42 pages 1 hour read

Sigrid Undset

The Wreath: Kristin Lavransdatter #1

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1920

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.

Summary and Study Guide


The Wreath is the first novel in Sigrid Undset’s magnum opus, the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy. Published in 1920, The Wreath (Norwegian title Kransen), is a work of historical fiction set in 14th-century Norway. Sigrid Undset is one of the most celebrated authors of the 20th century; she won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1928 for her lively and realistic depictions of life in the Nordic countries during the Middle Ages. The Wreath is followed in the series by The Wife (1921) and The Cross (1922). The three volumes are often published together as three parts of a single novel entitled Kristin Lavransdatter.

Praised for being an accurate depiction of life in medieval Norway, The Wreath draws its historical accuracy from Undset’s meticulous research and careful development of setting and historical details in the novel. Undset’s father was an archaeologist and a scholar, and this influenced her historical approach to literature. This study guide uses the 1997 Penguin Classics edition translated into English by Tiina Nunnally.

Content Warning: Please be advised that this novel references sexual assault and death by suicide.

Plot Summary

The Wreath centers on the protagonist Kristin Lavransdatter, daughter to Lavrans Bjørgulfson (her father) and Ragnfrid Ivarsdatter (her mother). The story spans the time from Kristin’s youth to the time of her marriage at age 17 to Erlend Nikulausson, a disgraced 32-year-old aristocrat with whom she has fallen in love.

Kristin’s parents are “pious and God-fearing people” (4) living in Jørundgaard on the slopes of Sil in Norway. Lavrans is a courageous and quiet man, well-respected in the community, industrious and intelligent. Ragnfrid is a capable woman, a good match for her husband in industry and hard work. Together they bear six children: three girls who survive and three boys, all of whom die in infancy.

Kristin is sensitive but headstrong. She finds subtle ways to subvert her family’s preferences and expectations out of a youthful sense of rebellion. Kristin’s coming of age and resulting loss of innocence is facilitated by the upsetting experiences of her childhood. Some people in Sel shame Kristin after she survives an attempted sexual assault. As she grows out of her youth and into womanhood, she is betrothed to Simon Andresson, the son of a nearby estate owner, a man several years her elder. Kristin accepts the match with a general apathy but does not dislike Simon for any particular reason. While betrothed to Simon, she falls in love with a man from the Husaby estate in Trondelag named Erlend Nikulausson.

Erlend is a social outcast due to a past adulterous relationship, which led to his excommunication from the Catholic Church. Kristin and Erlend begin a secret affair, causing her to break off her engagement to Simon and bringing shame on herself. Erlend, meanwhile, attempts to deal with his former mistress, Eline Ormsdatter, with whom he has fathered two children. Eventually, Eline dies by suicide after a failed attempt to kill Kristin, and in the wake of Eline’s death, Erlend and Kristin attempt to convince Lavrans that they should be wed.

Lavrans resists for some time before finally giving in after the death of Kristin’s younger sister Ulvhild. Finding herself with child two months before the wedding, Kristin has to deal with the shame and anxiety that she feels due to her circumstances. Finally, Kristin and Erlend are wed, and Lavrans and Ragnfrid deal with the aftermath of seeing their daughter married to a man they never would have chosen for her, confiding in each other regarding the problems that their own marriage has undergone over time.

Related Titles

By Sigrid Undset

Plot Summary


Kristin Lavransdatter

Sigrid Undset

Kristin Lavransdatter

Sigrid Undset