The Conspiracy of Silence

Q: In regards to Eel Marsh House, how does Hill show that each of the characters are not telling Kipps all they know?

After Arthur Kipps arrives in Crythin Gifford, there are a number of times when he asks about Mrs Drablow and Eel Marsh House and he is confronted with what appears to be a joint silence from all concerned.

For example, as he speaks with Mr Daily and is asked if he is going to the funeral, Kipps’ response, in the affirmative, results in a negative response where Mr Daily says “You’ll be about the only one who is.” Daily is stating the obvious in that there is not a person in the village who would want to attend the funeral but he is not prepared to let Kipps in on the local legend that is Eel Marsh House. This is either because he feels Kipps will not really understand and think it nonsense, or because he wants to protect Kipps from the death inducing stare of the woman in black.

And even though Kipps wants to find out more about the woman and the house, out of professional curiosity, the responses from Daily are short and without any real intent; one or two word answers with little detail. Even when Kipps tries to inject humour into the dialogue by asking ‘Come’, you’re not going to start telling me strange tales of lonely houses?’ the answer he receives is definite and negative.

This continues when he meets with the Landlord of the pub where he is staying. Kipps mentions he is in the village to attend the funeral of Mrs Drablow and there is a response in the face of the landlord. Kipps thinks it may be “alarm” or “suspicion” but is not sure at that time, but he knows that the very mention of her name causes a pained reaction in this grown man, enough to make him frightened.  His response is again a short one, where he says “I knew of her.” When we are afraid we do not usually enter into lots of dialogue, so the landlord here is showing his fear. Hill is using this technique of short responses to get an effect from the reader, one of suspended anticipation where further questions are being asked by the reader.

This continues when Kipps meets with Mr Jerome, the local lawyer. Kipps asks if Mrs Drablow is to be buried in the local graveyard and Mr Jerome responds with a sideways glance, itself a sign of fear. Again, his responses are short and to the point. He does not want to answer why the local churchyard is “unsuitable” for Mrs Drablow to be buried in but the reader is left to ask the question as to why this is the case. Perhaps she is so dangerous that the locals think that her curse can exist after death, so they make it so that she cannot share the ground that their loved ones inhabit? Or, more likely, it is due to the fact that there is a patch of earth that is purely hers, for her family usage in these instances?

Either way, the fear is evident for the reader to see and this continues later, as Kipps is with Keckwick, the pony and trap driver. He sees the fear exhibited in one more of the locals as he asks more about Mrs Drablow and Eel Marsh House. Something very strange and disconcerting happens to Kipps and he wants to discuss the matter with Keckwick, but Keckwick turns away and climbs “into the driving seat” of the trap. The fact that he looks straight ahead of himself, almost like the soldier’s thousand yard stare” in modern PTSD victims, allows the reader to see that he fears something that maybe cannot be explained, something that is dangerous and malevolent, supernatural in its entirety and something that is best left alone.

All this action and dialogue shows the fears of the residents of Crythin Gifford as they come to terms with the death of Mrs Drablow, but it also shows how an author like Hill can use a lack of dialogue in her novel when the subject turns to Mrs Drablow and Eel Marsh House, so that the reader is left in little doubt that there is something definitely wrong across the causeway at the house. Each character responds in such a vague manner that the reader, by this point, is asking questions at the turn of every page. Hill is very successful in showing the fear of these extremely superstitious people who live in Crythin Gifford. 

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Praise Song for my Mother – Grace Nichols

Praise Song For My Mother

Grace Nichols has in one very short poem, put together a number of thoughts and emotions about her mother, just after she has passed away. Nichols has said in numerous articles and videos that she wrote this poem in honour of her mother and in doing so, she has created a song of praise to the one person she sees as the best Mother in the world.

For example, she begins in stanza one by writing “you were water to me” reflecting just how when her mother was alive, she was the one thing that the young Nichols could not do without, just like we cannot do without water in life. She then continues and adds the phrases “deep and bold and fathoming” to add depth to her meaning about her mother. The word “deep” is an ambiguous word in that it can mean her mother was a deep person, with lots of things to understand, or perhaps even that she was the sort of mother who had a depth of love for all her children. This use of metaphor and personification allows the reader to see a person being described who is better than the best and immediately makes the reader feel an attachment to the mother depicted.

In stanza two, this style and technique is repeated [indeed it is repeated throughout the poem] with the words “you were moon’s eye to me,” which in a sense, is a typically Caribbean turn of phrase, but also one that is difficult to grasp the meaning. We are left thinking if Nichols is referring to the light that the moon shines in a darkened world, or even the way that in dark times, her mother was always the one she could turn to, as she pulled you towards her for comfort in times of need. With the words “pull and grained and mantling” this difficulty continues because they are deliberate attempts to use the actions and description of the moon to make the mother shine as much in the firmament of her memory.

And if this is not enough, Nichols continues the honouring of her mother’s memory by sharing these positive emotions in ways that show just how much she loves her mother. She says in stanza three that her mother was to her like a “sunrise” in that she was “warm and streaming” with love and affection. Clearly, this is a positive emotion being shared and one that reflects the nature of their relationship together.

But then, Nichols goes one step further and uses imagery from the Caribbean that she remembers and she merges them into this description of her mother. She says “you were the fishes red gill to me” reflecting something of the colour of her homeland. Coupled with the idea that her mother was “the flame tree’s spread” to her as well as the smells and images of food, what is created is an image of a mother who is simply supreme in her memory. It is this positive image of the mother that makes this poem extremely effective in portraying such a positive emotion as love for one’s mother.

And just as we get to the end of the poem, we see one piece of advice that is given to the young Grace Nichols. She shares how her mother once told her to “go to your wide futures,” when she was young. Living in Guyana in the Caribbean, a poor island in that region, life would not have been easy, but Nichols describes her mother in such a positive way that the reader is left with an equally positive image of her homeland as well.

The use of that one element of advice from the mother at the end is the thing that for me, makes this poem such a lovely, positive poem in that her mother wanted when she was alive the very best for all her children and was prepared to tell them all to go out into the world and grasp hold of the nettle of life with gusto, searching and achieving anything they hoped for even though she knew that this may separate her from her children. As a parent myself, I want the very best for both my children and rejoice when they succeed in something or another, so when I read a poem like this I am left thinking just how much I can relate to its content. As a song of praise to her mother, it is simply stunning. As a way of expressing her emotions for and toward her mother, it is equally effective.