Nicola Griffith weighs in on Hild and Kristin Lavransdatter

Nicola Griffith, author of Hild, is on Twitter, and she read our review of Hild and noted my interest in Kristin Lavransdatter as well. It was kind of awesome to have a conversation with her and I wanted to follow up here to note what she had to say.

I began by noting that Hild was truly a 21st-century novel, even though it was set in the 7th, while Kristin Lavransdatter was decidedly 19th or 20th century. Griffith agreed that the themes of the two differed dramatically.

Then, yesterday, when we posted my thoughts on Kristin Lavransdatter, Griffith had additional advice. She strongly recommended the Penguin edition, translated in 2000 by Tiina Nunnally, rather than the 1923 Charles Archer translation I’ve been reading. “It won’t get rid of Kristin’s caul of guilt or inject much joy,” she notes, “but it should at least be an easier read :)”

The thing is, the language I can get past. The joyless rumination over past sins is really starting to grind me down, though. I’m determined to get through the remaining pages of volume II but I don’t think I’m going to pick up volume III even in a newer translation.

Look up Sigrid Undset’s bio on Wikipedia and you’ll get a feel for where all the joy went: World War I. Undset grew up in a nominally-Lutheran, largely secular, liberal society shattered by mechanized warfare and decimated by influenza. Joyless repentance for unforgivable sins was the name of the game in the aftermath. Undset went not just back to faith, but to Catholic faith, because of it.

Knowing that makes it easier to understand where Undset (and her mopey protagonist) are coming from. They’re still hard for me to empathize with, but it may be all the more important to make the effort.

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