The Woman in Black – AQA Literature Past Papers

Please find below all of The Woman in Black questions from the AQA Literature exam. As you can see, the questions focus on a range of topics, including themes, characterisation, setting, structure and narrative perspective. In your exam there will be a choice of two questions on this novel; you must answer only one. If you are sitting the higher paper you will just see the two questions. In the foundation paper, you will find an additional set of bullet points to support you (see below).

It is really important that you spend no more than 45 minutes on your one question, leaving enough time to answer the question on Of Mice and Men or To Kill a Mockingbird. Within this short time frame, you should aim to write 3-5 analytic paragraphs answering the question.

How to answer the question:

  • You will be asked to closely analyse the methods and techniques used by Hill to create a particular atmosphere, describe an important setting, convey a particular theme or present an interesting character. It is imperative that you think carefully about why Hill has chosen specific words and images, and the effect this creates in the reader. For this question, really ZOOM IN on the connotations of language and feelings presented.
  • To achieve the highest marks, you will have to ZOOM OUT and explain how different parts of the novel link to the question. Furthermore, you can explore how Susan Hill uses literary conventions from the Gothic genre and how this creates tension for the modern reader.

The question is marked out of 30, with four marks being awarded for accurate and sophisticated spelling, punctuation and grammar. Therefore, please ensure that you edit your work in the final few minutes of the exam, correcting simple mistakes.

Finally, feel free to attempt any of the following questions and add your response in the comments section. I will happily mark all answers and provide you with feedback.




  1. How effective is the first chapter, ‘Christmas Eve’ in introducing characters and ideas which are important to the novel as a whole?
  2. Write about two places in the novel where setting is important to the story.
  • Describe these places and briefly say what happens in each of them.
  • Say why they are important to the story, explain the atmosphere of each place and what the writer wants the reader to think or feel.
  • Explain how successful she has been. Give your reasons.
  1. Explore how Hill creates fear in the chapter ‘Whistle and I’ll Come To You’?
  2. How does Susan Hill explore the theme of revenge in this novel? You should make detailed reference to Christian beliefs and moral attitudes Of the time and the language used to express these ideas in the novel.
  3. Arthur Kipps is both the narrator and a central character in the ghost story. How does he change from the young lawyer about to travel to Crythin Gifford to the middle-aged step-father who feels compelled to write his story?
  4. Consider Kipps’ role in The Woman In Black and how effectively Hill portrays him.
  5. Choose two of the following characters and write about their importance in the novel:
  • Mr Bentley, Mr Samuel Daily, the landlord Of the Gifford Arms, Keckwick.
  • Write about their role in the novel, referring to what they say or do.
  • Write about what Kipps thinks about them.
  • Write about what you think about them and their role.
  1. Why do you think Susan Hill called her story ‘The Woman In Black’? How effective is it as a title?
  • Write about the appearance and the importance of the ghost in the story.
  • Write about religious beliefs at the time.
  • Explain your feelings about what she does and her intentions.
  1. A critic described ‘The Woman In Black’ as a ‘rattling good yarn, the sort that chills the mind as well as the spine.’ What methods does Hill use to create suspense and tensions in the novel?
  2. Write about two episodes in the novel that you think are frightening.

Write about:

  • What happens
  • The techniques used by Hill to frighten the reader.
  • Why you think these events are important.
  1. Near the start of the novel Arthur Kipps says ‘l did not believe in ghosts.’ How does Hill show the way Arthur changes during the novel?

Write about:

  • What happens to Arthur and how these things change him
  • The methods Hill uses to show the changes in Arthur.


SAMPLE ESSAY ANSWER: How effective is the first chapter, ‘Christmas Eve’ in introducing characters and ideas which are important to the novel as a whole?

The first chapter introduces the narrator, Arthur Kipps, during a happy, family occasion, on Christmas Eve. Initially, the language used to introduce him is filled with positive images of “happy, festive” times, his “lightening heart” and his oneness with his natural surroundings. Yet there are clues from the very first that he may have a less than happy past: his home bears the name ‘Monk’s Piece’, which has connotations of monastic solitude, suggesting he may have chosen it to shut himself away from the world, whilst ‘Piece’ is also a homophone for ‘Peace’ suggesting he has sought peace in his life at this place. When he refers to “the long shadows cast by the events of the past”, the reader is immediately intrigued as to what these may be: the metaphor of shadows implies something dark and unpleasant, whilst ‘long shadows’ suggest that this is in the distant past, something that has troubled him for many years.

Kipps’ description of his wife, Esme, and his step-children, introduce the theme of family bonds and the security and happiness one finds from these. Kipps comments how he enjoys “the happy company of my family” and how they give him “an uprush of well-being”. This is most likely a familiar feeling for the reader but we are also aware that he has been widowed earlier and this makes us wonder whether his dark shadows are somehow linked to his first wife. The idea of family bonds is repeated later when Hill introduces the tragic tale of Jennet Humfrye, torn from her son’s life and kept away from him, unable to share the mother-child bond. As the story unfolds, the reader cannot help but notice the difference between Kipps’ happy family life and that of the woman in black. Kipps too suffers the agony of losing those dearest to him though he finds a second chance at happiness with Esme, even though it can never be as deeply fulfilling as that first marriage and his own blood-child.

In this chapter, Hill also outlines the archetype of the Victorian gothic ghost story when Kipps describes the family telling traditional ghost stories, including the “inner locked rooms”, “footsteps creaking on staircases”, “swirling mists and sudden winds” and “curses upon heirs”. She later invokes all of these features in her novel, so that the reader becomes immersed in the genre she has set out for us to explore. Those already familiar with the genre, will already be expecting the pleasurable thrill of fear from this type of story and the methods of bringing suspense to the page. She also uses this to underline that Kipps recognises in these Stories, an element of reality that he alone can relate to, being “set apart” and “an outsider” since he has experienced these things for himself. Hill describes the “rising flood of memory”, a metaphor for the build-up of suppressed terror that he has never been able to address since losing Stella and Joseph. Although the reader does not know his story, this acts as a signal that he will shortly allow us to hear his tale.

Another theme that is introduced in this chapter is that of good and evil and how the power of religious belief can bring peace. Kipps, struggling to compose his emotions in this chapter, is driven to prayer, “a simple, heartfelt prayer” and also recalls a poem of religious significance, which helps to calm him. This is later echoed when, having left Eel Marsh House he contemplates the events he witnessed there and realized “there were forces for good and those for evil doing battle together.” Whilst the novel is intended to reflect the flourishing Christian ethos of its time-setting, it also invites the reader to decide whether good and evil, right and wrong, are simple black-and-white concepts.

As we investigate the morality of Jennet’s enforced separation from her child, then we begin to question whether the Christian belief of the time, that a child born out of wedlock should be taken from its ‘sinful’ mother, was a morally right one or not.

By opening the story at Christmas time, with its focus on the family and togetherness, the events that unfold in Kipps’ story are all the more contrasted as they focus on families torn apart and the inability to forgive, a most un-Christian sentiment.

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