'In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men.
'Agnes is sent to wait out the time leading to her execution on the farm of District Officer Jon Jonsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderess in their midst, the family avoids speaking with Agnes. Only Toti, the young assistant reverend appointed as Agnes's spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her, as he attempts to salvage her soul. As the summer months fall away to winter and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes's ill-fated tale of longing and betrayal begins to emerge. And as the days to her execution draw closer, the question burns: did she or didn't she?
'Based on a true story, Burial Rites is a deeply moving novel about personal freedom: who we are seen to be versus who we believe ourselves to be, and the ways in which we will risk everything for love. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland's formidable landscape, where every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?' (Publisher's blurb)
Unit Suitable ForAC: Senior Secondary Literature (Unit 4)
Duration5 to 6 weeks (with prior reading of the novel). The teaching resource contains a range of optional activities, so completion in full would exceed this estimate of time.
Find a summary table for Australian Curriculum: English content descriptions and NSW syllabus outcomes for this unit.
dispossession, freedom, human experience, justice, marginalisation, redemption, truth
Critical and creative thinking, Ethical understanding, Information and communication technology, Intercultural understanding, Literacy, Personal and social
'Historical fiction writers can be drawn to the true stories of women who have committed violent or criminal acts, as are readers. Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace and Hannah Kent's Burial Rites are popular, acclaimed examples of this trend. In my own creative work, Treading Air, I fictionalise the life of Lizzie O’Dea, petty thief and sex worker. The women in these stories are vulnerable subjects unable to give their consent, and the often elliptical and unreliable historical records that are the textual traces of their lives, coupled with the discomfort of the voyeuristic gaze, make representations of criminal women in historical biofiction a fraught act.' (Publication abstract)