading it, I couldn't help but see that the text did not really fit that interpretation; the irony I expected to find wasn't where I expected to find it, and Erlend was clearly the "villain", not as evil but as not taking the morality seriously. As soon as I got into the second book, it began to dawn on me that the religious aspect, the obsession with sinfulness, was intended to be taken at face value; that the problem was not seen as the subordinate position of the women, but in Kristin's "sinful" rebellion against it; that the root cause was supposed to be that Lavrans had been too lenient, not disciplining Kristin sufficiently to behave as a properly subordinate wife. This made more sense of the way it was written, and of the further developments, where Kristin's life is unhappy because of her lack of subordination to Erlend, less because of his many failings than because she criticizes them. Simon, on the other hand, is the "hero" of the second book, even more than Lavrans. I simply had a hard time to accept that this was where the trilogy was actually going, knowing that it was written in the twentieth century, but when I looked up something about Undset I found that she was indeed a very conservative Catholic convert opposed to modernism in human relations. I think there is more to the book than that, it is actually quite complex, but that is the overall orientation. This is a very religious work, although not a "Christian noveL" in the superficial sense that I put the little cross stickers on books at the library. It may be that this is why her descriptions of mediaeval life are so believable; she doesn't have her characters thinking and acting in "anachronistic" ways, like so many authors writing about that period, because her own outlook is more consistent with the thought of the period.
As the book goes on, Kristin returns somewhat to her passive role (which is the one that is supposed to be appropriate to women), and much of the book is rather hard to stay interested in, until circumstances force her to become more active again in defense of her husband; but even then it is only partial, and the real active role is assigned to the men, especially Simon. I wish the history had been gone into more in depth, because that was the only really interesting thing about the book, and it was only treated as background, except for Erlend's role which was of course the fictional part. It is really hard to stay interested in a book where the actions are seen from the outside by a narrator who doesn't play an active role but just worries about how they will affect her family. I do intend to finish the third book, but I'm not really enthusiastic about it, especially as I presume from the title that it will even more religious than the second book.
posted 3 years ago. ( permalink )