The Master of Hestviken

The Master of Hestviken
Author Sigrid Undset
Original title Olav Audunssøn i Hestviken, Olav Audunssøn og Hans Børn
Translator Arthur G. Chater
Country Norway
Language Norwegian
Genre Historical fiction
Publication date
Published in English
Media type Print
Preceded by Kristin Lavransdatter

The Master of Hestviken is a tetralogy about medieval Norway written by Sigrid Undset. It was originally published in Norwegian as two volumes Olav Audunssøn i Hestviken and Olav Audunssøn og Hans Børn, from 1925 to 1927. Hestviken is a fictional mediaeval farm on the East side of the Oslo fjord. The series is set partly during the Civil war era in Norway, in which period the Bagler faction frequently established themselves in the nearby Viken area. It's inspired by the summer cottages located in Hvitsten, near Drobak. In the 1920s, Sigrid Undset resided there for a brief period.

Written in the direct aftermath of Undset's conversion to the Catholic Church, the tetralogy presents in a clearly favorable light the Medieval Church with its institutions and rituals; the saintly Bishop Thorfinn of Hamar as well as nearly all priests and monks appearing in the four books are positive characters. The series' central theme is also preeminently Catholic: the tragedy of Olav, a deeply pious and upright man, who feels himself damned and cut off from God because of his unconfessed sin - having secretly killed his wife's lover. Yet he cannot bring himself to make a clean breast of it and confess that deed, as doing so would expose his beloved wife's infidelity and destroy her good name, as well as exposing the bastardy of her son. Commentator Margaret Wide noted that "A modern reader is likely to feel that Olav judges himself far more harshly than he deserves - and it can be surmised that so would have a reader of Olav's own time. And surely a God as merciful as Christianity conceives Him to be would forgive Olav for a sin committed for the most understandable and honorable of motives, and expiated many times over".[1]

The series

The Master of Hestviken series is of four volumes, which are listed in order below. Depending on the publication, each volume may be published separately or with one other volume. The latter tend to be the earlier printings.

List of characters

Relationship to Kristin Lavransdatter

Sigrid Undset's arguably most famous novel is Kristin Lavransdatter. Kristin's parents make a brief appearance in The Master of Hestviken, near the end of The Snake Pit. They are shown as young married people, playing with their baby son. They are a happy and prosperous couple at their first home in Skog, before Kristin's birth. Kristin's father Lavrans Björgulfson helps Olav Audunsson journey home when Ingunn is on her deathbed. Olav's unfortunate life stands in stark contrast to the happiness and good fortune of the young couple.


  1. Margaret Wide, "The Medieval Church in Fiction" in Anton Wiesmueller (ed.) "Round Table on Theology and Literature", London, 1979

1. "The Master of Hestviken: The axe.--The snake pit.--In the wilderness.--The son avenger" by Undset, Sigrid, 1882–1949; [Translated from the Norwegian by Arthur G. Chater] New York A.A. Knopf, 1958. 994 pages ISBN 0-452-26034-5

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