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.