Down a Dark Hall

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Down a Dark Hall
Cover of the book, showing a girl standing in front of a spirit with a brown mansion in the background
First edition cover
AuthorLois Duncan
CountryUnited States
GenreYoung adult fiction, thriller
PublisherLittle, Brown
Publication date
September 26, 1974
Media typePrint (hardcover & paperback)
Pages181 (first edition, hardcover)
ISBN0-316-19547-2 (first edition, hardcover)
LC ClassPZ7.D9117 Do

Down A Dark Hall is a 1974 young adult novel by Lois Duncan. It is a supernatural/suspense novel and is the only gothic fiction she has written. It tells the story of a girl who was sent to a boarding school by her parents where only four students were admitted including herself.


Kit Gordy is forced to go to a boarding school in Upstate New York named the Blackwood School for Girls. She arrives at her home for the school year with her new stepfather and her mother, who are ready to go on their honeymoon. Madame Duret is in charge of the school, having previously run schools in France and England before moving to the United States to open Blackwood.

The girls at the school begin to discover new talents, which manifest most prominently as they sleep. Lynda, who exhibited no artistic ability before attending the school, begins to paint landscapes on a professional level, signing them "T.C." Ruth finds herself able to practice high-level math and science. Sandy, Kit's closest friend at Blackwood, writes sonnets she says were dictated to her by a woman named Ellis. One night, Kit wakes up at the school's piano playing a piece she has never heard as Jules, Madame Duret's son and Blackwood's music teacher, records her. Kit demands to know what is happening at the school and why the students suddenly possess these new skills. A conference with all the students and teachers is quickly arranged so that Kit and the other students can hear the answers to these questions.

Madame Duret explains that she is using the girls to channel the spirits of talented individuals from the past so that they can carry out the work they could not finish before their death. She confirms Ruth's suspicion that Emily Brontë under her pen name Ellis Bell has been contacting Sandy. Kit also realizes that Lynda must be channeling Thomas Cole, whose painting she saw in Madam Duret's office. Several days later, the girls discover that many of their letters to their friends and family have been withheld from them. Kit and Sandy also determine that if they do not leave Blackwood before Christmas vacation, the psychic bonds will become permanent and they will never be free from the harassment of the dead. In an effort to escape the school, Kit slips a letter to Blackwood's former cook and tells her to get it to Tracy Rosenblum, Kit's best friend.

The lights go out during a thunderstorm one night, so Kit sneaks off to Madame Duret's office to call for help. However, the phone line is dead and Jules quickly finds her in the office after Madame Duret sends him out to search for her. Kit convinces him to access Madam Duret's files so they can see what happened to her previous students. Jules looks through the files and discovers that out of the twenty girls at her previous schools, four died and the rest were sent to mental institutions. He finally agrees to help the girls escape. Jules and Kit confront Madame Duret with their findings as Sandy and Ruth look on. Sandy and Ruth throw work they completed into the fire, angering the spirits and causing a fire that quickly spreads across the house. Once they make it safely outside, they realize that they left Lynda in her bedroom. Kit goes back to save her, while Ruth and Sandy throw rocks at her window to get Lynda's attention. Kit convinces Lynda to jump to safety from outside her locked door, but soon realizes that she is trapped in the burning house. An apparition of Kit's father, who died in a car accident when she was little, leads her out of the house. Tracy's family is waiting outside to take her home, having received her desperate letter.

Background and publication history[edit]

Down a Dark Hall was originally published on September 26, 1974 by Little, Brown and Company in hardcover.[1][2] Duncan began writing the book after an editor, who had never seen a gothic novel aimed at young adults, suggested she try coming up with one.[3] Down a Dark Hall is the only gothic novel that Duncan ever wrote.[4] A challenge that she had while writing the book was creating new descriptions for Blackwood's upstairs hallway each time Kit used it to walk to and from her room. She dealt with this problem by describing Kit's journey across the hall at various times in the day.[3] Duncan modeled Kit after her daughter Kerry.[5]

One version of the novel she submitted to the publisher was returned to her for revision because all of the victims in the story were female while all the spirits the students were channeling were male. The publisher was concerned that feminists would have a problem with this idea, so Duncan changed the spirit of the dead poet from Alan Seeger to Emily Brontë, after which the book was accepted for publication.[6][7] For a scene in the novel which discussed how Madame Duret aged a painting, Duncan consulted her artist friend Betty Sabo, who explained how the process works and reviewed her manuscript to make sure she described it correctly. Down a Dark Hall is dedicated to Betty Sabo and her husband Dan Sabo.[8]

