As Emily pointed out, “we’ll be reading the Tina Nunnally translation, which won the PEN/Book-of-the-Month-Club Translation Prize in 2001 and apparently restored a number of the more experimental passages, which had been excised from the original English translation. It’s available from Penguin in both omnibus and three individual editions.”
Participants are to post their reviews of each section around the end of the month, and we will compare notes. The schedule is as follows:
October: The Wreath (pages 1-291) (See my post here)
November: The Wife (pages 295-697)
December: The Cross (pages 703-1124)
In Volume II we come to learn the answers to quite a few of the mysteries left unresolved in Volume I. We also have less emphasis on biological nature and more on human nature.
In Part I, we had “Fiddler on the Roof.” In Part II, we’ve got “Gone With the Wind.”
The story picks up with Kristin married to Erlend, and at the mercy of an era without birth control. (It is never explained, however, why Kristin is so fertile now, when she never got pregnant in the past.)
Although Kristin seems totally absorbed in her children (to Erlend’s dismay), she never gives up her overriding absorption in herself, and indeed, her arrogance seems to grow in this volume. She sees herself as the most sinful of creatures, and the cause of all the woe around her. No amount of penance is sufficient to absolve her, even though bishops and saints have felt absolved after less effort. (She looks at her first-born son and thinks: “Conceived in sin. Carried under her hard, evil heart. Pulled out of her sin-tainted body….” And on and on….)
Kristin keeps producing sons. She breastfeeds her children long after she should, and constantly tends to them and is obsessed by them. She resents Erlend for not being more “involved” with them. For his part, Erlend is starting to feel left out and alienated from his home life.
It doesn’t help that Kristin grows close to Erlend’s brother Gunnulf, who is a monk and who lectures Kristin ceaselessly about piety and the need to give oneself over to God. (The Norwegians were converted to Catholicism by King Olav in the 11th Century. But they clearly didn’t give up many of their pagan beliefs, and Kristin and the others seem to have no problem or only superficial objections to calling upon pagan practices as needed.)
Kristin projects her self-hatred for her sins onto Erlend, and is so mean to him that even her father Lavrans and her brother-in-law (and former fiancé) Simon chastise her for it. But she is unrelenting. Erlend, who forgives and forgets with a nonchalance that irritates Kristin to no end, is astonished to find she has held onto every grudge for fifteen years.
Lavrans becomes gaunt and sober. Kristin of course thinks it is because of her, but in fact he has heart problems. As he nears death, he and Ragnfrid become even closer, and their last months together are like a new marriage for them both. (Needless to add, Kristin finds herself struggling with jealousy.)
Meanwhile, as time goes on, Erlend gets involved in politics, and worse yet, in a plot to overthrow the King. He is arrested, and while his fate is uncertain, it appears he could be sentenced to death. All of the sudden Kristin loves him ardently. Clearly she only wants him when she thinks she can’t have him.
Simon, still in love with Kristin, helps win Erlend’s release. Erlend realizes Simon still loves Kristin, but he isn’t bothered by it; he feels love and gratitude toward Simon. And Erlend of course still loves Kristin, and for the time being, she loves him again too.
Erlend’s properties have been confiscated, so Kristin and Erlend go back to
Tara Jorundgaard, Kristin’s family estate. The book ends with Kristin swooning in Erlend’s arms, the theme from “Gone With the Wind” playing, and Simon walking off into the sunset.
In this Volume, we find out what the sex problem was between Lavrans and Ragnfrid, and how Ragnfrid knew Lady Aaschild from before. We also learn why certain conversations in Volume I sent Ragnfrid crying out on the moors (or the Norwegian equivalent thereof). These revelations contribute a great deal to understanding Ragnfrid’s character, and make the last months together of Lavrans and Ragnfrid much more poignant.
The book gets very annoying when it dwells on Kristin’s religious travails. Apparently, these are a reflection of Undset’s own search for religious truth, but the constant wallowing in a sense of sinfulness and begging for redemption is very tedious.
Erlend and Simon both become more likeable, even as Kristin grows less so. (Apparently, however, she is still very beautiful, which does a job on both Erlend and Simon.) She has developed the habit of lashing out against everyone she loves and who loves her – even her father. It is as if she purposefully tries to hurt them so she can hate herself even more. Or, perhaps, she resents them for still loving her in spite of her sinful nature.
Although we hear a lot about the sorry lot of women in terms of getting betrothed right at puberty to whomever their families select, we also hear a lot about how women manage (in their inimitable age-old manner) to rule their roosts regardless of their de jure powerlessness.
Volume II favorite passage
[Lavrans and Ragnfrid recognize he is dying, and they form a new bond out of new revelations between them.]
“He slipped one arm under her shoulder and pulled her close to his side. They lay there for a moment, cheek to cheek.
Then she said softly, ‘Now I have asked the Mother of God to answer my prayer that I need not live long after you, my husband.’
His lips and his lashes brushed her cheek in the darkness like the wings of a butterfly.
‘My Ragnfrid, my Ragnfrid.’”