The Body that Writes: Gender, Class, and the Abject Female Body in Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites (2013)

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Hannah Kent’s debut novel Burial Rites (2013) is a historical true-crime novel that recovers the story of a female perpetrator, Agnes Magnúsdóttir, sentenced to death for her part in a gruesome double murder in nineteenth-century Iceland. This article reads Kent’s novel, which draws on painstaking research, as a work of feminist revisionism that is part of a genealogy of historical fiction by and about women. This historical fiction seeks to adopt and indeed adapt the true-crime genre for the recovery of historical women’s voices from the margins, the best-known example of whichremains Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace (1996). However, while Kent’s work shares many features with Atwood’s work, I contend that what sets Burial Rites apart from its predecessors is the way Kent skilfully handles Agnes’s ambiguous body, a complex territory where social and gender rules are both embraced and rejected, as text. The article consequently models a reading of Kent’s truecrime feminist historical fiction via Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection and Judith Butler’s theory of gender performance to reveal how the novel unpicks the workings of gender, class, and sexuality in nineteenth-century Iceland in a bid to retrieve Agnes from historical archival obscurity and restore her as part of feminist historiography.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalC21 Literature: Journal of 21st-century Writings
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2023

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