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Synopsis: The Wife (Kristin Lavransdatter)

Another spoiler alert! Here is my synopsis of the second book of the great trilogy, for those who haven't the time to read it, or for those who wish to refresh their memory. The book is divided into three parts with chapters according to the numbering below. The third instalment is yet to come...


I The Fruit of Sin

  1. A nauseous Kristin suffering from morning sickness arrives with an optimistic but oblivious Erlend to the Husaby estate. Kristin discovers it is poorly managed but takes charge and sets about putting it in order. She makes Erland’s old friend and personal servant; the coarse but steadfast Ulf her right-hand man. Kristin grows anxious about the absence of movement in her womb, and turns to St Olav and to her own relative, St Helen of Skøvde (Holy Fru Elin). Erlend notices Kristin’s state but says nothing; Kristin resents him for this and tension rises between them until she feels the child move and they then reconcile.

  2. Kristin begins to win over the serving women. Her concerns for the child return but she prays to the Virgin Mary and St Olav. Orm, Erland’s son by Eline, visits Husaby. Unable to attend Christmas Midnight Mass, Kristin visits the estate’s church at that hour. She sees the cold and desolation as fittingly shutting her out of the celebration of God’s son born to a pure maiden. She tells Orm Christmas legends by the fire until Erlend returns from Mass.

  3. Erlend is in the habit of taking his ill-temper out on Orm and this grieves Kristin. Baard and Munan visit Husaby, with the drunken latter showing great disrespect to Kristin. When he insults Erlend over abandoning his son, Ulf (manager of Husaby) and he brawl, but Erlend and Munan’s wife put an end to it. A contrite Munan takes Orm with him. Kristin begins to bore of Erlend, all the while missing her parents and Jørundgård. She worries that she must give birth in unfamiliar company, but consoles herself that her mother must be on her way. She goes out to greet her, but she is not coming. Audfinna, a farmer’s wife, finds her and brings her inside lest she be attacked by wolves in the forest. Erlend - frightened for Kristin - arrives. Again the two reconcile and Kristin regrets her anger towards him.

  4. Erlend’s brother, the priest Gunnulf arrives and Kristin delights in his company. She happens upon a book and she reads out part of the psalm Miserere. As Kristin nears labour, Erlend fetches Audfinna to assist her. In the meantime, Kristin devolves into histrionics about her past and the death of Eline, while Gunnulf does his best to calm her. After a long and dangerous labour, Nikulaus (Nåkkve)is born. Kristin reflects on the innocence of the child, now baptised by Gunnulf.

  5. Erlend sets out by skis to Jørundgård, and in spite of the new is received kindly by Lavrans and Ragnfrid. Lavrans returns to Husaby with Erlend and develops a new fondness for him. All the same, he imposes a penance on him for laying with Kristin before their wedding. Gunnulf instructs Kristin to make a pilgrimage to make a pilgrimage to Nidaros [Trondheim] to seek forgiveness from the archbishop for the death of Eline. Erlend’s reputation in the surrounding environs improve, and all say that his wife has exercise much good influence in just six months. Lavrans parts from them with love and kindness.

  6. Barefoot and dressed as a penitent, Kristin begins her pilgrimage with Nåkkve strapped to her back. Gunnulf chastises Erlend in a long dialogue. Kristin continues her journey, imaging Brother Edvin to be with her. She meets Simon on the way. He and his wife will take his nephew in, but without the child’s widow-mother. Simon wishes Kristin only well. Kristin arrives to Nidaros Cathedral and is deeply impressed by its beauty. She contemplates and weeps for a long time before speaking to a priest. She donates her maiden’s wreath and venerates St Olav’s relics before seeking a bed in a convent. In the night she has a vision of Brother Edvin, who smiles merrily and tenderly. He nods to her and vanishes.

II Husaby

  1. Orm has returned to Husaby. Lavrans visits with Sir Erling Vidkunssøn, Said Gudleikssøn and the handsome young Haftor Graut. They are gathering the retainers of the boy-king Magnus Eirikssøn to ensure his and his mother-regent’s interests against her ill-advising counsellors. Erling explains to Erlend how wise and influential Lavrans is in these, even if he rarely involves himself. Lavrans is opposed to bearing arms without warrant, or levying war taxes on the peasantry. Haftor flirts with an uncomfortable Kristin. They discuss more on current politics and it is suggested that Erlend take charge of the defence of the far-north against Russian incursions.

  2. Nåkkve is now two, Kristin has had another boy - Bjørgulf - and is promptly pregnant with a third. She and Orm have grown close, though she dislikes Erlend’s other child, Margret, as she is arrogant and a source of contention between Kristin and Erlend. The latter has spent time away in the north, and is not pleased when he learns of Kristin’s pregancy. Kristin pours out her soul to Gunnulf about her pride, Orm expresses interest in the priesthood and Gunnulf secretly ponders becoming a monk or friar. Erlend returns and is angry with Orm for having left Husaby, and pledges to take him north to make a man of him.

