The Bridal Wreath

by Sigrid Undset

Reviewed by Susan Gillmor

The Bridal Wreath, the first volume in the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, does not merely describe Norway in the early fourteenth century; rather, it whisks us through time and sets us down in icy landscapes under the shimmering Northern Lights. We share in the feudal textures, the rhythms of the sacred calendar and rituals of Mother Church that govern Kristin’s world.

The prose is folksy and formal by turn, the translation from Norwegian at times awkward and archaic, but the language only serves to enhance the impression of time and place. This is a Norse world, at once strange and familiar. These are the colonizers of Britain, the forebears of the modern Western world. Kristin Lavransdatter is our sister, our cousin.

As companions at Kristin’s side, we are awed by a view of the first stained-glass window in Norway that “shone as if it were made of naught but gleaming precious stones. The many-hued flecks of light upon the wall came from rays which stood out from that picture.” We follow her to the bustling town of Oslo for her convent year where she will be taught to obey with “uprightness, faithfulness and all the virtues” the man to whom her father has betrothed her.

By chance Kristin encounters a dark-haired knight in Oslo on a festival day. After a night of dancing with this intriguing stranger, Kristin is no longer willing to obey her father’s choice in marriage. Her path becomes fraught with troubling issues of honor and family loyalties, but Kristin admits, “I went astray of my own will—I shall not whimper or wail if the path lead out on the rocks.” We witness intimately the steep prices of her choices.

Kristin Lavransdatter’s story is a romance, yet it is not at all romanticized. It is bittersweet and wise and earthy and timeless. This volume left this reader hungry for the next chapters in Undset’s masterwork. (originally published in 1920, 288 pages in the 1987 Vintage edition)

More about The Bridal Wreath (also titled The Wreath) at Powell's Books

Other books in the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy:

#2: Mistress of Husaby (also titled The Wife). More info
#3: The Cross. More info

Kristin Lavrandatter: Complete trilogy in a single volume. Hardcover, More info or Softcover, More info

Other historical novels by Sigrid Undset:

Gunnar's Daughter, set in eleventh century Norway and Iceland. More info

The Master of Hestviken quartet, set in medieval Norway, a generation prior to The Bridal Wreath:
#1: The Axe. More info
#2: The Snake Pit. More info
#3: In the Wilderness. More info from
#4: The Son Avenger, #4 in The Master of Hestviken quartet. More info

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