The story centres on a young solicitor named Arthur Kipps. Kipps is summoned north to Crythin Gifford, a small market town, to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow. Drablow was an elderly and reclusive widow who lived alone in the desolate and secluded Eel Marsh House. The house is situated on Nine Lives Causeway. At high tide, it is completely cut off from the mainland, surrounded only by marshes and sea frets.
Kipps soon realizes there is more to Alice Drablow than he originally thought. At the funeral, he sees a woman dressed in black and with a pale face and dark eyes, which a group of children are silently watching. Over the course of several days, while sorting through Mrs Drablow’s papers at Eel Marsh House, he endures an increasingly terrifying sequence of unexplained noises, chilling events and hauntings by the Woman in Black. In one of these instances, he hears the sound of a horse and carriage in distress, closely followed by the screams of a young child and his maid, coming from the direction of the marshes.
Most of the people in Crythin Gifford are reluctant to reveal information about Mrs Drablow and the mysterious Woman in Black. Any attempts by Kipps to find out the truth cause pained and fearful reactions. From various sources, Kipps learns that Mrs Drablow’s sister, Jennet Humfrye, gave birth to a child, but because she was unmarried, she was forced to give the child to her sister.
Mrs Drablow and her husband adopted the boy, called Nathaniel, insisting that he should never know that Jennet was his mother. The child’s screams that Kipps heard were those of Nathaniel.
Jennet went away for a year; however, after realizing she could not be parted for long from her son, she made an agreement to be able to stay at Eel Marsh House with him as long as she never revealed her true identity to him. One day, a horse and carriage carrying the boy across the causeway became lost and sank into the marshes, killing all aboard, while Jennet looked on helplessly from the window of Eel Marsh House. This was particularly distressing for Jennet as she had become close to her son and was planning to run away and take him with her.
Jennet later died and returned to haunt Eel Marsh House, as well as the town of Crythin Gifford, with a vengeful malevolence, as the Woman in Black. According to local tales, seeing the Woman in Black meant that the death of a child would be sure to follow.
After some time, Kipps returns to London where he marries a woman named Stella, has a child of his own and tries to put the events at Crythin Gifford behind him. At a fair, while his wife and child are enjoying a horse and carriage ride, Kipps suddenly sees the Woman in Black once more. She steps out in front of the pony pulling the trap and startles it so greatly that it gallops away and collides with a tree, killing the child and fatally injuring Stella, who dies of her injuries ten months later. This is the Woman in Black’s vengeance.