Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wanna talk about Lavrans?

I love Lavrans, but does he seem a little too perfect? Is he really surprised that his wife wasn't a maiden when she married him? Can he really NOT be the way she wants him to be towards her in the bedroom? If our understanding of God is represented in our understanding of fatherhood what is Undset's view of God?

Sexless and naive. Yet hard-working, virtuous, kind to the weak, skeptical of frivolity. Though he does get drunk a lot.

In any case, I think it's interesting that all the sex in the book is hidden from Lavrans, but no one else.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Kristin Lavransdatter on Film

Has anyone seen the Kristin movie? Didn't think it was worth the time. Yet apparently it was a big hit in Norway. Did I miss something?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

October book

Are we moving on to Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wife?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thoughts on The Wreath and relationships

You know how there are those girls who read the Twilight series, and then fall into the Edward camp or the Jacob camp? Well, I'm in the Simon camp. I love Simon. And perhaps that colors my impressions of Kristin throughout the book and the trilogy. Erlend is just not my kind of guy, which makes it even more incomprehensible to me that Kristin throws Simon over for him. There are some books in which I can about foolish relationship choices and feel objective or remote from the situation, but I had a very strong negative reaction to Kristin's rejection of Simon. I disliked her so much by the end of the book that I had to go ahead and read the rest of the trilogy, to get the full perspective on her.

(Caveat: my husband is much like Simon. So I'm a partisan.)

I'm reminded of a quote from C.S. Lewis's Perelandra, which I'm dredging up from memory: God can bring good out of evil, but it is not the good that He originally intended. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that though the rest of the trilogy, Kristin and Erlend go on to live a rich life together and do love each other very much. And looking at their children, one can indeed see the good that sprung from the seed sown on rocky soil. But this false beginning stains Kristin and Erlend's happiness, and creates an internal conflict that time and again surfaces and leaves destruction in its wake.

There are two kinds of couples, I think: those whose drama is external, and those whose drama is internal. Kristin and Erlend have internal drama -- strife between them, driven by their own anger or bitterness at each other. My husband and I will never be a good subject for a novel or a movie because any drama in our lives is driven by external circumstances (finances, job, whatever) but doesn't pierce through to the heart of who we are as a couple, and so doesn't create conflict between us. Kristin and Erlend have this conflict built into their very identity as a couple, not just because they sin (who doesn't?) but because they persist in that sin and allow it to define how they interact with each other and with society. I found it telling that at first Kristin longed for a pregnancy as a sign of their commitment to each other, a real bond that would cement their love and stand as a signal to the world that they had were committed to each other, come what may; but when Kristin finds herself pregnant right before the wedding -- the true sign of their commitment before God and before medieval Norway -- the pregnancy is a wedge and a mockery and is a chain rather than a bond.

Remember how that pregnancy results -- Erlend doesn't take Kristin's refusal seriously. He's become accustomed to her acquiescence in sin and pleasure. What started off with such high-minded sentiments (see Betty's post below about rationalizing sexual sin) has come to this -- a not-quite-rape that results in what will soon be a very public shame. The time of "getting away with it" is over, and the toll on their relationship will last a lifetime. Forgiveness and mercy are available, but it will be very hard to break out of the pattern of spiritual rationalization and rejection of mercy that Kristin is establishing now.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Rationalizing Sexual Sin

"You musn't grieve over this sin. It's not a great one. God's law is not the same as the law of the land in this matter. Gunnulv, my brother once explained it all to me. If two people agree to stand by each other for all eternity and then lie with each other, they are married before God and cannot break their vows without committing a great sin. I would tell you the word in Latin if I could remember it--I knew it once."

So says Erlend, comforting Kristin for giving up her maidenhood. The first line of defense when one commits a mortal sin, is to find some way to rationalize and downplay the gravity. We have committed to each other for all eternity. Yet Kristin has the sneaking suspicion that Erlend has used this rationalization before with someone else.

I love how Undset nails this argument, which is so typical as a specifically Christian line of defense. Reminds me of the John Donne poem, The Flea: "Where we almost, yea, more than married are." We are in a committed relationship, we're more in love than most married people, heck, we ARE married....Except we're not.

