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.

The Woman in Black – Close Analysis of ‘Whistle and I’ll Come to You’

There is a possibility that there may be a question based around the Chapter Whistle and I’ll Come to You. (past years have looked at the preceding chapters in order, so maybe…..)

This is a précis of the key points of interest in this chapter. It is likely any question will be along the lines of how tension is created….

(all page numbers refer to the original books with small writing)

P123 – The chapter opens with pathetic fallacy as it describes a storm/heavy winds. “The house felt like a ship at sea” (simile) – Gives the reader a sense of imbalance, insecurity – prepares us for a rollercoaster ride ahead.

P123 – The description of the noises are also reminiscent of ghostly sounds: “Windows rattling …the sounds of moaning down all the chimneys”. On the following page, she compares the wind to a banshee which is a type of ghost said to signify impending death. This warns us that there may be trouble ahead…..

P123 – Hill briefly breaks this with Kipps remembering the safety and security of his own nursery, long ago, contrasts with how he heard “The wind rage round like a lion, howling at the doors and beating upon the windows but powerless to reach me.”

P124 – Tension is increased when Kipps forgets his torch, meaning he has to investigate the house in darkness. She plays with our imagination by describing the sense of someone having walked by Kipps, but shows his uncertainty by having him question this: “And the person who had gone by and who was now in the house with me?” Later on (p125) he admits that he was “beginning to doubt my own reality.”

P125 – Having set the reader up for the fear that Kipps is not alone, she then makes it even more tense when he drops the torch. The short sentences “No light came on. The torch had broken” are a dramatic end to this paragraph.

P125 – Kipps’ emotional state is also highlighted by the list of abstract nouns “despair and fear, frustration and tension”, followed by “violent rage”. The reader is invited to experience these emotions alongside him.

P125 – The dog, Spider, is yet again used to signify when the moment of tension has passed as she licks Kipps’ hand.

P126 – Kipps writes how “A man cannot remain indefinitely in a state of active terror” – this is precisely why Hill raises then drops the tension, for the reader cannot maintain this either. Therefore she allows this moment of fear to pass and reassures us that “all sense of another one’s presence had faded away.”

P127 – Kipps re-enters the nursery and is swept with feelings of “overwhelming grief and sadness, a sense of loss and bereavement, a distress mingled with utter despair” – This list of three pairs of negative emotions present a very different emotional response for the reader as they contrast with the sense of evil encountered so far and also add to the mystery surrounding the Woman in Black.

P129 – Having established a calm tone again, Hill then heightens tension again through Spider’s reactions. “scratching and whining at the door” so we expect ghostly activities again – only to be reassured she simply needed to be let out. Therefore we are not expecting trouble until the ghostly whistle comes: “not from any human lips”.

P130 – Tension is at its height here as Kipps struggles in the mud to rescue Spider. The use of many dynamic verbs here exaggerate the sense of action; Spider “yelped” and “struggled” and Kipps is “straining” against the “whirling sucking bog”.

P130 – the sense of isolation is again underlined – “alone in the middle of the wide marsh” – it is Kipps up against the power of the Woman in Black – Good v Evil.

P130-131 Hill’s use of adverbs “furiously” and “cautiously”, as well as more dynamic verbs, “lunged”, “grabbed”, “hauled”, “tugged” create a very frantic pace, whilst the adjectives “treacherous”, “agonizing” and “slippery” all add detail to the danger of the situation he is in.

P131 – Kipps triumphs and saves Spider but Hill’s use of a list of three shows us at what cost: “chest burning, lungs almost bursting, my arms feeling as if they had been dragged from their sockets”.

P131 – Just when we feel the tension starting to recede, Kipps looks up at the house and there he sees “A woman. That woman. She was looking directly towards me.” Short, sharp sentences reinforce the link between what happened to Kipps and her reappearance.

P132 – The chapter ends with the replaying of the terrible noise, which serves as a motif for the tragedy: “It was the sound of a pony and trap”. The pony and trap are a recurring motif, both as the replayed sound of the tragedy from years before, but also because the pony and trap are intricately linked to the woman in black. This means that when in the final chapter, Stella and the baby choose to ride it one, the reader recognises the significance and anticipate tragedy.


  1. Explain how Hill creates tension and fear in the chapter ‘Whistle and I’ll Come to You’

By Miss Marvell

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