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The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

The Woman in Black (original 1983; edition 1997)

by Susan Hill

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1,7151344,141 (3.78)383
Title:The Woman in Black
Authors:Susan Hill
Collections:Read in 2009, Read but unowned
Tags:Fiction. English.

Work details

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (1983)

  1. 50
    The Turn of the Screw, and In the Cage by Henry James (bookworm12)
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Showing 1-5 of 131 (next | show all)
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill; (3 1/2*)

A good story of haunting, The Woman in Black holds the reader's interest. It has everything a good ghost story entails. A dark & aboding house, the eerie marshlands surrounding said house, strange things that "go bump in the night", the small village where no one wishes to speak of the strange goings on out at the house, and of course your innocent who is sent to the house to do some sleuthing work.
Mrs. Alice Drabble of Eel Marsh House is a client of Arthur Kipps' soliciting house in London and when she dies, his employer sends him out to her lonely house on the marsh to dig through her private papers to speed up dealing with her estate.
When Arthur gets to the village he finds no one there will speak with him of the reclusive Mrs. Drabble, her house nor her life. However the man who trundled her groceries & needs out to her house in his pony cart is willing to take him to the house & return for him.
While at the house Arthur hears the most frightful sounds, sees apparitions and literally hears things that "go bump in the night." He is there alone and tries to remain calm and continue with his work but it becomes more and more difficult. As he goes through Mrs. Drabble's papers he finds very little of use until he comes across a bundle of letters regarding a distant relative of Mrs. Drabble's who is unmarried and in the family way. The young lady wishes to keep the baby but doesn't have the means and so the little boy is adopted by the Drabbles. He later comes across legal paperwork that suggests the reasons for the hauntings of Eel Marsh House and the more he learns the more the hauntings continue until Arthur becomes ill in heart, soul & body. He is rescued from the house in a collapsed state and taken to the home of a gentleman he met on the train coming out who says he must remain until he is on the road to recovery. He is attended by the local doctor, fed nourishing broths and that coupled with much bed rest does Arthur much good. He is surprised one day to receive his fiance, Stella, who has come to take him back to London on the train.
They marry soon after and Arthur puts the experience behind him until one day.........one day................
Well, you will have to read the book to discover more of the particulars and the finale. Needless to say I enjoyed this book as I have every Susan Hill I have read. (Mrs. de Winter aside) I like the spare way she writes without throwing in flowery phrasing and unnecessary wording. I found this to be a good read and recommend it for those who enjoy a little spooking and haunting. ( )
1 vote rainpebble | Aug 31, 2014 |
What's a reader to do when a ghost story is the embodiment of "The Ghost Story"? If it ticks off every requirement--old, isolated house; sullen villagers; gloomy weather--does that make it "the best" ghost story? I might once have insisted that, yes, a ghost story that meets all of the criteria (whatever the list might be) is in fact the best of its genre. (The hubris of youth!) Having read Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, I'm forced to concede that perhaps there is more to a ghost story than spooks, moors, and crisp English diction. I'm reminded of the words of a comic book writer, who advised teenagers aspiring to his role, "If you only read comic books, you might write the best comic book ever written, but you'll never write anything different."

The Woman in Black begins, appropriately enough, on a Christmas Eve sometime in the early decades of the twentieth century. Arthur Kipps' second wife and his step-children sit around the fire, telling one another ghost stories. Here we have already satisfied one criterion of a ghost story: It must be set in England. Certainly, every culture in every time and place has spoken of ghosts, but "the best" ghost story can only be set in England. Bonus: By beginning her tale on Christmas Eve, Hill tips her hat to the fine English tradition of telling ghost stories on that most-anticipated evening of the year. More spooky stories by the fire, fewer fat men and elves!

Kipps is agitated as his family's stories grow grislier and more ridiculous. As his children's merriment increases, his declines. Urged by his step-sons to join in the fun, Kipps storms off in a huff. Staring at the clear night sky, he is reminded of events through which he suffered as a younger man, a trauma he has worked hard to put behind him. He resolves to write it down in its entirety, a purge that becomes Hills' larger narrative, the ghost story "proper."

The action commences with Kipps dispatched on legal business to a small village a day's train ride outside of London. Kipps, stymied in his career aspirations, gladly takes on what his elder partner perceives as an imposition. In addition to seeking refuge from his humdrum duties as a solicitor, Kipps flees the London weather, characterized by many days of fog so dense it made travel within the city dangerous. Kipps sallies forth to put in order the estate of the recently deceased Mrs. Drablow of Eel Marsh House. Read those names again: That is some heavy handed foreshadowing going on there.

