The Woman in Black – The Structure and Plot

Book Cover - The Woman in Black

When answering section A of the AQA Literature exam on ‘Modern Texts’, it is essential for you to know the plot and structure of the novel you have been studying. Unlike section B, you will not have the opportunity to rely on an extract from the text, and therefore you must revise the main events, how these events unfold from chapter to chapter, and how Hill uses structure to make an impact on the reader. The novel is separated into the chapters, each with its own title. It

Conventions of a Victorian Ghost story:

  • A ghost (funnily enough)
  • An isolated haunted house
  • Extreme weather conditions
  • The motif of sleep and lack thereof
  • First person narrative
  • The use of women and children who are vulnerable/evil
  • A Byronic hero – A key protagonist who doesn’t believe in ghosts at the outset but changes when he has experienced the presence of one. They are intelligent, sophisticated and educated, but struggling with emotional conflicts, a troubled past and ‘dark’ attributes.

Chapter 1: Christmas Eve

  • Arthur Kipps (the narrator and protagonist), an old solicitor, is sitting by a serene fireside with his family on Christmas Eve.
  • Arthur’s wife, Esme, and her family are introduced to establish a pleasant domestic scene, and to begin the novel in a calm and peaceful manner.
  • However, as Kipps’ step-children begin to tell each other ghost stories, supressed emotions and fear is stirred up in Arthur and he rushes out of the house to calm himself and reminisce on his previous life.
  • These characters are only introduced in this chapter to provide a frame for Kipps’ narrative. We are reminded of this in the following chapters when Arthur mentions his love of Stella, leaving the reader to infer that all will not end well for their relationship.
  • Kipps resolves to write down his own ghost story

Key Quotations

  • “… a true story, a story of haunting and evil, horror and tragedy”
  • “Tomorrow was Christmas Day, and I looked forward to it eagerly and with gladness, it would be a time of friendship, fun and laughter. When it was over, I would have work to do”
  • “My spirits have for many years now been excessively affected by the ways of the weather…”
  • “I was trying to suppress my mounting unease, to hold back the rising flood of memory”
  • “I wanted to banish the chill that had settled upon me and the sensation of fear in my breast”
  • “The truth is quite other, and altogether more terrible”

Chapter 2: A London Particular

  • London is described in an atmospheric way, focusing on the engulfing fog and hell-like imagery – this add to a sense of foreboding for the evil that awaits the reader
  • A younger Arthur Kipps visits his employer, Mr Bentley.
  • He is sent by Mr Bentley to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, who died in Crythin Gifford at the age of 87.
  • An air of mystery is built up around Mr Drablow, and the reader is only told simple facts about her life, courtesy of a reserved Mr Bentley.
  • After learning of Alcie Drablow’s remote and isolated past, Kipps leaves the office and writes a letter to his fiancé, Stella, stating that he will be away fro a few days.

Key Quotations

  • “ – but because of the fog, the thickest of London peasoupers, which had hemmed us in on all sides since dawn – if, indeed, there had been a dawn, for the fog had scarcely allowed any daylight to penetrate the foul gloom of atmosphere”
  • “It was a yellow fog, a filthy, evil-smelling fog, a fod that chocked and blinded, smeared and stained. Groping their way blindly across roads, men and women took their lives in their hands, stumbling along the pavements, they clutched at railings and at one another, for guidance.”
  • “Mrs Drablow was, as they say, a rum’un.”
  • “’Children.’ Mr Bentley fell silent for a few moments, and rubbed at the pane with his finger, as though to clear away the obscurity, but the fog loomed, yellow-grey, and thicker than ever, though, here and there across the Inn Yard, the lights from other chambers shone fuzzily. A church bell began to toll. Mr Bentley turned.

Chapter 3: Journey North

  • The journey by steam locomotives from King’s Cross to Crewe and across the fictional town of Homersby near the east coast.
  • The weather is emphasised (pathetic fallacy)
  • The introduction of Mr Samuel Daily
  • Note the curious place names and the author’s description of sounds.
  • ‘we tuck ourselves in with our backs to the wind, and carry on with our business’.

Key Quotations:

  • “We tuck ourselves in with our back to the wind, and carry on with our business.”

