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The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black

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Summary

The Woman in Black

​​In a nutshell

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill is a gothic ghost story that tells the story of Arthur Kipps as he explores the sinister Eel Marsh house. Written in 1983, the story is a work of gothic fiction that explores trauma and the fear of isolation. In this summary, you will learn about the plot and characters of the story. 



Plot summary

The plot of The Woman in Black follows Arthur Kipps as he is sent to explore Eel Marsh house after the death of its occupant, Alice Drablow. 


Before Eel Marsh 

The story begins on Christmas Eve. Arthur Kipps and his family have finished their dinner and are now telling ghost stories but Arthur refuses to participate. He is so overcome with fear and despair from his past, that he decides to write his story down so he can be free of his fear. The novel is a story within a story and uses hindsight and perspective to add to its sense of terror. The narrative returns to the beginning of Arthur's story. Working for a law firm in London, Arthur is eager to please his boss and provide for his fiancée Stella. Arthur is sent to a remote part of England to sort through the papers of the recently deceased Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. 


Samuel Daily joins Arthur in his carriage to Crythin Gifford and informs him that fog and sea mists roll in unexpectedly in this part of the country. Samuel is surprised to learn that Arthur is on his way to work for Alice Drablow at Eel Marsh house. Crythin Gifford appears to be a pleasant town but its residents seem terrified of it. When Arthur arrives at the funeral, he notices a woman dressed entirely in black, as well as a group of children sitting motionless. Mr. Jerome, Arthur's work contact, is terrified when the woman is mentioned. 


Entering Eel Marsh

Due to its location, Eel Marsh House is only accessible via a path through the marshes, which is best crossed with a pony and trap. Keckwick, the caretaker, is the only local willing to venture this close to Eel Marsh House. Arthur arrives at the isolated house and does some exploring. He discovers a graveyard and the woman reappears. She instills fear and Arthur senses unfiltered hatred and malevolence from her. Arthur is determined to learn more. Mrs. Drablow has kept every piece of paperwork she has ever received, Arthur discovers as he investigates. His task may take longer than he anticipated. 


Arthur decides to leave after his fear grows too much. He attempted to walk back to town, but the sea mist rolled in and he was unable to cross the marsh. He hears a pony and trap crash and the sound of struggling and suffering in the fog. He is disturbed by what he hears because he believes there has been a crash. Keckwick appears, and Arthur realises what he heard was a hallucination. He acknowledges the presence of ghosts in and around Eel Marsh House, as well as the woman in the house. Arthur returns to Crythin Gifford changed.


Arthur's plan

Arthur is determined to complete his work because of his sense of pride and his obligation to his employer. Arthur requests assistance, but nobody is willing to enter the house. He runs into Samuel Daily after a refreshing cycle. Samuel is frustrated by Arthur's return to the house and invites him to dinner. Arthur decides to spend the night at Eel Marsh House in order to complete his work more quickly. Arthur goes to Samuel's house for dinner. He is content, but the fear of Eel Marsh lurks. Samuel tries to persuade Arthur to abandon the house but admits that if Arthur must then at least take his dog - Spider. 


​​Return to Eel Marsh

Arthur packs up his bike and cycles to Eel Marsh. When Arthur gets back, he starts making it a more welcoming place. Arthur returns to the graveyard and spots 'Drablow' on a few graves. He begins to work and it appears to go smoothly. Arthur falls asleep and is awoken by Spider. The haunting continues - leaving Arthur worn out. Fog rolls in. It is morning, Arthur has survived a night. He begins to work again. In his work, he finds letters from Jennet to her sister, Alice Drablow. The letters are filled with passion and pain. Arthur discovers a legal document stating that Alice and her husband, Morgan Thomas Drablow, adopted Nathaniel Pierston, the son of Jennet Humfrye. 


A bumping sound can be heard upstairs. It's a rocking chair. Arthur follows the sound and discovers a pristine nursery. The rocking chair is moving on its own. The nursery is without a doubt the epicentre of the house's spectral activity because Arthur only feels icy dread and despair there. Spider is called by the woman and they flee into the marsh. Spider is being dragged into the mud. After a lengthy struggle in the mud, Arthur manages to save them. He looks around and notices the woman. She made a direct attempt on his life. Samuel arrives as he was disturbed by Arthur's continued presence at the house. Arthur is getting ready to leave with Samuel. Before he leaves, he visits the nursery. The woman's rage over failing to kill Arthur has ruined and trashed it.


