All stories are ghost stories at heart, even the heartless ones!
(I have now posted another FREE analysis of Susan Hill’s Woman in Black on Tusitala. AND A FREE WOMAN IN BLACK VIDEO OFFERING ESSAY IDEAS BELOW! Click here for more help with your essays on The Woman in Black! )
For Something or Someone returns to haunt the everyday and this ‘thing’ destabilises the reality of the haunted.
‘Reality’ changes shape. Secrets can never lie buried for long.Things crawl back up to the surface, hungry for power and voice-for acknowledgement.
‘You did this to me!’
Like archaeologists, Ghost stories excavate the past, reanimating stories that have not been heard or have been cruelly silenced or that remain tragically, even dangerously unfinished.
‘Things’ demand to be passed on.
Susan Hill reminds us that malignancy may masquerade dangerously as ‘poignant’ stoical suffering…
As Shakespeare once wrote, ‘‘The Prince of Darkness is a gentleman”. ( Or in the case of Susan Hill, a woman)
For the first sighting the narrator has of the woman in black is suffused with his sympathy for this seemingly tragic, suffering figure, a figure who will progressively reveal her malignant desires to harm even the most innocent of all creatures.
Little wonder that the story takes a time to begin for the delay is an indication of the horror that awaits us.
The novel is very much a delayed text.
The storyteller’s initial hesitation to speak of his encounter with the supernatural also seems very much part of the ‘reluctant narrator’ tradition where ghost stories are concerned. (See The Turn of the Screw by Henry James). Reluctance signifies authenticity and an awareness of the horror of resurrecting the past with its unspeakable secrets.
So here we are at the funeral of old Mrs Drablow (formerly of Eel House) . Arthur Kipps the young solicitor and storyteller observes her lonely church service and burial with only one other witness. However he suddenly hears the sound of another apparent mourner.
Notice how he hears the woman in black and note the very feminine way in which her presence is inscribed:
‘However, towards the end of it, and on hearing some slight rustle behind me, I half turned, discreetly, and caught a glimpse of another mourner, a woman, who must have slipped into the church after we of the funeral party had taken our places and who stood several rows behind and quite alone, very erect and still, and not holding a prayer book.’(The Funeral of Mrs Drablow, Penguin p.48)
The storyteller Arthur Kipps, relates his first sighting of the ‘woman in black’ in self conscious, slightly ponderous language, presumably suitable’ for a respectful young solicitor to use at a rich client’s funeral.
See how the clauses are all carefully designated through the use of the comma, giving expression to Kipps as a character.
Yet we realise that as this is a retrospectively narrated text, then the ‘end’ is already known and perhaps the careful formality also conceals his later abject horror about this encounter.
Each moment of the sighting is a carefully described symptom of clue to the underlying malignancy of this dramatic event.
The woman is apparently only capable of causing a ‘slight rustle’ this shows her supposed fragility and feminine vulnerability. She does not appear to be any threat as she has merely ‘slipped into the church.’ Appearances however can be profoundly deceptive!
Kipps is very much the complacent young gentleman too as he acts ‘discreetly’ suggesting his awareness of his role.
But perhaps the reader sense the incongruity surrounding the posture of the woman. She is ‘very erect and still.’ The fragility of the ‘rustle’ seems at odds with the steely resolve of her posture. She is a threat because she is focused and detached, even a phallic woman through the apparently throwaway ‘erect’ stance.
She is a supernatural predator, who lingers and observes before she kills.
The subsequent references to her ‘terrible wasting disease with her ‘eyes sunken back into her head’ and hergeneral appearance as ‘a victim of starvation’ communicate the narrator’s pity for the visitor.
This pity fails to recognise that the ‘signs’ of her disease are signs of her vampiric need for revenge. She is hungry definitely, but not for good health or nurturing relationships.
Her failure to hold a prayer book reveals her deadly desire to harm.
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