  3. Kristin has had her third boy, the frail and clingy Gaute. Fever had swept through the area, and carried off Orm to the grave. Erlend attends Mass every day and visits Arms grave. Ulf warns Kristin of Erlend’s imprudence in dividing his properties. Kristin discusses his marital prospects encouragingly. Haftor, himself married, has attempted to seduce Kristin but she dismissed him. Erlend earns respect and fame in the far north for his naval exploits against the Russians and pirates but, though liked by his peers in Trøndelag (the area around Nidaros, including Husaby), is considered foolish and reckless. Erlend is to help oversee the implementation of a treaty with the Russians and contemplates that he longs for the sea. He can’t bear to live with the frail Kristin and the sick children, but he can’t bear the idea of not having her. He punishes himself for having disturbed Kristin’s innocence, and acknowledges he only has peace in vice. Kristin gives birth to twins: Ivar and Skule. Erlend returns north.

  4. After two years, Erlend is appointed sheriff back home and succeeded by Haftor in the north. On the way home, he meets Gunnulf, now a Dominican missionary. Still on the return voyage, Erlend is tempted by Haftor’s sister, Sunniva Olavsdatter, but after some flirtation, rejects her wanton advances. Erlend reunites with a very healthy and very lovely Kristin. Life is good at Husaby, with the spouses getting on famously, and taking their proper place in society. The children are all well, though Erlend is concerned about Bjørgulf’s eyesight. News reaches that Kristin’s sister Ramborg has been betrothed to Simon Andressøn (Darre), now a widow.

  5. Simon had married Halfrid, a noble and wealthy widow but strayed with a maid who had a daughter: Arngjerd. She is taken into their home. Halfrid gives Simon a son of their own, but both she and he die. He returned to Dyfrin with Arngjerd to see his father die. He is reacquainted with Lavrans and Ramborg. Though Simon is seventeen years her senior, Ramborg persists in binding Simon to her. They are at length betrothed. Kristin, Erlend and the boys come to Jørundgård. Erlend gives Simon a merry greeting, but Kristin and Simon barely look each other in the eyes. Lavrans likes the Kristin’s boys, but not their rowdy behaviour. Simon and Ramborg are married.

  6. Lavrans has become more pious still. Sira Eirik is old and assisted by a troublesome Sira Solmund. Kristin has a sense of foreboding about her father. Erlend is involving himself in political intrigue. Surrounded by the honour of Jørundgård and Dyfrid, Kristin becomes annoyed with Erlend. In a row with Lavrans, she tells him of her and Erlend’s trist in the Fluga loft, assuming Simon had already revealed this. Lavrans praises Erlend for his subsequent honour. The two make up, but when Kristin leaves, Lavrans has a heart-attack; another in a series of the same. Erlend, Lavrans and Sir Erling (regent of Norway) discuss Erlend’s plans to sail to Denmark, where King Magnus’ mother is married to Duke Knut Porse. With rumours of King Magnus’ secret “unspeakable sin”, Erlend does not discount a coup by the Danes with Ingebjørg, mother of the King. After Erlend departs, Lavrans suffers another heart attack.

  7. About to return to Husaby, Kristin intimates to Lavrans that she is again with child. They speak of death and part emotionally. Lavrans returns to Ragnfrid and gives her his mother’s bridal ring. She understands that Lavrans’ end is coming. They discuss the pain they caused each other and retire together hand in hand. Ragnfrid says: “I have asked the Mother of God to answer my prayer that I need not live long after you.”

  8. Kristin unsuccessfully attempts to teach the boys discipline. Erlend wins friendship and praise from the Danish duke and Ingebjørg. Kristin is ill and quarrels frequently with the now returned Erlend. And rancour sets in between them. Lavrans summons Erlend before he dies. He and Kristin reconcile (again) and they depart for Jørundgård. Funeral preparations are made. Kristin is jealous that Simon’s relationship with Lavrans is better than Erlend’s. She also notices the improved relationship of Lavrans and Ragnfrid. Lavrans deteriorates and says his goodbyes. Erlend begs his forgiveness for the sorrow caused and Lavrans forgives him heartily. After he receives the last sacraments and dies, his corpse is visited by all in the countryside. Ragnfrid and Kristen have a beautiful heart to heart. Kristin - not yet churched after young Lavrans’ birth - watches the funeral procession leave for Hamar. Ragnfrid moves to the convent in Oslo as a corrodian (as a non-religious and widow).

III Erlend Nikulaussøn

  1. With Ragnfrid’s death two years later (1332), Kristin owns Jørundgård. Simon will manage the property. Erlend is accused of being a friend to heathens and witches and is summoned by the archbishop of Nidaros, but nothing comes of it. Erlend praises the now unpopular Sir Erling for his desire for peace with Ingebjørg, now a widow. Simon spends time with Erlend and Kristin at Husaby. They resume their squabbling - this time over the children’s lack of discipline. When Simon leaves, he senses that “a storm was brewing”.

