The Woman in Black Summary

The Woman in Black is a 1983 gothic horror novel about a young lawyer named Arthur Kipps who encounters a malevolent ghost.

  • Arthur travels to Eel Marsh House in the remote town of Crythin Gifford to handle the estate of Alice Drablow, a recently deceased client.
  • At the house, Arthur is haunted by the ghost of Alice’s sister, Jennet Humphreye, who was forced to give up her infant son to Alice and mourn his death when he later drowned in the marsh.
  • Jennet’s ghost later appears to Arthur in London, causing the death of his wife and their one-year-old son.

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Last Updated on November 10, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1181

The Woman in Black is a gothic horror novel written in 1983 by English author Susan Hill.

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The story is told from the perspective of Arthur Kipps, a retired lawyer and widower who lives with his second wife, Esme, at a rural English estate known as "Monk's Piece." When their family gathers together at the estate for Christmas, Arthur's stepchildren take turns telling ghost stories around the fire. Soon, it's Arthur's turn. Despite the children's urging, he refuses to participate—instead, he becomes uncomfortable and withdrawn, and eventually leaves the room.

Realizing that he has not yet resolved his feelings about a traumatic ghost experience from his early adulthood, Arthur decides to write his story down in detail for the first time. It takes place in his early twenties, when he is working as a lawyer at a London firm. His boss, Mr. Bentley, sends him to the rural town of Crythin Gifford to settle the estate of their recently departed client, Alice Drablow.

When Arthur arrives at Crythin Gifford, he is perplexed to find that none of the townspeople are willing to talk with him about the Drablow estate. At her funeral, very few people are present, although he does see one person of interest—a gaunt, skeletal woman in old-fashioned black mourning clothes, who looks like she's suffering from a wasting disease. Arthur inquires after the woman with Mr. Jerome, a local estate agent, and Mr. Jerome is visibly shaken by the inquiry, insisting that he didn't see her.

That afternoon, Arthur visits Eel Marsh House, Mrs. Drablow's estate, for the first time. The house, situated on the Nine Lives Causeway, can only be reached when the tide is low. Setting out in a pony and trap driven by a man named Keckwick, Arthur is astounded and bolstered by the vast openness and beauty of the landscape, and arrives at the house with great excitement.

Upon arrival, his excitement is tempered somewhat by an unnerving sight: the woman from the funeral is standing in the house's graveyard. Finding himself unexpectedly overtaken by fear, Arthur runs into the house to calm himself. There, he finds that this task might be more complicated than he thought—Mrs. Drablow has reams and sheaves of paper filling drawers, desks, shelves, and cabinets, and he'll have to sort through it all.

Anxious to return to his hotel, Arthur sets out on foot. Before long, he realizes his mistake—marsh fog has rolled in unexpectedly, and he can barely see the path in front of him. The ground below is starting to grow damp as the water rises, and he starts to walk back to the house to wait for Keckwick.

Soon, he's heartened by the clip-clopping sound of a pony and trap approaching. Before long, his relief turns to horror—he hears the pony and trap sink in the marsh, and among the horse's frantic whinnies, a child is crying in fear. Realizing he can't reach them or do anything, he returns somberly to the house and has a drink to calm his nerves. To his surprise, the doorbell soon rings—Keckwick has arrived to take him home. It wasn't his carriage that Arthur heard; someone else has been lost to the marsh.

Back in town, an unsettled Arthur visits Mr. Jerome to ask for help with the Drablow estate. Mr. Jerome refuses and insists that nobody...

(The entire section contains 1181 words.)

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