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Synopsis: The Wreath (Kristin Lavransdatter)

Another spoiler alert! Here is my synopsis of the first 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.


I Jørengård


Setting the scene in the Gudbrandsdal and introduction of Lavrans, his wife Ragnfrid and their daughter Kristin. Kristin leaves her village for the first with her father. She encounters the “Elf-maiden”.

  1. After some winters, she visits Hamar with Lavrans. Here she encounters the kindly Brother Edvin, a Franciscan church decorator.


Ulvhild, Kristin’s sister is born and ushers in three happy years for Lavrans’ family. Then her back is broken in an accident. Ragnhild is filled with self-


loathing. Ragnfrid sends for Fru Aashild, a reputed witch (but really a natural healer). Kristin begins to appreciate the complexities of life. “And for the first time it occurred to Kristin that there was something about her mother that was not as it should be—that she was different from other women.”

  1. Fru Aashild continues treating Ulvhild. She speaks to Kristin for the first time of her nephew Erlend Nikulaussøn.

  2. Kristin is now fourteen. Lavrans shakes with Andres Gudmundsøn of Dyfrin on their children’s - Kristin and Simon - betrothal. Kristin is initially disappointed in Simon’s appearance, but she comes to be glad of the match. Ulvhild grows in beauty, though will never be perfectly healed. She is spoiled by her parents, who now have another daughter, Ramborg. Arne Gyrdsøn, Kristin’s childhood best friend, confides that he would have liked to be the one to marry her. Ulvhild has a fall, and Kristin considers taking her place in the convent, but can’t bring herself to do it. Brother Edvin arrives and brings consolation to the family.

  3. Kristin and Arne secretly meet to say goodbye. He professes her love for her but she replies: “I don’t think I could ever love a man so dearly that I would go against my parents’ will for his sake.” Immediately after she is attacked by Bentein Prestesøn - her parish priest’s grandson. She fights him off from his attempted rape. Bentein removes himself to Hamar.

  4. Arne’s body is returned to Jørundgaard after he is killed by Bentein in Hamar. Arne’s mother Inga accuses Kristin of acting improperly with Arne - or making a fool of him - and of bearing a bastard to Bentein. Lavrans and Simon defend Kristin. Kristin begs Lavrans to send her to the cloister in place of Ulvhild. Perhaps the latter will even improve if she offers herself as a victim. Kristin develops an antipathy to Simon. Lavrans and Simon decide to allow Kristin to spend time with the sisters at Nonnester in Oslo.

II The Wreath

  1. Kristin is received by Abbess Groa Guttormsdatter at Nonnester and given sage advice. She is struck by a reading at table about the Christian girl Theodora who is sent to a brothel for her faith - to the dishonour of her parents.

  2. After some leopards escape from cages in Oslo, Kristin and her friend Ingebjørg run into a forest. They approach some German to guide them back to town, but they show themselves to be lecherous robbers. At the critical moment, Erlend arrives with two others to save the day and returns the two young ladies to Nonnester.

  3. Kristin learns that Erlend has been asking after her and finally encounters him again at the guild feast of St Margareta. He confides that he had been excommunicated (but doesn’t say why). Later in the night, they kiss and Kristin falls asleep in his lap They profess their undying love for each other and begin to discuss marriage. The truth comes out about Erlend, his mistress and two children, but Kristin stands by her promise to love him and no other.

  4. Kristin visits her uncle at Skog and meets Erlend surreptitiously. Upon their second meeting, “[s]he sank back into the hay with open arms and let Erlend do as he liked”. Their visits are repeated every night until they are parted.

  5. Kristin is paranoid about bearing Erlend’s child. She eventually confides in Br Edvin, who warns her of the sorrow she will bring on her parents. She must convince her father to break the betrothal with Simon and urge Erlend to act honourably.

  6. Kristin takes responsibility for her sin. Simon and his family visit the convent. At a feast with a king, she swoons into Erlend’s arms before recovering and speaking longer with him. Simon is ill-pleased. Erlend devises a ruse to have Kristin meet him at Brynhild Fluga’s inn for an evening of passion in her brothel-loft. Erlend complains that Eline is at his home at Husby. He wishes to marry Kristin but cannot petition Lavrans until the engagement with Simon is broken. Kristin feels the ignobility of their love and blames herself for it.

