The Woman in Black (1983)
Author: Susan Hill
Genre: Horror (Ghost Story)
Arthur Kipps is a middle-aged lawyer in nineteenth-century England. He reveals to the reader that he had personally experienced a story so horrible and gruesome that no other made-up ghost story could compare. Realizing it still has a huge hold on his life, he decides he will try to exorcise the demons that haunt him by writing down his story. The rest of the book is this story. When he was much younger, he received instructions from his law firm to go to a recently deceased client’s funeral as a representative, then to her house to find documents relevant to her will. When he gets to the small town, people seem very mysterious whenever he mentions the name of his client, Alice Drablow, whom he had never met before. At the funeral he sees a woman dressed all in black, with a pale sickly face and mournful expression, whom no one else sees. Later he goes alone to the Drablow house to look for her important papers. To get to it he has to cross the Nine Lives Causeway, which is covered by the tide at certain points during the day, making passage impossible. The house is also surrounded by marsh. Arthur sees the woman again and other mysterious images at the house, including the sound of a child screaming in terror on the marsh. After hearing and seeing these terrifying things several more times during his stay, he concludes they are not real, that they are ghosts. In going through Mrs. Drablow’s papers, he finds letters which gradually help him to put together who the woman in black really is, and she later exacts her revenge on him for intruding into her house, in a tragic and chilling way.
Geographical Setting: English moor
Time Period: late nineteenth century
The book’s jacket proclaims that if Jane Austen had written a ghost story, this would be it. It is written in the literary style of the late nineteenth century, which really enhances its setting of the lonely English moor and haunted house. It is plot- rather than character-driven. It is very descriptive of the sounds, sights, and smells the narrator encounters. The book is relatively short, and there really is not that much action, but it is told in such a way that it seems fast-paced. Halfway through, after the narrator begins encountering the ghosts, his thoughts race and the writing seems to pick up somehow. This is for anyone who enjoys stories of ghostly revenge and tragedy. The story drives all the way to the very last page and the ending is thoroughly satisfying.
Similar Authors: Edith Wharton, Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe
Red Flags: death, children dying