Synopses & Reviews
A classic ghost story: the chilling tale of a menacing specter haunting a small English town. Arthur Kipps is an up-and-coming London solicitor who is sent to Crythin Gifford — a faraway town in the windswept salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway — to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of a client, Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. Mrs. Drablow's house stands at the end of the causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but Kipps is unaware of the tragic secrets that lie hidden behind its sheltered windows. The routine business trip he anticipated quickly takes a horrifying turn when he finds himself haunted by a series of mysterious sounds and images — a rocking chair in a deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child's scream in the fog, and, most terrifying of all, a ghostly woman dressed all in black.
"A rattling good yarn, the sort that chills the mind as well as the spine." The Guardian
"Excellent...magnificently eerie...compulsive reading." Evening Standard
"The most brilliantly effective spine chiller you will ever encounter." The Daily Telegraph
"[A] highly efficient chiller....Nerve shredding." The Daily Express
Reading Group Guide
1. As Mr. Bentley describes Mrs. Drablow and Eel Marsh House, Arthur feels that it “was beginning to sound like something from a Victorian novel, with a reclusive old woman having hidden a lot of ancient documents somewhere in the depths of her cluttered house” [p. 26]. In what ways is Susan Hill employing and perhaps playing with the conventions of the Victorian novel?
2. Looking out over the marshes, Arthur feels that he had “fallen under some sort of spell of the kind that certain places exude and it drew me, my imaginings, my longings, my curiosity, my whole spirit, toward itself” [p. 92]. Why is he so drawn to the marshes? Has he fallen under a spell?
3. Arthur Kipps decides to write his “ghost story” in order to exorcise it, so that he can “finally be free of it for whatever life remained for me to enjoy” [p. 18]. Does Arthur free himself from the trauma he suffered at Eel Marsh House? Why would the act of telling a deeply painful or traumatic story have such healing power?
4. Why might Hill have chosen to frame the main narrative of The Woman in Black with Arthur’s experience of spending Christmas Eve with his family, at the beginning, and contemplating his own death, at the end? What effect does this frame have on how the story is read?
5. By what means does Hill build and sustain a high level of tension and suspense throughout The Woman in Black? What are some of the novel’s most terrifying moments?
6. Arthur reflects that before the events at Eel Marsh House, he was in “a state of innocence” and that, even though he is happy now, “innocence, once lost, is lost forever” [p. 39]. In what ways was Arthur innocent before he encountered the woman in black? Why does the experience rob him of his innocence?
7. Why does Arthur ignore the many hints and warnings, as well as his own misgivings, about staying at Eel Marsh House? What is it in his character that impels him to press on? Is there some unconscious motivation or is Arthur acting rationally? Is he guilty of a kind of hubris in ignoring the warnings?
8. As a “healthy young man of sound education, reasonable intelligence and matter-of-fact inclinations” [p. 146], a man of prosaic imagination not given to flights of fancy, Arthur Kipps did not believe in ghosts. But after the strange events at Eel Marsh House, he is convinced he has indeed seen—and heard—ghosts. How does Susan Hill want readers to understand the apparently supernatural phenomena presented in the novel?
9. Why doesn’t it occur to Arthur that the curse of a child dying after every time the ghost of Jennet Humfrye is seen might apply to his own child? Are readers more aware of the dangers Arthur faces than he is?
10. What is the significance of Arthur associating the sounds he hears coming from the nursery with pleasant sounds and feelings from his own childhood?
11. Why would the dreadful experience of the pony and trap, along with driver, mother, and child, need to be repeated in what Arthur describes as “some dimension other than the normal, present one”? [p. 146]. What purpose would this ghostly reenactment serve?
12. In what sense is Jennet a victim of the social and religious conventions of her time? How much sympathy does she elicit?
13. While he’s recuperating at Mr. Daily’s, Arthur observes a robin on the balustrade outside his widow and watches it with a feeling of great absorption and contentment. Before coming to Crythin Gifford, Arthur says that he would “never have been able to concentrate on such an ordinary thing so completely but would have been restless to be up and off, doing this or that busily” [p. 156]. Why would the terrible events at Eel Marsh House have this positive effect on Arthur? In what ways have those events changed him?
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