Monday, November 7, 2011

Kalundborg. Womansaga. Birthplace, Sigrid Undset, Nobel Prize Novelist

Kristin Lavransdatter
Novel by Sigrid Undset
Nobel Prize for Literature 1928

Move aside, Moby Dick and the men's viewpoint of institutions, morality, tragedy, human flaw, and religious dogma words like redemption from the male perspective, sacrifice, all too monopolized in the watery setting of the whale. 

Here is its rival, by Sigrid Undset 1882-1949,  a womansaga that I think surpasses the mansaga of Moby Dick, even for modern professional women; and that is not limited to women's interests because the men are so deeply drawn,  The issues of Kristin Lavransdatter, transcend culture, just as Moby Dick, and even Gone with the Wind.  She was born here in Kalendborg, but moved as a little child to Oslo, Norway.

Sigrid Undset received the Nobel Prize for Literature for this novel in 1928.  Set it medieval Norway, 13th Century, the work was originally in three volumes, now in one thick but compact (small margins) version translated into English in the 1950's. See

As a small child, age two when she moved to Oslow, she would not remember the overkill of five steeples on the main church at Kalundborg, See the Church of Our Lady (count the steeples, and include the one barely showing at the left).

Still, what did this Catholic-convert experience, that brings her to offer in the novel a critical view:  the harsh and self-serving looks at the institution that  the militaristic and administration-oriented Rome brought, after its folk took over from the original earlier missionaries and monks of the contemplative sort.  Miracles and saints there are also, of course, but the foil is the acquisitiveness of the enterprise.

Christianity in the northlands:  after the Northern Crusades.  Undset as a Catholic.  Why?  That is one of the conundrums.  Is it a literal kind of Stockholm Syndrome, medieval style, where the forces at work on young girls set them to try in vain to please their captors.  Are you interested in finding out?  Not that everyone in a Reformation changes viewpoint, but which stay and which venture more on their own is a reasonable inquiry.

Oprah, if you are looking for a project, get Kristin Lavransdatter and sponsor a  film series for adults, and readings for book clubs, this is a thousand-pager.  Your channel will be set for life.

There is a film of only the first of the three books of the novel, Liv Ullman directing, see the very limited storyline at  The book is far more than a trite-sounding storyline.  It is epic, say we, and unusual for its delving into the female experience. This remains a book to be read, not a film to be voyeured.  Pans of the film are probably justified. Norwegians, how did you receive it? See

For us, the scope and depth of the topics do not fit a mere 1/3 of the work done in film, and how can any film enter into the mind the way a narrative can. It better fits, perhaps, 12 Sunday evenings, TV, of 1 1/2 hrs each until done.

Oprah, lend us your hands on this one. 

How did I read it?  The time was provided thanks to Connecticut's October snowstorm, wherein corporate power and cable and internet and phone sources left consumers out while they pursued other corporate takeovers with the money available, or just paid off shareholders while we are left in the dark.  For our family, intrusion was minimal.  Other parts of town, some 40% are still without power after 11 days.  We were without power of any kind for 3-4days, then just lacked for internet, cable and phone for another week or so, and are just now getting it back. 

Time for the Large Book of 13th Century Norway. No mere kindle or its ilk can contain this one.