The Woman in Black
|Cover artist||John Lawrence|
|Genre||Ghost story, Horror novel|
|10 October 1983|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
The Woman in Black is a 1983 horror novella by Susan Hill, written in the style of a traditional Gothic novel. The plot concerns a mysterious spectre that haunts a small English town, heralding the death of children. A television film based on the story, also called The Woman in Black, was produced in 1989, with a screenplay by Nigel Kneale. In 2012, a film adaptation of the same name was released, starring Daniel Radcliffe.
The story begins with Arthur Kipps, a now retired solicitor formerly working for and replacing a Mr Bentley, in his house with his wife Esme and four stepchildren, who begin telling ghost stories. However, when he is asked, he becomes irritated and leaves the room, and begins to write of his experiences several years before.
Many years earlier, whilst still a junior solicitor for Bentley, Kipps was summoned to Crythin Gifford, a small market town on the north east coast of the United Kingdom, to attend the funeral of Mrs. Alice Drablow. Kipps is initially reluctant to leave his fianceé Stella, but is eager to leave the London smog. The late Drablow was an elderly and reclusive widow who lived alone in the desolate and secluded Eel Marsh House.
The house is situated on Nine Lives Causeway. At high tide, it is completely cut off from the mainland, surrounded only by marshes and sea frets. Kipps soon realizes there is more to Alice Drablow than he originally thought. At the funeral, he sees a woman dressed in black and with a pale face and dark eyes, which a group of children are silently watching. Over the course of several days, while sorting through Mrs Drablow's papers at Eel Marsh House, he endured an increasingly terrifying sequence of unexplained noises, chilling events and hauntings by the Woman in Black. In one of these instances, he heard the sound of a horse and carriage in distress, closely followed by the screams of a young child and his maid, coming from the direction of the marshes.
Most of the people in Crythin Gifford were reluctant to reveal information about Mrs Drablow and the mysterious Woman in Black. Any attempts by Kipps to find out the truth caused pained and fearful reactions. From various sources, Kipps learned that Mrs Drablow's sister, Jennet Humfrye, gave birth to a child, but because she was unmarried, she was forced to give the child to her sister. Mrs Drablow and her husband adopted the boy, called Nathaniel, insisting that he should never know that Jennet was his mother. The child's screams that Kipps heard were those of Nathaniel.
Jennet went away for a year; however, after realizing she could not be parted for long from her son, she made an agreement to be able to stay at Eel Marsh House with him as long as she never revealed her true identity to him. One day, a horse and carriage carrying the boy across the causeway became lost and sank into the marshes, killing all aboard, while Jennet looked on helplessly from the window of Eel Marsh House. This was particularly distressing for Jennet as she had become close to her son and was planning to run away and take him with her.
Jennet later died and returned to haunt Eel Marsh House, as well as the town of Crythin Gifford, with a vengeful malevolence, as the Woman in Black. According to local tales, seeing the Woman in Black meant that the death of a child would be sure to follow.
After some time, Kipps returned to London where he married Stella, has a child of his own and tried to put the events at Crythin Gifford behind him. At a fair, while his wife and child were enjoying a horse and carriage ride, Kipps suddenly saw the Woman in Black once more. She stepped out in front of the pony pulling the trap and startled it so greatly that it galloped away and collided with a tree, killing the child and fatally injuring Stella, who died of her injuries ten months later. This is the Woman in Black's vengeance. The book ends with the words "They have asked for my story. I have told it. Enough."
The book was adapted into a play by Stephen Mallatratt. In this version, an older Kipps persuades a young actor to help him tell the story of the 'Woman in Black', hoping that this will help him to move on from those events and exorcise the ghost. The actor plays the part of the young Arthur Kipps while Kipps plays the roles of the people he met. The play adds the twist that the actress playing the Woman in Black in the recreation of the events is the real Woman in Black.
The play is staged at the Fortune Theatre in Covent Garden and has been running since its opening in 1989. The play has had an enormous success on the London stage, as well as many other countries around the world.
Radio, television, and film adaptations
- In 1989, the story was adapted for television by Nigel Kneale for Britain's ITV network and directed by Herbert Wise. The production starred Adrian Rawlins as Arthur Kidd (not Kipps), Bernard Hepton as Sam Toovey (not Sam Daily) and Pauline Moran as The Woman in Black.
- In December 1993, BBC Radio 5 broadcast a four-part adaptation of the novel. It starred Robert Glenister (as young Arthur Kipps) and John Woodvine (as an old Arthur Kipps, who also narrates parts of the story). It was directed by Chris Wallis.
- In October 2004, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a 56-minute version in its Saturday Play slot, adapted by Mike Walker. It starred James D'Arcy as Arthur Kipps, was directed by John Taylor and was a Fiction Factory production.
- In February 2012, a new film adaptation was released, starring Daniel Radcliffe in the role of Arthur Kipps, and directed by James Watkins of Eden Lake fame. It is a separate adaptation of the novel, not a remake of the 1989 film, and develops a storyline quite different from that of the source material.
(Arthur Kipps is also the name of the eponymous hero in Kipps by H. G. Wells).
- Stage play website
- Susan Hill official site
- The Woman in Black official movie website
- Official UK movie website
- The Woman in Black at the Internet Movie Database