Friday, October 23, 2009

Obligatory Wife Post

Well, it's almost November and we've been pretty quiet on the Kristin front, so I'm going to jump in. It's not fresh in my mind anymore, but here are my jumbled thoughts.

I didn't like Kristin until The Wife. All through The Wreath she made one bad decision after another, and she was really getting on my nerves (to be honest). Then in The Wife she really started to try and reclaim her dignity and do things right. I loved the way she started setting Erlend's manor to rights and how she wouldn't let the servant girl talk about the obvious pregnancy. I really thought I was going to find my Kristin groove.

And then Erlend finds out about the pregnancy, and we're back to square one with these characters. Perhaps Kristin thought that marriage, far from her family, would be a fresh start with a clean slate, but the reality is that choices have far reaching consequences. Some consequences, however, can be extended by long memories. Kristen's ability to carry paper over years was impressive, and more than once I wondered how this marriage could last, given her unwillingness to forgive. And I do say "forgive", regardless of her pilgrimages or prayers, because her constant need to throw her wrongs in Erlend's face (and I didn't even like the guy!) shows that she is still bitter. I believe it was in this book and not in The Cross in which once again she slaps him with accusations in a fight and he says, "Jesus, Kristin, have you been thinking about this for fifteen years?" And that's the fight that provokes him to go off with the other woman, which leads to Erlend's downfall, and the fateful turn in the family fortunes for the worse.

(Ragnfrid held onto her sin for years and years, but I suppose the difference there was that Lavrans wasn't involved in her wrong (or in any wrong, ever?). She can't cast it up to him, though of course her initial attitude toward him later influences his attitude toward her. It was not mutual, and therefore not marriage-breaking.)

I know there are so many themes in The Wife, and so many episodes (the beautiful pilgrimage, anyone? The childbirth scene?) that cry out to be discussed and savored, but what I'm left with after a month or two is the corrosive effects of unforgiven sin -- mutual unforgiven sin -- and how that sin eats away at the foundation of a marriage and, acid-like, weakens and disfigures all it touches.

4 comments:

Betty Duffy said...

I think it's interesting that Kristin and Erlend's issues seem to stem from their mutual compulsiveness. Now that Kristin is away from home, she idealizes everything about it--the way her family celebrates Christmas--this is such a young newlywed thing to feel sad about. Now she has to create her own traditions, and her husband isn't necessarily compliant.

She had always said that she was on a temporary leave of absence from her faith, that she would set things right once she was safely married. But Erlend mocks her new piety, seems to throw up his hands at her industry. It might look like she's holding on to old hurts, but he keeps hurting her afresh with his thoughtlessness. He lets her wander in the woods while she's pregnant. He doesn't call the midwives to help her deliver the baby, until someone (Gunnulf?) tells him to.

Erlend really is such a pill. His only thoughts are to his growing restlessness at home, and how he really would like the nation to be at war so that he has something to do.

These are the "fruits of sin."

In Erlend's defense, (but barely), he has been, in a way, abandoned by Kristin after their marriage. She pursues the reconstruction of his estate and her soul, regardless of and because of his buffoonery, and her silence and coldness towards him are not what he signed up for either.

Love the scene though when he watches her sleeping with the baby at breast.

Betty Duffy said...

And thanks for getting things started here, Mrs. D. I've had it on my mind to do, but . . .didn't.

Emily J. said...

Kristin and Erlend (I can picture the actor who could be him, but I can't think of his name) are both unlikable at times, and the book seems to drag on, but I remember not wanting to leave their world. Their marriage seems to have everything wrong with it - but is it still a vehicle for grace? I like your point about long memories, Mrs. D.

Are we sticking with Undset through November or moving on?

Betty Duffy said...

Thinking we should move on. KRistin discussion seems to be at a lull, and Pentimento said she has a book in mind for next month. I think we should then swing around and pick up Melanie B, for December's book.