Answers

Arthur reads letters at Mr. Daily's and learns more. Alice Drablow is a blood relative of Jennet. Jennet's son died in a pony and trap accident after being adopted by Alice. More information is revealed to Arthur by Samuel. Jennet's obsession with preserving her relationship with her child after being forcibly separated from him, as well as the emotional toll it took on her, are the root causes of her violence and malice. When she saw her child die, it pushed her over the edge, resulting in the worst trauma and sense of loneliness she had ever felt. She went insane and began to physically deteriorate. Jennet decided to harm children in order to exact revenge on the world for how it treated her. She was unable to have children in life, so she gathers them in death. A child is killed every time someone sees the Woman in Black. Arthur becomes ill. He recovers after 12 days and returns to Stella in London.


The end

Arthur decides to leave Eel Marsh behind and start a new life with Stella. He is content and happy with his life. He marries Stella and has a child. When their child was about a year old, they took him to a fair. Stella and her son are riding in a pony trap. The woman reappeared in front of Arthur, staring at him. The pony and trap collide, killing Arthur's son on impact, with Stella dying months later from her injuries. The woman had exacted her vengeance by taking a child.



Characters


Arthur Kipps

When we first meet Arthur, he is a lawyer haunted by his past. In the story, he is young and naive. He is the protagonist of the story and endures the horrors of Eel Marsh house. 

Stella

Stella is the fiancée of Arthur Kipps. She serves as a beacon of hope for him in the darkness of Eel Marsh. 

Jennet Humfrye

Jennet is the Woman in Black. A person so scorned by life that she gets her revenge in death. A few months after being pregnant with an illegitimate child, Jennet was forced to leave the child in the care of Mrs. Drablow after warning her the child would never really be hers. When the child died she was overcome with grief and wanted revenge. 

Keckwick

Arthur is ferried from the isolated estate of Eel Marsh House to the town of Crythin Gifford by Keckwick, the driver, who rides back and forth between the two. The fatal accident involving Jennet's son is eventually linked to Keckwick's driving.

Samuel Daily

As Arthur travels north, he meets Samuel Daily, a resident of Crythin Gifford. Daily is an upcoming land owner in town and is purchasing several properties with his newly found wealth. In spite of the Samuel's efforts to dissuade him, Arthur returns to Eel Marsh.



Themes

Gothic horror 

There are many references to popular Gothic horror novels in  The Woman in Black


This story intensifies the feeling of terror through the use of atmospheric dread, which is a staple of literary horror. The dread is created from the first chapter in which the events of the story are presented as if they have caused relentless trauma. 


The future for Arthur in London is bright, with a beautiful fiancée, a steady job and an exciting future ahead. This plays into the gothic trope, having the protagonist broken down by the horrors they will endure. 


Gothic horror often includes the theme of architecture. In fact, Eel Marsh house is presented as just as sinister as the Woman in Black. The two horrors combine to form a gothic location. 

 

Trauma 

Hill demonstrates the isolating nature of trauma through Jennet's chilling story and her descent into madness. She argues that trauma victims often feel a strong need to share their pain and hurt with others. As Susan Hill induces a spiral of misery through pain, trauma, and isolation, she creates a vortex of dysfunction.


Isolation

In many ghost stories, loneliness is a common theme. The main character is frequently stranded, by themselves, and far from help. When Arthur's stepfamily gathers around the fire to tell stories, the theme of isolation is evident right away. His lack of participation makes him unique. In many ways, the Woman in Black is also alone. She is frequently portrayed as being alone, and her tale is one of exclusion from both family and society at large.



Key quotations 

Chapter

Quotation

theme

Chapter 6
'I turned and turned about, trying to free myself from the nightmares, to escape from my own semi-conscious sense of dread and foreboding, and all the time, piercing through the surface of my dreams, came the terrified whinnying of the pony and the crying and calling of that child over and over, while I stood, helpless in the mist, my feet held fast, my body pulled back, and while behind me, though I could not see, only sense her dark presence, hovered the woman.'
Gothic horror 
The novel uses atmospheric dread to build tension and fear. The helpless nature of Arthur is contrasted with the dark presence of the woman. The woman is sinister and the one with the power.
Chapter 12
'I had seen the ghost of Jennet Humfrye and she had had her revenge. They asked for my story. I have told it. Enough.'
Gothic horror
The protagonist is shown to have been broken down and forever changed by the horror he has witnessed. Arthur is no longer young and optimistic but instead is jaded and full of regret.
Chapter 1
'I had always known in my heart that the experience would never leave me, that it was now woven into my very fibers, an inextricable part of my past, but I had hoped never to have to recollect it, consciously, and in full, ever again.'
Trauma
Jennet's madness and being have haunted Arthur throughout his life. The trauma he underwent in Eel Marsh house lives within him and he can not escape it.
Chapter 11
'When I reached it I hesitated. She had been there. I had seen her. Whoever she was, this was the focus of her search or her attention or her grief—I could not tell which. This was the very heart of the haunting.' 
Isolation
Again, the woman appears alone. She is left alone in the nursery. The contrast between a nursery, somewhere full of love and laughter, is compared to the twisted version found in Eel Marsh in which the woman haunts alone.


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