Burial Rites

Burial Rites Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Hannah Kent's Burial Rites. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Hannah Kent

Hannah Kent was born in 1985 in Adelaide, Australia, where her mother was a school principal and her father worked in finance. As a child, Kent was a voracious reader. Kent took part in a Rotary Exchange to Iceland as a teenager, where she first became interested in the story of Agnes Magnúsdottir. Kent released her second novel, entitled The Good People, in the fall of 2016. She is also the co-founder of the Australian literary magazine Kill Your Darlings.
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Historical Context of Burial Rites

As a work of historical fiction, Burial Rites bases its plot and descriptions around actual historical events and lifestyles of Iceland in the 1820s. Specifically, the murders of Natan and Pétur and the resulting executions of Fridrik and Agnes are all events that actually occurred in Iceland in the late 1820s. Likewise, Kent’s depictions of the omnipresence of religion, the traditional Icelandic house structures, and the colonial organization of Iceland are all drawn from the real conditions of the time.

Other Books Related to Burial Rites

Burial Rites frequently references the Icelandic Sagas, the historically-grounded medieval narratives describing life in Iceland from the island’s first settlement in the 9th century through the 11th century. The Icelandic Sagas, written in the 13th and 14th centuries, are considered to be some of the best sources of information on medieval Norse mythology and tradition. They also reflect the cultural importance of literacy and writing in Iceland since early times. Kent quotes directly from the Laxdala Saga in her novel, a story about a love triangle. In the story, two former best friends become rivals for one woman’s favor, resulting in fierce competition and ultimately leading to both of their deaths. Kent’s novel also features the real 19th century Icelandic poet Rósa Gudmundsdóttir as one of her characters. Rósa Gudmundsdóttir wrote the lyrics to the well-known traditional Icelandic ballad “Visur Vatnsenda-Rósu.”
Key Facts about Burial Rites
  • Full Title: Burial Rites
  • Where Written: Australia
  • When Published: May 2013
  • Literary Period: Contemporary fiction
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Setting: 19th century Iceland
  • Climax: Agnes’s revelation of the real events on the night of Natan and Pétur’s murder and her role in Natan’s death
  • Antagonist: Björn Blöndal, Fridrik Sigurdsson, and, to some extent, Natan Ketilsson
  • Point of View: Various, including Agnes’s first-person narrative, third-person omniscient narration, and letters and records from the time of the murder

Extra Credit for Burial Rites

Awards and Translations. Burial Rites won The Guardian’s First Book award and has been translated into twenty-eight different languages.

Last Execution. Agnes’s real-life execution was the last execution to ever take place in Iceland.