It took 80 years, but now the English translation of Kristin Lavransdatter finally got a face lift. Tiina Nunnally has translated Sigrid Undset’s trilogy about Kristin Lavransdatter, which was recently published in a Penguin Classics Deluxe edition, with all three books in one.
“The English translation I read as a child was from the 1920s,” said Nunnally. “It was really bad: Unlike in Undset’s original, the language was appallingly bad and archaic; there were serious mistakes, and parts of the book were mysteriously just left out.”
The Boston Globe literature critic Katherine A. Powers agreed, calling the original translation “a book to save for the nursing home years or a stretch in prison.” Appropriately, the Globe's review was called “No Longer Lost in Translation.”
In order to write the new translation, Nunnally went back to the source, the original Undset books. After living in Denmark, Nunnally speaks Danish and Norwegian, and was able to read Undset’s original edition. She translated the three books between 1997 and 2000, earning a PEN/Book-of-the-month Club Translation Prize for her work in 2001. With the new deluxe edition, the modernized trilogy is finally available in one book.
“I hope more Americans will rediscover Sigrid Undset, because she is fantastic,” Nunnally says. “I think American readers really crave the good story, and the story about Kristin is a real “soap”, in the best sense of the word.”
“Although these books are set in the old days, the books are very modern in terms of views of human relationships. There is so much happening, and it’s so real. You end up getting dragged into the story, and really get a personal relationship with Kristin. She is in many ways a flawed human and makes many bad decisions, but that’s exactly what makes her so real.”
The new edition has an introduction by Brad Leithauser, a literature professor and regular contributor to the New York Review of Books.
Undset wrote “Kransen”, ”Husfrue” and ”Korset” (“The Wreath”, “The Wife” and “The Cross”) – more commonly known as the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy – between 1920 and 1922, and received the Nobel Prize in Literature for her work in 1928.