Heretic's Daughter (Kent)

The Heretic's Daughter
Kathleen Kent, 2008
Little, Brown & Co.
332 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780316024495

Martha Carrier was one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and willful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which they live. Often at odds with one another, mother and daughter are forced to stand together against the escalating hysteria of the trials and the superstitious tyranny that led to the torture and imprisonment of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft.

This is the story of Martha's courageous defiance and ultimate death, as told by the daughter who survived.

Kathleen Kent is a tenth generation descendent of Martha Carrier. She paints a haunting portrait, not just of Puritan New England, but also of one family's deep and abiding love in the face of fear and persecution. (From the publisher.)

The Wolves of Andover is the prequel to this work.

Author Bio
Kathleen Kent is a tenth-generation descendant of Martha Carrier. She lives in Dallas with her husband and son. The Heretic's Daughter is her first novel;The Wolves of Andover, its prequel, is her second.

Book Reviews 
A powerful coming-of-age tale in which tragedy is trumped by an unsinkable faith in human nature…Like The Crucible, The Heretic’s Daughter uses the Salem witch hunt to explore larger themes…but at its core, it’s a story about a family.
New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)

A family’s conflict becomes a battle for life or death in this gripping and original first novel.... Sarah’s front row view of the trials and the mayhem that sweeps the close-knit community provides a fresh, bracing and unconvential take on a much covered episode.
San Fransisco Examiner

Kathleen Kent takes a new approach to an old topic, the 17th-century Salem, Mass., witch trials, in her engrossing debut novel, The Heretic's Daughter…. Ms. Kent movingly sketches the lives of this extended family as they get drawn into the maelstrom of unfounded suspicion and religious insanity, which eventually put more than 150 people behind bars as accused witches, including many children, Sarah and her siblings among them….Ms. Kent brings a gentle decency to her portrait of this nasty episode in American life.
Dallas Morning News

The most shocking aspect of the 17th-century Salem witch trials was that anyone with a grudge could accuse a neighbor of being in league with the devil... It is the fundamental outrageousness of these tragic events that Kathleen Kent portrays to great effect in her debut novel, The Heretic's Daughter.... Kent tells a heart-wrenching story of family love and sacrifice. Its warnings about the dire consequences of intolerance and fundamentalism still have meaning in the modern world.
USA Today

The panic and horror of the Salem witch trials in Kent's novel is conveyed with dead-eyed calm and an occasional tremor of emotion by Mare Winningham, whose tempered, dispassionate voice is not given to great displays of drama. Her melodiousness is pleasing to the ear, and Kent's novel becomes a sort of long-form song possessed of many verses and no chorus. At times, the melody overwhelms the meaning, but Winningham is more than capable as a reader, and her reading of Kent's sad tale of women accused and accusing emits a hint of deeply buried, untouchable tragedy.
Publishers Weekly

Kent, a descendant of Martha Carrier (one of the first women convicted of witchcraft in 1690s Salem, MA), has created an engrossing historical debut novel based on her ancestors' experiences. Told from the point of view of Sarah, Martha's daughter, it is filled with vivid characters and detail-rich anecdotes of everyday life in Puritan New England. Emmy® Award-winning actress Mare Winningham's clear, believable reading flows well, even through those few times when the prose gets a bit bogged down (particularly when Martha is imprisoned).
Library Journal

Told from the point of view of young Sarah, the daughter of one of the first women to be accused, tried, and hanged as a witch in Salem, this novel paints a vivid and disturbing picture of Puritan New England life. Based on fact and the author's family history, the story portrays Martha, Sarah's mother, as a strong-willed nonconformist who knows she is a target of the zealots who pit family members against one another with their false accusations. All but one of the siblings end up imprisoned with their mother, and much of the story is told from the inhumane and corruptly run jail. When Martha is finally executed, her husband "would stand for all of us so that when she closed her eyes for the last time, there would be a counterweight of love against the overflowing presence of vengeance and fear." History is brought to life as readers learn of the strength of Martha's convictions and the value she places on her conscience. They will also appreciate the themes of family love, repression, intolerance, and persecution in this beautifully written and compelling first novel. —Jane Ritter, Mill Valley School District, CA
School Library Journal

