Friday, March 23, 2018

Kristin Lavransdatter, Book 1: The Bridal Wreath

I don't know if it's cheating or overachieving to smuggle in a trilogy as one selection in the Back to the Classics challenge, but I will do it for Kristin Lavransdatter. If I had a cabin and a pot of soup and Kristin Lavransdatter, then that would be the best vacation ever.

So it is hard with such a book to sum up or critique. I don't read Kristin Lavransdatter; I move temporarily to 14th-century Norway. All the people and the life are so real, shown without romanticism or grotesqueness. The people live in their own world, unastonished at their own life for all its strangeness to us, yet still as real and ordinary as anyone you might know.

The Bridal Wreath gives a bit of background on Kristin's family and then tells her growing up years, from early childhood to her wedding. Kristin's doting and devout father, Lavrans, is a well-respected knight and a skilled farm manager; her mother is dedicated but melancholy, weighed down by many infant losses and a dark secret. In due course Kristin's father arranges her a good marriage to Simon, a perfectly suitable but rather boring young man, but Kristin is not so sure. At Simon's suggestion, she spends a year at a convent school in the south to get a bit more worldliness. What she gets instead is an introduction to Erlend, a dashing, higher-ranking, and not all that young man who is, in more than just Lavrans' estimation, not good for much but seducing women.

Well, things go much as one would expect in any century. Or again, not, because no one here is a stock character. Even the minor characters, like the saintly Brother Edvin, or the enigmatic witch Lady Aashild, are very real. The actions of a 28 year old who seduces a naive 16-year-old girl out of a convent to a brothel are as despicable to the medieval Norwegians as they would be if it started in an online chat room today; yet Erlend does genuinely care for Kristin, after his own weak-willed fashion. And while Kristin learns to lie and sneak and is as utterly short-sighted in romance as a teenage girl can be, yet her devotion has its own greatness and beauty to it.

Two quotes from either end of the influences in Kristin's life:

Lady Aashild: "In this world they call him a fool who wastes his heritage that he may make merry in the days of his youth. As to that, each man may deem as he lists. But that man only do I call a fool and a very dolt who rues his bargain after it is made . . . "

Brother Edvin: "There is no man nor woman, Kristin, who does not love and fear God, but 'tis because our hearts are divided twixt love of God and fear of the devil and fondness for the world and the flesh, that we are unhappy in life and death. For if a man had not a yearning after God and God's being, he would thrive in hell, and 'twould be we alone who would not understand that there he had gotten what he desired."

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Next Selection

And now it's time for me to roll again, hoping for a selection a little easier to get through than the last . . .

First I rolled a 5. But that's Swiss Family Robinson, which is a family read aloud (and we've already started). At the rate we've been having read-alouds, it's going to take us all year to get through.

So a re-roll for a personal read, and it's a 4: Kristin Lavransdatter. Which may take me as long to get through as the Aeneid, but if memory serves me right it's a process I will enjoy far more.

The Aeneid

Well, I made it. And it took me the first two months of the year, but it was probably the toughest read for me. I'm not very quick with epic poetry. I keep getting lost and having to backtrack or give up on following entirely. Especially during the battle parts (which was basically the last six books) I was pretty much like Alice reading Jabberwocky, "Well, somebody killed something, that's certain."

I did get a bit of an aha about why ancient poetry is so dang tedious, though. Even though the Aeneid was written, it still takes its form from the oral tradition. And if you really wanted to remember an important war and all the important generals and battles, without writing it down, you'd want to turn it into poetry. Now that we have catalogs and history books we can skip all the lists and focus on the action, but if we didn't no doubt we'd still be recounting the Civil War in a similar fashion.

The parts with the gods and goddesses interfering were more interesting. Basically it all came down to a feud between Juno and Venus; Venus who apparently was Aeneas' mother by a mortal, and Juno who favored Carthage and thus had it in for the Romans before they could even become Romans. (In one scene Venus gets her immortal husband, Vulcan, to make Aeneas special armor. It never explains how Vulcan came to be so chill with the situation, but I suppose they'd had a few decades to work it out and maybe he figured that it was part of the price of being married to the goddess of love. On the other hand, you never see Juno acting so calmly about Jove's sidelines.)

Really the interference of the deities was depressing. If they decide you need to do something, or die conveniently, or turn on your nearest and dearest, then do it you will, whether they have to resort to persuasion, trickery, or brute force.

In other reading, I also re-read the entire Anne series while sick with the flu. It was strange to revisit after quite a while. I don't think I'd read it since the children were tiny. It was a little depressing to realize that after a lifetime of expecting I would grow up to be Anne as a mother with a house as well-ordered and supportive as Ingleside, the best I could hope to emulate was the Merediths, domestic chaos and nearly absent parents with the kids mysteriously turning out pretty OK anyway.

Read The Clockwork Boys (it's by Ursula Vernon, but her adult novel pen name which I can't remember off the top of my head) and was very annoyed to realize Bookworm had tricked me into reading the first book when the sequels weren't out read. Read The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale and liked it once I got into it. Feel like I read some other fun fantasy, but can't remember what right now.

Oh, and I got a whole lot of graphic novels for the kids that were new to us, most of which I didn't read because I find graphic novels hard to follow, but I also realized that there are two sequels to Hereville out now, and was very very happy to read those.