C O M P R E H E N S I O N
T H E W O M A N I N B L A C K
The idea here is to read the following text and then answer the questions or complete the tasks. Some ask for direct involvement with the text. Others are asking for your ideas but where possible, back up your thoughts using some of these words.
The plot of the Susan Hill novella, or short novel, The Woman In Black centres on a young solicitor named Arthur Kipps who is the main character, or chief protagonist in the tale. Kipps is summoned to Crythin Gifford, a small market town on the north east coast of the United Kingdom from his London offices, 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. This adds to the mystery of the story, making the reader feel the isolation of the place and the ensuing ghost. But Kipps soon realizes that there is more to Alice Drablow than he originally thinks at first and at the funeral, he sees a woman dressed in black, 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, once 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 hear are those of Nathaniel.
Jennet goes away for a year; however, after realizing she cannot be parted for long from her son, she makes an agreement to be able to stay at Eel Marsh House with him as long as she never reveals her true identity to him. One day, a horse and carriage carrying the boy across the causeway become lost and sank into the marshes, killing all aboard, while Jennet looked on helplessly from the window of Eel Marsh House. This is particularly distressing for Jennet as she has become close to her son and was planning to run away and take him with her.
Jennet later dies 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 means that the death of a child would be sure to follow.
After some time, Kipps goes back 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.
Q U E S T I O N S / T A S K S
- In five sentences only, write a short summary of this plot line.
- List three elements in this description that you think are a part of the ghost story genre.
- This is a story with more than one protagonist. Explain what this means in your own writing. Use quotes to support your ideas. [at least half a page of A4]
- Why do you think the people of Crythin Gifford are reluctant to talk about this lady in black?
- Why do you think the idea of vengeance makes for a good element in any short story/novella/novel?