A first-time novelist recreates her family's involvement in the Salem witch trials. On August 19, 1692, Martha Carrier was hanged. She was one of the first women convicted of witchcraft amidst the hysteria that started in Salem and spread throughout Massachusetts. Kent is a tenth-generation descendent of Carrier, and, in this novel, she looks at this troubled time through the eyes of Martha's daughter. As Sarah Carrier tells her story, she creates a vivid portrait of the harsh, hard-headed woman who was her mother. When the story begins, Sarah begrudges her mother's stubbornness and severity. She knows that the neighbors resent Martha's sharp tongue, and Martha's unyielding attitude toward her sister's husband means that Sarah is separated from her beloved cousin. When petty village feuds turn into whispered rumors about Martha's dealings with the devil, Martha remains steadfast in her protestations of innocence, and Sarah learns that her mother's willfulness is the product of integrity, courage and fierce individuality. Sarah learns, in fact, that the very qualities that condemned her mother redeemed her as well. The story Kent tells—of a powerful woman punished by a society that fears and hates women—is not a new one. It's not a bad one, either, but this particular iteration is not one of the most compelling. One problem is that Sarah is one of the less remarkable characters in the novel. Both her parents are substantially more intriguing and would have made for dynamic central characters. In fact, Kent seems to have a general problem with distinguishing between the interesting and the uninteresting. The pace of her narrative slows to a crawl, offering lyrical, metaphor-laden, mostly unilluminating descriptions of the natural world. And her practice of breaking the novel into little sections that inevitably end on a portentous note give the story a leaden, numbing rhythm. Serviceable, if unexciting, historical fiction with a feminist perspective.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions 
1. How was Sarah Carrier changed by the time she spent living with the family of her cousin Margaret? How was Sarah affected by the return to her own family?

2. At one point Sarah says, "Mother had an unsettling ability to foretell the weather" (page 91). Do you believe that Martha Carrier possessed special powers of any sort? What was it about Martha’s character that seemed to antagonize so many neighbors?

3. In what ways did Martha and Sarah have a typical mother-daughter relationship? If there are aspects of their relationship that you found exceptional, can you attribute those exceptions to the particular time and circumstances in which the Carriers lived? Consider Sarah’s statement: "Perhaps it was true that I was like my mother, as everyone seemed to think so" (page 142).

4. Identify and discuss some of the factors that contributed to the witch hysteria in seventeenth- century New England.

5. Discuss Mercy Williams’s role in the tragedy that befalls the Carrier family. What motivates Mercy?

6. Discuss the signifi cance of Martha Carrier’s big red leatherbound book. Why does she ask Sarah to "keep this one thing a secret, even among your brothers" (page 150)? And why does Martha make Sarah promise not to try to read the book until she comes of age (page 178)?

7. Why did Martha choose to take a stand of innocence, knowing that a refusal to confess meant death?

8. Why did Thomas, despite his size and capabilities, not seek to persuade or deter Martha from her course of action?

9. Discuss the assault on Sarah in the burying ground near the meetinghouse (pages 121–125). To what extent does the incident seem a typical case of adolescent bullying? Have you, or has anyoneyou know, had a similar experience? Put yourself in Sarah’s shoes; how would you have responded to the girls’ taunting?

10. Why do you think the magistrates, and the wider community of Salem, so easily believed in and relied on "spectral evidence"?

11. Has reading The Heretic’s Daughter in any way changed your opinion of the men and women who were hanged as witches in seventeenth- century New England?

12. Do you believe in witchcraft? Have you ever met anyone who claimed to be, or whom you perceived as, a witch?

13. If you have read or seen Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible, discuss the ways that both that play and The Heretic’s Daughter draw from the historical record to tell fresh and relevant stories. In what ways are the two works similar? How are they different?

14. Are you aware of any social intolerance in the community in which you live? If so, discuss the nature of that intolerance (for example, religious, ethnic, xenophobic). Do you think this intolerance could ever rise to the toxic level of the Salem witch hunts? Why or why not?

15. Are there any notable or notorious ancestors in your family tree? If so, do you remember your relatives telling stories about them when you were young? If you’ve researched your ancestry, discuss what you’ve learned about your family and yourself.
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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