Olav Audunssøn: Providence

Written by Sigrid Undset Tiina Nunnally (trans.)
Review by Rebecca Kightlinger

Olav Audunssøn: Providence is Tiina Nunnally’s new translation of Book Two of Sigrid Undset’s lauded Audunssøn series. Originally published in Norwegian in 1925 and first translated into English in 1929 as The Master of Hestviken, the series chronicles the life of Olav Audunssøn: husband, father, and heir to land and wealth in 13th-century Norway.

In Book One, Vows, Olav’s father, a widower facing imminent death, had secured for seven-year-old Olav both a foster father and a fiancée: Olav’s new foster-sister, Ingunn. As the children matured, their friendship blossomed into romance; but when they consummated their marriage prematurely, Olav’s integrity and the legitimacy of the betrothal were challenged.

In Providence, Olav, now master of his ancestral home, commits a desperate act meant to defend Ingunn’s honor and enters a downward spiral into guilt and self-recrimination. Once congenial, he becomes reclusive, alienating friends as he descends, in his own estimation, beyond salvation. A powerful study in the cause and effect of acts both innocent and heinous, Providence plunges the reader into Olav’s darkest nights.

In the translator’s note, Nunnally states, “Literary translations depend on the individual translator’s linguistic skills and artistry, but they are also subject to attitudes at the time of their creation…” She hopes hers will “bring the reader closer to Sigrid Undset’s beautiful and lyrical voice.”

While Arthur Chater’s 1929 translation features medieval-sounding language in a smooth, if dated, narratorial voice, Nunnally’s delivers precise wording and unadorned syntax. This more contemporary language may initially appear less evocative of the period, but it allows the narrative itself to draw the reader into a casually brutal world in which the tentacles—and the judgment—of the Church pervade every aspect of life.

Replete with family feuds, betrayal, clandestine love, and the consequences of a man’s infidelity to his own honor, the Audunssøn saga is recommended reading.