Chapter 4: The Funeral of Mrs Drablow

  • The comfort of the Griffin Arms
  • The strange reaction of the landlord when he discovers Kipps’ business
  • Introduction of Mr Jerome
  • The funeral
  • The appearance of the woman in black
  • Mr Jerome’s alarm (his reaction)
  • Kipps returns to the Gifford Arms
  • Mr Daily’s successful day at the auction
  • Kipps learns there will be no buyers for Eel Marsh House

Key Quotations

  • “Indeed, even now in later life, though I have been as happy and at peace in my home at Monk’s Piece, and with my dear wife Esme, as any man may hope to be, and even though I thank God every night tha it is all over, all long past and will not, cannot come again…”
  • “… it seemed poignant that a woman, who was perhaps only a short time away from her own death, should drag herself to the funeral of another”
  • “she was suffering from some terrible wasting disease”
  • “Mr Jerome stopped dead. He was staring at me.”

Chapter 5: Across the Causeway

  • Keckwick arrives in a pony and trap to take Kipps to Eel Marsh House
  • We see the magnificent landscape and wildlife as they cross the causeway
  • Eel Marsh House is described
  • Kipps sees the woman in black again
  • Seriously shaken, Kipps returns to the house
  • Kipps decides to set off for Crythin Griffin on foot.

Key Quotations

  • “the ill looking, solitary young woman”
  • “the sudden, harsh, weird cries form the brids near and far”
  • ‘a tall, gaunt house of grey stone”
  • “a desperate, yearning malevolence”
  • “an ugly satanic-looking thing”

Chapter 6: The Sound of a Pony and Trap

  • A sea fret descends and Kipps decides to return to the safety of the house
  • He hears the cry of a child and the sinking of a pony and trap in the quicksand. He assumes they are with Keckwick.
  • Kipps is helpless and once more returns to the house, terrified.
  • Fortified by brandy, he explores the house and finds a locked door with no key hole
  • He falls asleep on the sofa and is awoken by Keck wick at 2am
  • They return to the Gifford Arms where Kipps relives the nightmare, dreaming of the woman in black

Chapter 7: Mr Jerome is afraid

  • Kipps decides to stay in Crythin Gifford to complete his task
  • He goes to see Mr Jerome, Mrs Drablow’s land agent, to ask for help in sorting out her papers and possessions
  • He learns that no-one will dare to help him
  • Mr Jerome is visibly scared when Kipps tells him of the second apparition of the woman in black
  • Kipps now accepts that Eel Marsh House is haunted but in a fit of bravado determines to complete his business

 

Chapter 8: Spider

  • Kipps decides to spend two night at Eel Marsh House to complete his business
  • He goes to dinner at Mr Daily’s house
  • Daily fails to dissuade Kipps from returning to the haunted house and lends him Spider, his dog, for protection and companionship. 

    Key quotations

  • “At my feet stood a sturdy little terrier with a rough brindle coat and bight eyes”

Chapter 9: In the Nursery

  • Kipps returns to Eel Marsh House with Spider
  • From Alice’s letters he learns that she adopted Nathaniel Pierston, the illegitimate son of a close relative
  • Again he hears the ghostly sound of the pony and trap and the cries of the dying child
  • He discovers the source of the bumping sound and the nursery behind the locked door

 

Chapter 10: Whistle and I’ll Come to You

  • Kipps has another sleepless Night
  • Spider nearly drowns
  • The woman in black appears at the nursery window
  • Kipps hears the sound of the pony and trap again

Chapter 11: A Packet of Letters

  • Kipps has collapsed and is revived by Samuel Daily.
  • Spider survives but is exhausted
  • Kipps visits the nursery for the last time
  • Kipps recovers at Daily’s home
  • Kipps reads Alice’s papers and pieces the mystery together
  • Stella arrives

Chapter 12: The Woman in Black

  • Stella and Kipps return to London and marry six weeks later.
  • At Kipps’ request, Mr Bentley does not involve him further in Alice Drablow’s affairs.
  • A year later Stella gives birth to a son.
  • A year after Stella gave birth the woman in black reappears and causes the deaths of both Stella and their child
  • Kipps concludes his story

 

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