  7. Simon visits Kristin and reveals his knowledge of association with Erlend. Kristin confesses to her love for him, and Simon agrees to break off the betrothal. However, Kristin will have to explain everything to her father.

  8. Kristin meets Erlend a last time in the Fluga loft but they are surprised by Simon. The two men almost come to a sword fight, but when Simon insists Kristin return with to the convent - as he is still her protector - Erlend sends her with him. Lavrans, already informed of the broken betrothal, comes to fetch Kristin. She refuses to reveal the identity of the other man until he is able to seek her hand.

III Lavrans Bjørgulfsøn

  1. Kristin returns to Jørundgård, where no one speaks of her affairs but all treat her as usual. Erland has made an initial approach through Kristin’s uncle, but Ragnfrid reveals that Lavran’s is not well pleased at the proposal. Ragnfrid acknowledges Kristin’s preference for her father, but expresses her maternal love for her.

  2. Kristin is now seventeen. Simon is betrothed to a wealthy widow. Lavrans urges Kristin to forget Erlend, and explains why he refuses this betrothal. Ragnfrid intercedes for Kristin, telling Lavrans that if they refuse, Kristin “may show us someday that she loves him more than her honour - or her life!” Ragnfrid reveals her own love for another man before Lavrans. Both express their love for each other. Ragnfrid prays for Lavrans, Kristin and herself.

  3. Erlend pays Aashild a visit to help with a ruse to get Kristin away from her parents to marry him in secret. They they will flee to Sweden. She reluctantly agrees. Kristin and Erlend meet at Aashild’s farm and prepare their elopement when the beautiful Eline (Erlend’s ex-mistress) arrives unexpectedly to announce the death of her husband and to collect on Erlend’s promise to marry her. She is with child (but not Erlend’s). Eline attempts to poison Kristin but Erlend tries to pour it down Eline’s throat. She tries to stab Erlend before turning the blade on herself. She dies. Aashild convinces to her husband Bjørn to perjured himself that he witnessed Eline kill herself. He and Erlend drive the propped-up corpse in the sleigh south with the intention of telling that Eline and Erlend had a disagreement in the sleigh and that she killed herself.

  4. Kristin and Erlend get away with Eline’s death. Ulvhild bad health gives Kristin cause for contemplation before the former passes away peacefully. Lavrans begins to relent on the betrothal.

  5. Lavrans receives Erlend’s foster-father and friend who discuss the betrothal. Lavrans concedes Erlend’s fair proposals, and after some final resistance, relents and shakes on the engagement. After it is celebrated, the betrothal period will be one year.

  6. Kristin experiences an anti-climax after the betrothal. She greets the now married Simon. She discovers a dying Brother Edwin by the wayside and they have a heart to heart. She takes him to Jørundgård where he brings much spiritual comfort to the people. After a final heart to heart, he manages to leave but dies upon his arrival in Hamar. He is reputed as a saint: St Even. Kristin is bereft.

  7. Kristin is pregnant and suffers from nausea. The parish church is struck by lighting and set alight. Lavrans, Erlend and the villagers spring into action. The church burns down though everything precious is saved from within. Kristin worries it is a bad omen, but Sira Eirik (the parish priest) tells her to abandon her pride. Lavrans looks more favourably upon Erlend after his bravery with the fire.

  8. Fru Aashild notices Kristin’s state but she is as discrete as ever. The night before the wedding, Kristin reflects with Aashild on the destruction wrought on the way to this wedding. The ceremony seems like a hallucination. She sees Eline’s dead face and prays to St Olav for her child. She struggles though the wedding feast. Erlend and Kristin are finally led to the bedchamber where, when alone, they both weep with relief that they “would live to see this day”. Having noticed Kristin was not at all shy when Erlend had entered the chamber, Lavrans and Ragnfrid admit to themselves that Kristin and Erlend had not waited, and Lavrans regrets allowing the marriage. Lavrans ponders within himself that he never loved anyone - nor Ragnfrid, though he had been a good husband. Ragnfrid confesses that she was not a maiden when they married. Lavrans is shocked but forgives her.


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