Salem is an inspiring town! Perhaps there is something in the water or maybe it’s Salem’s turbulent history. Whatever it is, Salem has inspired many to write and share their sense of this place with the world. Here is a short list of some of Salem’s most notable fiction.
The Scarlett Letter (1850) was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s first critical and popular success. The novel continues to be included in high school English and college literature curricula today. The romance of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale has been interpreted in film multiple times, including the major motion picture starring Demi Moore as Hester in 1995. Today you can visit the Custom House, where Hawthorne worked as a surveyor for the port of Salem from 1846 to 1849 at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site at 160 Derby Street.
Hawthorne’s second novel, The House of the Seven Gables (1851) tells the legend of a curse pronounced on the Pyncheon family during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, and how the curse is manifested through the decay of the Pycheons’ seven-gabled mansion. You can explore the Turner-Ingersoll mansion that inspired the book at The House of the Seven Gables Historic Site at 115 Derby Street. In October, the characters from the novel come alive during dramatic performances of “Spirits at the Gables.”
Carry On Mr. Bowditch by Jen Lee Latham was published for younger readers (9-12 year olds) in 1955. Latham tells the story of Nathaniel Bowditch, who grew up to be one of the greatest navigators in history. The novel is a looking glass into Salem’s maritime heritage that is fascinating for all ages. The Salem Maritime National Historic Site has a walking tour of Nathaniel Bowditch’s Salem available at both the Visitor Center and the Orientation Center.
The Lace Reader (2008) by Brunonia Barry is a contemporary novel set in Salem that follows protagonist Towner Whitney on her journey home, through the streets of Salem and around the harbor islands. The novel is a journey through decades of Salem society, maritime history, and the modern witch community. A map of Towner’s Salem is available on Salem.org.
The Heretic’s Daughter (2008) was written by Kathleen Kent, a tenth generation descendant of Martha Carrier, who was accused and ultimately hanged as a witch during the Salem Witch Trials. The story is told from the point of view of Martha’s young daughter, Sarah, who survived the witchcraft hysteria that was overtaking her community and immediate family. Kent’s work of historical fiction not only describes how the witch trials took place, but also how powerful familial bonds can be even at the most destructive times in our history.
The Physic Book of Deliverance Dane (2009) by Katherine Howe is historical fiction with a new perspective on the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Deliverance Dane was an accused witch, and her descendant Connie Goodwin is sorting out the story of her life while living in Marblehead in the early 1900s. This novel asks the question – what if the accused were really practicing witchcraft?
Map of True Places (2011) by Brunonia Barry follows Zee Finch, a psychotherapist from Boston, on a journey to rediscover herself when the life of one her patients puts things into a different perspective, and brings back memories of her family’s tragic past. Her search for answers brings her back to Salem, where she finds her father’s health failing and the need to create a new map for the next chapter in her life.
The Traitor’s Wife (2011), also by Kathleen Kent is a prequel to her earlier book, The Heretic’s Daughter. This story takes place before the Salem Witch trials, and rather focuses on the relationship and courtship of Martha Allen and Thomas Carrier. According to Kent’s family tradition’s Thomas was believed to have fought in the English Civil War, and may have been one of the executioners of King Charles I.
Conversion (2015) by Katherine Howe modernizes the Salem Witch Hysteria through an all-girls school in Danvers, Massachusetts. Girls in Howe’s story are overtaken by conditions similar to those experienced in 1692, and the story is told simultaneously through the points of view of Coleen, a modern student, and Ann Putnam in 1706.
How to Hang a Witch (2016) was written by Adriana Mather, a 12th-generation descendant of Cotton Mather, infamous for his role in the Salem Witch Trials. How to Hang a Witch follows the story of Samantha Mather, a descendant of Cotton Mather who is forced to move to Salem when her father falls into a coma and is treated in a Boston area hospital. Samantha endures bullying and abandonment by her classmates, some of which being descendants of the victims of the witch trials, while finding herself wrapped up in a centuries old curse that surrounds living descendants in Salem.
The Fifth Petal (2017) is the latest work by Brunonia Barry. Following The Lace Reader, The Fifth Petal focuses on the mystery surrounding a suspicious death taking place in Salem on Halloween night. The death appears oddly similar to a string of past murders, and the chief of police believes they may be connected, perhaps even by a curse that may be haunting Salem residents with familial ties to the Salem Witch Trials.