On April 19, 2011, a revised version of the novel was released with changes to modernize the content.[9][10] Down a Dark Hall, along with Stranger with My Face and Summer of Fear, was the second group of 10 novels by Duncan to be updated.[9] Duncan introduced cell phones in the revised edition, which presented a challenge because it meant that characters could just call for help.[8] To explain away the cell phone, Duncan writes in the story that the school had no cell phone service.[11] Duncan also changed the last name of Kit's mother and stepfather from Rheardon to Rolland because she felt that she had overused the surname Rheardon while updating some of her young adult novels.[8] An audiobook version of the novel was released by Listening Library in 1985,[12] and another, narrated by Emma Galvin, was released by Hachette Audio in 2011. A reviewer from AudioFile liked Galvin's narration, stating that she "eerily portrays the sinister school, staff, and faculty, as well as the terror of the students as events become more and more mysterious."[13]


In 1974, staff at the University of Iowa included the book in their Books for Young Adults list, which represents the popular reading choices of the junior and senior high school students they surveyed in Iowa.[14] Gloria Levitas from The New York Times thought Duncan's "off hand treatment of romance allows her to focus on the intelligence and rationality of her heroine." She felt that the "result is highly original; a gothic novel that is more a commentary on the dangers of education than on the perils of unrequited love."[15] A reviewer from Kirkus Reviews stated that Duncan is able to portray frightening ghosts in the story without focusing too much on their distinguishing features.[1]

Film adaptation[edit]

The film was released on August 17, 2018 with a limited release in theaters and a digital release through video-on-demand.[16] It is directed by Rodrigo Cortés and written by Chris Sparling and Michael Goldbach. It stars AnnaSophia Robb as Katherine Gordy and Uma Thurman as Madame Duret.[17]


  1. ^ a b "Down a Dark Hall". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved March 28, 2019.
  2. ^ Gray, John (April 1, 1974). "Down a Dark Hall". Best Sellers. 34 (1): 430. Retrieved May 20, 2019.
  3. ^ a b Duncan, Lois (1979). How to Write and Sell Your Personal Experiences. Writer's Digest Books. pp. 190–192. ISBN 0-911654-74-7.
  4. ^ Duncan, Lois. "Teacher Guides". Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  5. ^ Duncan, Lois (March 1982). Chapters: My Growth as a Writer. Little, Brown and Company. p. 262. ISBN 0-316-19552-9.
  6. ^ Duncan, Lois; Abbott, Megan. "The Deep Bottom Drawer: A Conversation with Lois Duncan". Mulholland Books. Retrieved May 20, 2019.
  7. ^ Duncan, Lois (1979). How to Write and Sell Your Personal Experiences. Writer's Digest Books. p. 182. ISBN 0-911654-74-7.
  8. ^ a b c Duncan, Lois; Han, Jenny (April 2011). "Q&A with the Author". Down a Dark Hall (eBook). Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0-316-13435-4.
  9. ^ a b Lodge, Sally (September 23, 2010). "Lois Duncan Thrillers Get an Update". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved March 28, 2019.
  10. ^ "Down a Dark Hall". Hachette Book Group. Retrieved March 28, 2019.
  11. ^ Ness, Mari (November 20, 2014). "When the Internet Doesn't Work With Your 1970s Plot: Down a Dark Hall". Retrieved May 20, 2019.
  12. ^ Telgen, Diane, ed. (1994). "DUNCAN, Lois 1934- (Lois Kerry)". Something About the Author. 75: 50. ISBN 0-8103-2285-4.
  13. ^ "Down a Dark Hall". AudioFile. August 2011. Retrieved May 20, 2019.
  14. ^ Carlsen, G. Robert; Manna, Tony; Yoder, Jan (January 1976). "1975 BYA Book Poll". The English Journal. 65 (1): 95.
  15. ^ Levitas, Gloria (November 10, 1974). "Haunts And Hunts". The New York Times. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  16. ^ "Down a Dark Hall". Lionsgate. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  17. ^ McNary, Dave (October 7, 2016). "AnnaSophia Robb to Star in Supernatural Drama 'Down a Dark Hall' From Stephenie Meyer". Variety. Retrieved October 18, 2016.