Book Review: The Mistress of Husaby by Sigrid Undset

(This review covers the second book of the trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter.)

The Mistress of Husaby takes up the story of newlyweds Erlend and Kristin. Newborn Naakve joins the household, and Kristin’s responsibility as a mother brings her to newfound grief in the extent of her sins prior to marriage. Erlend’s brother Gunnulf is a priest, and his consistent service to Kristin as a confidant and advocate with God serves as a steadying backdrop to her tumultuous life on the manor.

Naakve is joined by many brothers in quick succession. Kristin’s piety and hard work transforms the estate into a goodly inheritance for her boys. Yet, her pride and self-righteousness in the face of Erlend’s continuing blunders blinds her to her own sins. Undset shows again and again how the context of the sins committed within married life often are intertwined so much as to blur the blame from both partners.

Lavrans, Kristin’s father, is particularly shocked at Kristin’s lack of respect for Erlend in daily life, and the impact of this lack upon her sons. While Erlend’s misdoings pose great dangers to his family’s stability, even so do they speak to the greatness of his character, and his overall capacity for great deeds within the larger community.

Given the depth of Kristin’s wrath toward Erlend for his carefree ways, this middle book ends surprisingly. Their passion is reignited during Erlend’s imprisonment for treason. Crises have a way of clarifying our priorities, and also bringing us to full awareness of our own participation in the problems that confront us. Undset’s careful depiction of a marriage crumbling and then rejuvenated under pressure is singular.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Kristin’s talents in the area of household management completely changes life on the manor of Husaby for everyone, from Erlend down to the lowest peasants. Her generosity blunts the criticism to which Erlend has become accustomed. How does hard work translate into improved relationships in your life? Are there situations which no amount of work can change?
  2. The wild antics of Erlend’s closest relatives shock Kristin. She is grateful to retreat into the duties of wife and family to escape the reality that her husband is unable or unwilling to protect her from their influence. Evil blinds us. What evils in everyday life are blinding you or the ones you love from deeper union with God?
  3. In the aftermath of Erlend’s fall from influence, Kristin suddenly discovers within herself a deep well of thanksgiving for the life they had shared upon the manor of Husaby. Are there similar wells of thanksgiving in your life that you may be blind to? For what are you most thankful, and why?

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