Places: In the Wilderness

  • 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

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedHestviken

Hestviken. In the WildernessOlav Audunssøn’s ancestral home–a cold, isolated place on a rugged Norwegian landscape of rocky promontories and pounding fjord waves. Olav secretly carries bowls of ale out to an old Viking burial mound on his property to honor an adventurous ancestor. This practice demonstrates his longing for release from the constraints of his confining life.

Eirik, Olav’s heir apparent to the estate, covets Hestviken’s land and buildings and reacts with anger and jealousy to any perceived threats to his right to inherit them. However, Eirik fails to perform his share of farm work, and household workers make fun of his lies and boasting.


Rundmyr. Farm near Hestviken that is overseen by Olav and occupied by the mentally deficient Arnketil and the corrupt Liv. A “den of iniquity,” this site of slovenliness, thievery, and profligacy contributes to the corruption of Eirik. Olav can reform neither the farm nor Eirik’s character.

Torhild Björnsdatter’s farm

Torhild Björnsdatter’s farm. Home of Olav’s former mistress at Auken. Contrasting completely with Rundmyr, this household is a place of virtue and accomplishment. Olav twice crosses the fjord to visit it, and each time is favorably impressed by Torhild’s hard work and resourcefulness in managing the property. When Swedes invade Norway, the women of Hestviken flee to Torhild’s farm for safety. Like Torhild herself, the farm stands for strength and resiliency.


*London. Capital city of England, which Olav visits. The novel provides a detailed account of London in the fourteenth century: the sights, sounds, and smells of its streets, its harbor, its markets, and its diverse population. Olav finds the city invigorating, a place in which to renew his downcast spirit. At a Dominican church in London Olav becomes infatuated with a young woman who resembles his late wife, Ingunn. After Olav leaves London, he wanders into a church attended by poor people and realizes that riches matter little when it comes to one’s relationship to God. His pilgrimage to a shrine north of London leads him to understand that he has wrongly taken advantage of friends.


*Oslo. Norwegian city that bears the brunt of the Swedish invasion in 1308. The novel shows a masterful grasp of the locations and tactics of skirmishes and battles that eventually lead the invaders to withdraw. Though badly wounded in the face, Olav comes away from the battle exultant because he has fought valiantly for his homeland.

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: Places