In the Wilderness Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Olav Audunssøn i Hestviken and Olav Audunssøn og hans børn, 1925-1927 (The Master of Hestviken, 1928-1930; volume 3, In the Wilderness, 1929; the complete tetrology The Master of Hestviken published in 1934)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: Early fourteenth century

Locale: Norway

Characters DiscussedOlav Audunssøn

Olav In the WildernessAudunssøn, the master of Hestviken. When his wife dies, he goes to England. There he is tempted by the pleasures of the flesh and of violence–part of his redemption, he believes, for his unconfessed crime of murder. He returns to Hestviken, where there is conflict between him and his supposed son Eirik. Wounded while fighting the invading Swedes, Olav recovers but feels that he has become an old man.


Eirik, the son of Olav’s late wife Ingunn and falsely claimed by Olav. After much conflict, he leaves Hestviken and is reported to be among the men-at-arms at Oslo. Olav goes there to provide Eirik with money and a squire’s gear, and the two part amiably.

Cecilia Olavsdatter

Cecilia Olavsdatter, the daughter of Olav and Ingunn. A healthy, spirited girl, on one occasion she slashes a man who, after a drinking party, tries to seize her. Olav feels that she should be the boy of the house.

Asger Magnusson

Asger Magnusson, an old friend of Olav. Dying, he asks Olav to foster his daughter.

Bothild Asgersdatter

Bothild Asgersdatter, who, after her father’s death, goes to Hestviken, where she and Cecilia live as sisters.

Maerta Birgersdatter

Maerta Birgersdatter, the mother-in-law of Asger. She comes with her granddaughter Bothild to Hestviken. Grim, gaunt, but capable, she runs the house well but does not get along with Eirik.

Torhild Björnsdatter

Torhild Björnsdatter, the mother of a child by Olav; she lives at Rundmyr, the farm he gave her and carries on for her. After she marries, Olav asks her to send their son to live with him, but she refuses.


Ketil, a young man on the farm. Torhild marries him.


Björn, the son of Torhild and Olav.


Liv, a slatternly serving-woman at Hestviken. Returning from England, Olav marries her to his housecarl and sends the pair to live at Rundmyr, so that she will not corrupt his daughter.


Arnketil, Olav’s housecarl, married to Liv. After their move, Rundmyr gets a bad name as a place of gaming and wenching and as a thieves’ den.

Sira Hallbjorn

Sira Hallbjorn, a priest who loves falconry and hunting. Olav is often in his company. Sira is killed fighting the invading Swedes.

Sir Ragnvald Torvaldsson

Sir Ragnvald Torvaldsson, a skillful and courtly knight whom Eirik serves in Oslo.

Duke Eirik

Duke Eirik, the leader of the invading Swedish troops.

King Haakon

King Haakon, Duke Eirik’s father-in-law, against whom the duke is directing his troops.

BibliographyAllen, W. Gore. Renaissance in the North. New York: Sheed & Ward, 1946. Notes strong Catholic underpinning of Undset’s works. Claims Undset approaches her medieval material with no preconceptions, and portrays her hero as living in a golden age when religious values guided people’s lives.Bayerschmidt, Carl. Sigrid Undset. New York: Twayne, 1970. General study for nonspecialists; provides overview of Undset’s life and major works. Commentary on In the Wilderness is included in a chapter discussing Undset’s novels of the Middle Ages. Concentrates on the moral development of the hero.Gustafson, Alrik. Six Scandinavian Novelists. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1971. Analysis of the four novels that make up the chronicle titled The Master of Hestviken. Considers Undset’s portrait of the hero of In the Wilderness as gloomy; highlights her concern for the perennial battle between flesh and spirit.Whitehouse, J. C. “Sigrid Undset.” In Vertical Man: The Human Being in the Catholic Novels of Graham Greene, Sigrid Undset, and Georges Bernanos. New York: Garland, 1990. Analysis of Undset’s view of human nature seen in her novels and stories. Discussion of In the Wilderness is included in a discussion of Undset’s vision of humanity. Calls Undset a great moralist whose characters reveal her optimism for the future of the human race.Winsnes, A. H. Sigrid Undset: A Study in Christian Realism. Translated by P. G. Foote. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1953. A biography of the novelist that traces the strong strand of Christian belief that undergirds all of her fiction. Discusses the characters in the multivolume saga of which In the Wilderness is a part.
Categories: Characters