En route to Eel Marsh House, Kipps encounters what you might expect from the villagers, which is to that they seem to know something about Eel Marsh House, but are unwilling to talk about it, to Kipps' growing frustration. The local lawyer, Kipps' contact, is thrown into paroxysms of fear when, at Mrs. Drablow's funeral, Kipps confesses to having seen the eponymous "Woman in Black." Kipps nevertheless proceeds, as an ambitious and sensible young man is likely to do, to head to Eel Marsh House, which, sitting in the middle of a swamp, can be reached only by a narrow causeway during low tide. One requirement of a successful ghost story is for the protagonist to be headstrong in his foolishness to the point of foolhardiness. He (or she) must tempt fate with his (or her) stupidity. Needless to say, Kipps' visit does not go as planned, and it is at this point, as his adventure derails, that I can so no more about the plot. It is obvious from the first chapter of the book that Kipps survives, albeit as a changed man.

There is much to be said in favor of The Woman in Black. Kipps' voice, channeled via Hill, is spot-on, which is to say very, very English. (I am subconsciously mimicking it as I write this.) Whether or not Kipps really sounds like a turn-of-the-century British professional, I don't know, but it's house I imagine such men would have sounded. In other words, it's believable. So, too, is the tone, which is one of creeping eeriness, abetted by Hill's strength in establishing setting. Hill obviously knows the English countryside and its weather, and lavishes attention on such details. Of course, atmosphere is in some ways the most essential aspect of any ghost story. The author must ease the reader into it, step by step, just as the protagonist, for instance, Kipps, cheerfully whistling his way to his doom. You can't just toss an idiot into a decrepit old house and throw spooks at him. It takes subtlety, and Hill masters that.

In the end, though, even as The Woman in Black meets all of the expectations a reader might have of a ghost story, in doing so it somehow fails to do anything different, and that, perhaps, is the problem. There's a predictability about the plot that is comforting if you want a good, old-fashioned ghost story, but is dissatisfying if you want anything more. The story is also rather tame, although one must keep in mind that it isn't horror in the modern sense, meaning that it isn't dripping with gore. Still, contemporary readers (The Woman in Black was published in 1983) might be desensitized to the novel's quiet dread. Recommended for lovers of the supernatural, but not necessarily for horror aficionados, The Woman in Black is a fine book with which to spend any autumn day. ( )
  LancasterWays | Aug 25, 2014 |
En skräckroman berättad i klassisk tappning! Dimma, mörka familjehemligheter, ensam i stort läskigt hus, spöken, gungande stolar...Jo då, allt är med! Jag gillar det och Susan Hill skriver bra. Snarare en kortroman, läses i ett naffs! ( )
  Drusus | Aug 4, 2014 |
At the start of this novella, I noted the authors's decision to make the book a memoir--a reflection of the narrator's past. The pros to this being I knew the narrator would live through this eerie story, and it allowed the author to build suspense about just how harrowing these events were to haunt the narrator almost twenty years later.

A good, solidly told story of a typical 'city' man sent to the country to do business--he doesn't believe the stories and rumors....until he has to experience them himself.

I read this as part of a challenge to read a book made into the movie, and on that score the relative low number of pages should mean the movie could follow the story closely. Only one way to find out! ( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
Be prepared to stay awake all...night...long.
  lseitz | Jul 1, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 131 (next | show all)
I love this style of writing... very detailed and descriptive. Although some of our students have said that they had a hard time getting through the first few chapters, I was immediately captivated.

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Susan Hillprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Klingberg, OlaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lawrence, JohnIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Pat and Charles Gardner
First words
It was nine-thirty on Christmas Eve.
But gradually I discovered for myself the truth of the axiom that a man cannot remain indefinitely in a state of active terror. Either the emotion will increase until, at the prompting of more and more dreadful events and apprehensions, he is so overcome by it that he runs away or goes mad; or he will become by slow degrees less agitated and more in possession of himself.
A man may be accused of cowardice for fleeing away from all manner of physical dangers but when things supernatural, insubstantial and inexplicable threaten not only his safety and well-being but his sanity, his innermost soul, then retreat is not a sign of weakness but the most prudent course.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Arthur Kipps in 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 mystyery, 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 in black. (96780307950215)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307745317, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:04:26 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Proud and solitary, Eel Marsh House surveys the windswept reaches of the salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway. Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is summoned to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, the house's sole inhabitant, unaware of the tragic secrets which lie hidden behind the shutttered windows.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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