A masterpiece finale

Olav Audunssøn: Winter

Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

Winter concludes the Olav Audunssøn tetralogy, another literary masterpiece by Sigrid Undset, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928.

Some critics feel that Olav is superior even to her acclaimed Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy. Both are set in medieval Norway and show very detailed accounts of life in Norway at the time.

All of the Olav books were translated by Tiina Nunnally, widely acknowledged as the finest translator of Norwegian novels into English. In her Translator’s Note, which the reader should definitely read, she writes: “I will miss Olav and everyone who is part of the Hestviken world. It has been a wonderful privilege to translate Undset’s magnificent story.”

She found the experience very gratifying.

Translating all four volumes of Sigrid Undset’s Olav Audunssøn has been a monumental endeavor that has taken four years of concentrated endeavor and a good deal of research.

“It has also been one of the most emotional and gratifying projects I have ever undertaken,” said Nunnally. “Having translated Kristin Lavransdatter, I was familiar with Undset’s writing style, and I was happy to immerse myself once again in her meticulously created medieval world, with all of its turbulence and drama.”

Olav does not appear as an active participant in this final volume, but he is always a looming presence who still wields his influence. He, however, becomes the primary focus in the very dramatic final pages.

The primary actor for most of the book is Eirik, his profligate son, who finally returns home to Hestviken, the family estate, to join his father and sisters, Cecilia and Bothild.

Cecilia has a suitor at this time, but Olav is adamant that he is not a suitable husband for her. Therefore, someone else must be found as soon as possible.

The chosen person is Jørund, a friend of Eirik’s, who comes from a family that is acceptable to Olav. They marry and live with Jørund’s family before eventually moving to Hestviken. Problems soon arise in their relationship.

Eirik gradually becomes dissatisfied with his life at Hestviken. He begins to feel that he is called to become a monk and he, therefore, enters a monastery.

At the end of his trial period there, he is told that he is not suited to the monastic life although his sincerity is not questioned. He struggles then to find another path ahead.

The book ends with Olav finally deciding to confess the horrible crime that he committed in his wild youth 30 years earlier. He goes to Oslo to confess to the bishop. He will now be able to die in peace.

With Winter, Undset completes her engaging tetralogy that gives the reader a detailed historic account of life in medieval Norway in a novel with well-defined, interesting characters. It should be read by anyone who wants to learn about an important period in Norwegian history and, at the same time, to read a very thrilling story.

The reader will be grateful that the book includes useful information such as a map of Olav Audunssøn’s Norway, genealogy and kinship diagrams, and lists of religious holidays in medieval Norway and of canonical hours celebrated in the Catholic Church.

Undset, Sigrid. (2023). Olav Audunssøn: Winter. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Available from major booksellers.

Also see Sigrid Undset’s Olav Audunssøn: Crossroads in the December 2, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

This article originally appeared in the March 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.