  2. Erlend’s rights as sheriff have increased and he is now wealthy, with great love and loyalty from his men, who have sworn allegiance to him. Meanwhile, Kristin suspects Margret of adultery with Håkon of Gimsar. Shortly afterwards, Erlend catches Håkon with Margret in her room; swords are drawn and Erlend cuts of Håkon’s hand. Kristin tends to the latter and intervenes with Erlend on Margret’s behalf. While Håkon’s conduct is akin to Erlend’s, he casts the blame on Kristin for having said nothing about her suspicions. At length, Håkon begs pardon and is sent to his home. Erlend hastily organises a lack-lustre marriage for Margret with a German jeweller’s son.

  3. Erlend and Kristin go to Nidaros to visit Gunnulf, whose health is broken from his northern mission. Erlend has become hardened and has slipped into vulgarity. Kristin gives birth to her seventh: Munan. Meanwhile, there is unrest between the factions for and opposing King Magnus. Sir Erling and others are threatened with charges of treason but make peace with the king. To Erlend, Kristin shows she can be vicious in her words and hold a long grudge. They have an ugly quarrel wherein Erlend slaps Kristin for her insults. Erlend seeks solace in the bed of Sunniva Olavsdatter. Kristin learns of it and tells her to return to the woman, and for the next week, he does. Kristin returns to Husaby from Nidaros. Erlend visits Kristin. He blames her for her cruel words. He returns to Sunniva but they quarrel and he departs when she speaks of Kristin.

  4. Horsemen arrive at Husaby to question Erlend on treason against the king. Before he is apprehended, he gives a package to Gaute to secretly take to Ulf. He destroys letter from Ingebjørn, embraces and kisses Kristin, now full of concern and love for her husband. It transpires that Sunniva had found a letter in his belt and reported it. He and Ulf are both is imprisoned in Nidaros. Kristin reflects on her pride and ingratitude; on her mistreatment of Erlend. Gaute has destroyed the letters. Kristin considers her options: she will go to Nidaros to find out more. She reflects that she and Erlend have no close kin or friends except Gunnulf and Simon.

  5. Kristin and Gunnulf speak about the severity of the situation, and Kristin sides with Erlend, and acknowledging his bravery in seeking to replace a useless king with his half-brother Håkon (son of Ingebjørg and Duke Eirik Porse). She regrets not having listened to Erlend when he wanted to discuss these matters with her. She defends Erlend against Gunnulf’s blame of Erlend. Simon arrives and comforts Kristin. He visits Erlend and finds him defiant in his predicament and in good spirits. Women have been his undoing, but in this he stands stalwart and undaunted as a man. His only fear is for Kristin. Erlend contemplates the loss of his properties and exile with Kristin and the two older boys in Denmark. At the trial, Erlend refuses to defend himself but states clearly his intentions: to force King Magnus to grant the crown to his half-brother, while the king would reign in Sweden. He is sentenced to death, with forfeiture of his properties. He remains as cheerful as ever. Sira Eiliv takes Nåkkve and Bjørgulf to his brother’s monastery. Ivar and Skule go with Simon to Jørundgård. The other boys remain with Kristin in Nidaros.

  6. Erlend is to be taken to Sweden to see the king, and Kristin want to go to beg for mercy. Ulf is released and accompanies Kristin and Gaute to Simon and Ramborg (but Ramborg is away for the winter). Simon and Kristin go to Oslo where Erlend is now being held. Kristin and Simon visit Erlend, who is calm as ever but worn down by the cold. Later, Simon gets word of the birth of his son, Andres. Simon is feeling tempted with Kristin so close - though she is oblivious - and doubles his Paters and Aves. He visits Sir Erling, but he refuses to intervene.

  7. From Tunsberg, the king asks that Erlend’s case be investigated, and his envoys bring instruments of torture. Olav Kerning, the deputy royal treasure, refuses them subsequent admittance, as torture is against the customs of Norway.Simon, enraged, visits a bruised and battered Erlend who remains resolute. Erlend asks Simon to take Kristin from Oslo before she learns of his treatment. Sir Erling still refuses to intervene, but encourages Simon to appeal (with the help of other noblemen) Erlend’s treatment as unlawful. Simon is unrelenting with Erling, who eventually acquiesces and they ride off to Tunsberg. Simon and Erling appear before the king, and suggest that if Erlend is not treated with the respect his lineage deserves, there will be a revolt that the king will be unable to impede. Erling speaks privately with the king and at length convinces him to release Erlend in self interest. When Simon hears of this, he has mixed feelings. Erlend is freed and reunited with Kristin. He raises a goblet to Simon in gratitude but says that if it weren’t for him, Erlend would have lost his head and Simon could have had his widow. Simon knocks the goblet out of Erlend’s hand and storms off. Erlend runs out apologetically, but the damage is done. Erlend and Kristin embrace while Simon seeks other lodgings. It is snowing.


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