Explore the ways in which Susan Hill presents the woman in black. Before we meet the woman, Susan Hill uses the description of the setting in ‘A London Particular’ to foresee what she is like, predicting something wicked. London was described as “Inferno” full of “red-eyed and demonic” “ghostly figures”. These all suggest that Hill was describing or comparing London to Hell, which could imply that Mr Arthur Kipps was about to enter into his own personal hell, containing a “ghostly figure” of haunting and torment.
Hill uses London’s “filthy, evil smelling fog” that “choked and blinded the Londoners as a way to pre-empt the sea mist that appears later in the novel, in ‘The Sound of a Pony and Trap’. They both engulfed their surroundings like a “veil” of mystery and suffering. The fog could have also suggested that Kipps was unaware of the Hell in his near future, he could not see what lay in front of him. There is a possibility the fog was a metaphor for the impending suffering and misfortune that lay ahead for Arthur Kipps.
‘The Funeral of Mrs Drablow’ is a crucial chapter in the novel as this is the first time the woman is seen and mentioned. Kipps describes her as a woman “dressed in the deepest black” and wearing a “bonnet” which seemed to have “gone out of fashion”, which suggests straight away that the woman is out of place, not only at the funeral, but also in that time period. Her clothes were “a little rusty looking” and this gives the impression that her clothes are ageing, which links with her alienation from the rest of the funeral attendants.
She is described as having a ”terrible wasting disease” with the “thinnest layer of flesh tautly stretched and strained across her bones.” Her face was “pathetically wasted’ extremely “pale and gaunt” with almost a “blue-white sheen”. This all gives a sense of a ghost, the whole portrayal sounding ghoulish. Kipps instantly feels sympathy towards the woman, as he refers to her as “a not inconsiderable former beauty” and “poor thing.” This is highly contrasted to how she was anticipated from the London setting.
The woman’s haunting effect on her victims is shown through Mr Jerome and his reaction. Arthur Kipps had merely mentioned her physical appearance, before “Mr Jerome stopped dead.” She has the power to scare a grown man to the core without being seen. The woman seemed to bring inextricable memories to Jerome that leave him, “frozen, pale” and paralysed with absolute terror. This is also shown in the way Kipps acts in ‘Christmas Eve.’ The thought of the woman sends him into “a frenzy of agitation” all those years later. The woman was “an inextricable part of [his] past.” She leaves her victims with a horror “that is now woven into [their] very fibres.”
The woman next appears in the small burial ground behind Eel Marsh House in ‘Across The Causeway’. Kipps became “suddenly conscious of the extreme bleakness and eeriness of the” burial ground. This gives the impression that even before he sees the woman, Arthur is aware of the evil atmosphere that she brings with her. Hill uses the presentation of the unsettling setting and atmosphere in the burial ground, to show that her presence is overwhelming and she is a malignant character.
Hill then goes on to describe the woman as one with a “pallor not of flesh so much as bone itself”. This shows that, similar to his feeling at the funeral, Kipps still pities the woman. However, this emotion alters virtually instantly. He notices her expression of “yearning malevolence.” She looked as though “she was searching for something she wanted, needed-must have. “ Here, Hill presents the malevolent side to the woman, unlike at the funeral, where Kipps sees the woman as a pathetic figure.
She uses an immediate contrast between the way Kipps felt previously and the feelings he felt towards the woman in the burial ground, the pity to sheer horror in a matter of sentences. This is effective because it changes the feel of the novel and it also links to the hellish setting of London in ‘A London Particular.’ This same facial expression caused not only Arthur’s mind but also his body, to become “possessed” and out of control. He had “become paralysed” by her aura. Hill uses the deep description about how Kipps is feeling as a strong way to create an ominous atmosphere.
In ‘In The Nursery’, Kipps was lulled into a false sense of security before he entered the child’s play room. He heard “the noise within the room” “that meant comfort and safety”: ‘the sound of the wooden runners of” a rocking chair. Hill uses the softness and sweetness of Arthur’s memory to contradict the fear and shock he feels when he sees the nursery in shambles. The great difference between these two moods makes the obliteration of the nursery and the woman’s revenge more powerful and impactful.
Susan Hill also presents the woman by using the weather to foreshadow how she acts in the following chapter. The wildness, violence, strength and intensity of the woman is shown through the “thick cloud lying low over the marshes”, “stronger wind” and “raw coldness”.
The woman’s “yearning malevolence” was finally fulfilled in ‘A Packet of Letters’ when she turned the child’s nursery from being “in such good order” to “a state of disarray”. The demolition of the room was described as being “caused by a gang of robbers” which shows that the woman, who was originally portrayed as a frail, “extremely pale” young woman, “suffering from some terrible wasting disease”, had so much anger, such violence and hatred building inside her that she was able to conduct the same amount of destruction as a gang of brutal men, the clothes dragged out of the cupboard “like entrails from a wounded body.
The powerful imagery shows the woman as a vicious murder, “bent on mad, senseless destruction.” She was unable to bear the fact that Nathaniel would never use the nursery again, and she was so bitter that after sixty years had passed, she was still causing havoc.
To conclude, Susan Hill presents the woman in black as the malicious ghost of a young spiteful woman full of hatred and hungry for revenge. She does this using contrast in atmosphere, weather and setting, as well as her appearance and actions throughout the novel. The actions of revenge she takes are ones of pain and suffering for others, she wishes for them to feel the same as she does. Her actions are understandable, but under no circumstances are they forgivable.
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