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Interactive Curriculum Resource: HomeThemesAuthorsTexts • Sample Series

Gunnar's Daughter - Undset

Themes: BetrayalForgiveness, Pride, Suffering, Vengeance

 

Sigrid Undset wrote this story at the beginning of the 20th century, but the story is set in the 11th century. Undset’s characters are rich and complex. Their motives are complex also, mixed with good and bad intentions. The main characters are Viga-Ljot, an Icelander who was orphaned at a young age, and Vigdis, the daughter of Gunnar from Norway. (It might be helpful to know that the original title of this story was: “The Story of Viga-Ljot and Vigdis.” Both these character are central to the story, despite the impression of the English translation; “Gunnar’s Daughter.”

 

When Ljot meets Vigdis he is immediately smitten by her beauty and demeanor. She also is attracted to him. However, in an unfortunate episode motivated by petty jealousy, Vigdis offends Gunnar and Vigdis in such a way that their hoped for betrothal is in jeopardy. Unwilling to give Vigdis up, he pursues her not just out of passion, but to control her and thinking that this will force her to marry him to avoid the shame of her violation. Vigdis hates him for what he does, and for the rest of her life wants nothing to do with him. However, she discovers she is pregnant; she gives birth to a son in the wilderness and abandons him there. Unbeknown to her, the boy is rescued and later introduced to her. Eventually she brings him into her home and raises the boy, named Ulvar.

 

Over many years, and involving many twists and turns, Ulvar is reunited with his biological father Vigdis. They both go to visit Vigdis to attempt a reconciliation, which is rejected. At the end of the story, because Vigdis demands that her son take revenge on the man that violated her, Ljot is confronted by his son, which leads to Ljot taking his own life.

 

Opening questions:

 

At the end of chapter 15, Vigdis says to Ljot: “May you have the worst of death—and live long and miserably—you and all you hold dear. And may you see your children die most wretchedly before your eyes.” Does Vigdis get all that she wishes?

 

In Chapter 41, it is said to Vigdis: “Great must have been your love for this Ljot, since you still hate him so fiercely—I almost think you love him yet.” Is there any plausibility to this claim?

 

Are Vigdis and Ljot admirable characters?

Suggested Pairing:

 

Femininity and Independence - A Doll's House, Ibsen; Introduction and Conclusion from The Second Sex, de Beauvoir; The Franklin's Tale, Chaucer; Gunnar's Daughter, Undset, 

Feedback:

 

We welcome your comments. How did your seminar go? What can we add or modify to the resource to be more helpful to you?