Gunnar's Daughter

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Penguin, 1998 - Fiction - 161 pages
2 Reviews
More than a decade before writing Kristin Lavransdatter, the trilogy about fourteenth-century Norway that won her the Nobel Prize, Sigrid Undset published Gunnar's Daughter, a brief, swiftly moving tale about a more violent period of her country's history, the Saga Age. Set in Norway and Iceland at the beginning of the eleventh century, Gunnar's Daughter is the story of the beautiful, spoiled Vigdis Gunnarsdatter, who is casually raped by the man she had wanted to love. A woman of courage and intelligence, Vigdis is toughened by adversity. Alone she raises the child conceived in violence, repeatedly defending her autonomy in a world governed by men. Alone she rebuilds her life and restores her family's honor -- until an unremitting social code propels her to take the action that again destroys her happiness.

First published in 1909, Gunnar's Daughter was in part a response to the rise of nationalism and Norway's search for a national identity in its Viking past. But unlike most of the Viking-inspired art of its period, Gunnar's Daughter is not a historical romance. It is a skillful conversation between two historical moments about questions as troublesome in Undset's own time -- and in ours -- as they were in the Saga Age: rape and revenge, civil and domestic violence, a troubled marriages, and children made victims of their parents' problems.

 

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Shorter, sadder, Kristen L.

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About the author (1998)

Sigrid Undset was the daughter of archeologist Ingvald Undset. Cultural, autobiographical, and religious topics constitute a large and interesting portion of her fiction, which in Norway is categorized according to the time of action: medieval or modern. Jenny (1911), an idealistic and tragic love story, is one of the latter novels. Undset's comprehensive knowledge of medieval Scandinavian culture has its literary monuments in Kristin Lavransdatter (1920--22) and The Master of Hestviken (1925--27), historical novels that depict life in the Norwegian Middle Ages. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928. Norwegian criticism of Sigrid Undset's writing centers on her religiosity (she became a conservative, almost reactionary Catholic in Lutheran Norway in the 1920s; she possesses an intensity of belief that is rather naturally expressed in the medieval novels. Yet while she has written religious polemics, the medieval novels are not tendentious. In fact, the central motifs are eroticism, marriage, and family life, in short, the full life of a medieval woman who sees herself in the light of contemporary Christian beliefs. These novels are great, realistic delineations of medieval personalities. During World War II she escaped the German occupation of Norway and fled to America, where she wrote her autobiographical Happy Times in Norway (1942).

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