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Hilary Paynter, Turf Farm, wood engraving (detail)

way. Set in fourteenth-century Norway the trilogy of novels was published between 1920 and 1923. Undset was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1928, and by then Kristin Lavransdatter had been translated into many languages and copies sold all over the world.

Born in 1882, Undset grew into a writer at a time when the ‘New Woman’ was starting to view life through the prism of her own being: through her intellect, her eroticism and her desires. She found support in her inner self, her ‘woman’s soul’, rather than in social conventions and norms. Undset was trying to figure out how a woman could shape an independent life in a society formed by men, but, more importantly, she was also working out how to be a writer in this world. For this reason, Undset’s protagonist Kristin Lavransdatter is not a maiden in a male epic but the artist of her own tragedy.

Like Undset, I have been fascinated by the early Middle Ages for as long as I can remember. Growing up as a self-sufficient and bookish child in a circumscribed village in southern Sweden I often felt cut out of another time. Merovingian, Visigoth and Viking were words of flux, feud, colour and turmoil that sent ripples through my being.

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