Sue Monk Kidd: The Invention of Wings (excerpt from the novel, 2014)
Charleston/USA, November 26, 1803: At her eleventh birthday party, Sarah Grimké is given the
young slave Hetty as a present in front of all the guests. Sarah is shocked and says that she does not
want the present. She is sent to her room in disgrace to write letters of apology to her guests.
‘… Mother, please, let me … let me give Hetty back to you.’ Give Hetty back.
As if she was mine after all. As if owning people was as natural as breathing. For all
my resistance about slavery, I breathed that foul air, too.
‘Your guardianship is legal and binding. Hetty is yours, Sarah, there is nothing to be done about it.’
‘… But –’
I heard the commotion of her petticoats as she crossed the rug back to me. She was a woman the winds
and tides obeyed, but in that moment, she was gentle with me. Placing a finger under my chin, she
tilted my face to hers and smiled. ‘Why must you fight this? I don’t know where you get these alien
ideas. This is our way of life, dear one, make your peace with it.’ She kissed the top of my head. ‘I
expect all eighteen letters
by the morning.’ […]
It seemed traitorous to ask forgiveness for something I didn’t feel sorry for in the least. What I
regretted was how pathetic my protest had turned out. I wanted nothing more than to sit here
unyielding through the night, for days and weeks if need be, but in the end I gave in and wrote the
damnable letters. I knew myself to be an odd girl with my mutinous ideas, ravenous intellect, and
funny looks, and half the time I sputtered
like a horse straining at its bit
, qualities in the female sex
that were not endearing. I was on my way to being the family pariah, and I feared the ostracism
. I feared it most of all.
Over and over I wrote:
Dear Madame, Thank you for the honor and kindness you bestowed upon me by attending my eleventh birthday tea. I
regret that though I have been well-taught by my parents, my behavior on this occasion was
exceedingly ill-mannered. I humbly beg your pardon for my rudeness and disrespect.
Your Remorseful Friend,
I climbed the preposterous height to the mattress and had only just settled when a bird outside my
began to trill. First, a stream of pelting whistles, then a soft, melancholic song. I felt alone in
the world with my alien ideas.
Sliding from my perch, I stole to the window where I shivered in my white woolen gown, gazing
along East Bay, past the dark rooftops toward the harbor. With hurricane season behind us, there were
close to a hundred topsails moored out there, shimmering on the water. Plastering my cheek against
the frigid pane, I
discovered I had a partial view of the slave quarters above the carriage house where I
knew Hetty to be spending her last night with her mother. Tomorrow she would take up her duties and
sleep outside my door.
It was then I had a sudden epiphany
. I lit a candle from the dwindling coals in the fire, opened my
door, and stepped into the dark, unheated passageway. Three dark shapes lay on the floor beside the
bedroom doors. I’d never really seen the world beyond the nursery at night and it took a moment to
shapes were slaves, sleeping close by in case a Grimké rang his bell. […]
I […] turned the knob to Father’s library, and stepped inside. An ornately framed portrait of George
Washington was lit with a scrim of moonlight coming through the front window. For almost a year,
Father had looked the other way as I’d slipped beneath Mr Washington’s nose to plunder the library.
John, Thomas, and Frederick
had total reign over his vast trove – books of law, geography,
theology, history, botany, poetry, and the Greek humanities – while Mary
and I were
officially forbidden to read a word of it. Mary didn’t seem to care for books, but I…I dreamed of them
in my sleep. […]
I wanted to know things, to become someone. Oh, to be a son!
I adored Father because he treated me
almost as if I were a son, allowing me to slip in and out of his library.
On that night, the coals in the library’s fireplace lay cold and the smell of cigar smoke still pooled in
Without effort, I located Father’s South Carolina Justice of the Peace and Public Laws
he himself had authored, I’d thumbed through it enough to know somewhere in the pages was a copy
of a legal manumission
Upon finding it, I took paper and quill from Father’s desk and copied it:
I hereby certify that on this day, 26 November 1803, in the city of Charleston, in the state of South
I set free from slavery, Hetty Grimké, and bestow this certificate of manumission upon her.
Sarah Moore Grimké
What could Father do but make Hetty’s freedom as legal and binding as her ownership? I was
following a code of law he’d fashioned himself! I left my handiwork atop the backgammon box on his
In the corridor, I heard the tingle of Mother’s bell, summoning Cindie
, and I broke into a run back
that blew out the flame on my candle.
My room had turned even colder and the little bird had ceased its song. I crept beneath the stackpile of
quilts and blankets, but couldn’t sleep for excitement. I imagined the thanksgiving Hetty and
would heap on me. I imagined Father’s pride when he discovered the document, and
Mother’s annoyance. Legal and binding, indeed!
Finally, overcome with fatigue and satisfaction, I
drifted to sleep.
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/reality-check/2013/nov/22/how-prevalent-slavery-uk-today (abgerufen am 20.04.2016)
When I woke, the bluish tint of the Delft tiles
around the hearth gleamed with light. […]
Voices came from the corridor mingled with the clink-clank of trays and pitchers. The sound of slaves
in their servitude. The world waking.
I dressed hurriedly, wondering if Hetty was already outside my door. As I opened it, my heart picked
up its pace, but Hetty wasn’t there. The manumission document I’d written lay on the floor. It was torn
Sue Monk Kidd: The Invention of Wings, London 2014, S. 19 – 25.
 “I sputtered like a horse straining at its bit”: I was impulsive and unruly
 ostracism: exclusion from society or social classes or groups
 epiphany: a sudden discovery or realization
 John, Thomas, Frederick: Sarah’s brothers
 Mary: Sarah’s sister
 manumission: legal document freeing someone from slavery
 Slaves were sometimes given the family name of their owners
 Cindie: a slave
 Charlotte: Hetty’s mother, a slave
 Delft tiles: pottery tiles from the Netherlands