I'd love to point you all in the direction of this blog post at Halfway to Normal and see what you think, particularly about this quote from an ex-Catholic in the comments:

"I don’t see a need for abstinence from premarital sex–-unfortunately, many Christians seem to take the idea that an unmarried union cannot be fully committed. I think this may relate to the fact that they believe the ceremony itself instills the couple with a special “grace” or “blessing” that no unmarried couple can get from God. I highly disagree with that, but then again, I don’t consider myself a Christian anymore. I think if you really think something fundamentally changes about your relationship when you have a Church ceremony, then you’ll be pro-abstinence. If you don’t, you won’t see the difference. But it’s extremely dangerous to think that the ceremony can fix or increase a commitment that’s broken or lacking before marriage. Please think about the message THAT sends to your children. Please think about the potential heartache when they find out it’s not true."---Genevieve Charet

As a parent, I feel like I tread a fine line in helping my kids avoid the painful fallout of sexual sin, while at the same time, preserving them from feelings of oppressive sexual shame--the kind of shame that causes disconnect between body and soul--where the right hand no longer sees what the left hand is doing.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Shoeblogging Anyone?

I love the scene were Kristin and Ingebjorn go into town dressed in their convent garb and end up buying shoes. I think this is the scene where I first started relating to Kristin. When I lived with the Consecrated RC women, my fellow co-workers and I would run errands for them. TJ Maxx was on the way to the post office, so we'd frequently stop in to replace our nylons, but more than once, I'd find myself lagging in the shoe department. On impulse one day, I bought a pair of high heels. Loved them, but knew, as soon as I walked out of the store, I'd made a mistake. They were too expensive. The heels were too high. But I went back to the house and put them on. Within minutes, the balls of my feet were so sore, I could barely walk. For the rest of the year, they were known as my penance shoes.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Redeeming the first 100 pages of Kristin

The first time I read Kristin Lavransdatter, I almost put it down. The plot felt so, so slow. My sister said, "Just keep going until she gets to the convent. Then things get interesting." So I held on until the convent, maybe even skipping every other word until I got there. But I was glad I did, and didn't stop reading Sigrid Undset until I'd made it through all three volumes of Kristin, The Master of Hestviken series, Jenny, Gunnar's Daughter, and several history books on Medieval Norway (beating a good thing to a pulp).

It's interesting though, having been through all of that, to revisit these first 100pages. I think I get what Undset is trying to do with all of these childhood scenes. On one hand, the book is an epic, following the span of Kristin's life, from age seven through death. But the scenes Undset chose to reveal in her childhood, set up the big themes of the novel.

First, we know how much she loves and respects her Father, and how much everyone else respects her father. She grows up in this confident manhood that sets up the foil to her prospective husband, but that's sort of the "duh" aspect of these pages.

There's a scene that I've always glossed over, the one where she and Arne and the neighbor kids play priest, and they dress a piglet in a Christening dress. They are in the middle of mocking the young bride (Kristin) for conceiving her piglet during Lent when the actual priest comes along and punishes them (quite harshly in my opinion). For days after that, Kristin is unable to look her friend, Arne, in the eye. Kristin has this childhood piety, now wounded with her first inkling of sexual shame.

It flows so naturally into her first experiences of darkness and evil, when she goes up in the hills with her father, hearing stories about all the wild people that live in the woods, and then she sees the vision of the lady. I've always wondered who the woman was... Fru Aashild? A vision of her future self? A hallucination? Everyone else takes it so seriously.

Then there's the beautiful scene with Brother Edvin, when she begins to understand God's mercy: "There is no one, Kristin, who does not love and fear God. But it's because our hearts are divided between love for God and fear of the Devil, and love for this world and the flesh, that we are miserable in life and death....It was because of God's mercy towards us that He saw how our hearts were split, and he came down to live among us, in order to taste, in fleshly form, the temptations of the Devil..."

Brother Edvin seems to sum up Undset's philosophy and the gist of the whole book in those two paragraphs. Kristin has a heart divided, beginning from the age of accountability, and on to her death. But she always loves God.