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The Woman in Black

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The Woman in Black
First edition
AuthorSusan Hill
Cover artistJohn Lawrence[1]
GenreGhost story, horror novel
PublisherHamish Hamilton
Publication date
10 October 1983
Publication placeUnited Kingdom
Followed byThe Woman in Black: Angel of Death 

The Woman in Black is a 1983 gothic horror novel by English writer Susan Hill, about a mysterious spectre that haunts a small English town. A television film based on it, also called The Woman in Black, was produced in 1989, with a screenplay by Nigel Kneale. In 2012, another film adaption was released starring Daniel Radcliffe.

The book has also been adapted into a stage play by Stephen Mallatratt. The original London production ran 13,232 performances and is the second longest-running play in the history of the West End, after The Mousetrap.



The novel is narrated by Arthur Kipps, who formerly worked for Mr. Bentley. One Christmas Eve he is at home with his second wife Esme and four stepchildren who are sharing ghost stories. When he is asked to tell a story, he becomes irritated, leaves the room and decides to write the following horrific experiences from his past in the hope that doing so will exorcise them from his memory.

Many years earlier, whilst still a junior solicitor for Bentley, Kipps is summoned to Crythin Gifford, a small market town on the northeast coast of England, to attend the funeral of Mrs. Alice Drablow and settle her estate. He is reluctant to leave his fiancée, Stella, but eager to get away from the dreary London fog. The late Mrs. Drablow was an elderly, reclusive widow who lived alone in the desolate and secluded Eel Marsh House. On his train ride there, he meets Samuel Daily, a wealthy landowner.

At the funeral, Kipps sees a woman dressed in black and with a pale face and dark eyes, whom a group of children are silently watching.

When a local coachman takes Kipps to the house, he learns that it is situated on Nine Lives Causeway. At high tide, it is completely cut off from the mainland, surrounded only by marshes and sea frets.

Over the next several days, as Kipps sorts through Mrs. Drablow's papers at Eel Marsh House, he endures an increasingly terrifying sequence of unexplained noises, chilling events and appearances by the Woman in Black. In one of these instances, he hears the sound of a horse and carriage in distress, 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 are reluctant to reveal information about Mrs. Drablow and the mysterious woman in black. Any attempts Kipps makes to learn more causes pained and fearful reactions. From various sources, he learns that Mrs. Drablow's sister, Jennet Humfrye, gave birth to a child, Nathaniel. Because she was unmarried, she was forced to give the child to her sister. Mrs. Drablow and her husband adopted the boy, and insisted that he should never know that Jennet was his mother. Jennet went away for a year. When realising she could not be parted for long from her son, she made an agreement to stay at Eel Marsh House with him as long as she never revealed her true identity to him. She secretly planned to abscond from the house with her son. One day, a pony and trap carrying the boy across the causeway became lost and sank into the marshes, killing all aboard, while Jennet looked on helplessly from the window. The child's screams that Kipps heard were those of Nathaniel's ghost.

After Jennet died, she returned to haunt Eel Marsh House and the town of Crythin Gifford, as the malevolent Woman in Black. According to local tales, a sighting of the Woman in Black presaged the death of a child.

After some time (but still years before the beginning of the story), Kipps returns to London, marries Stella, has a child of his own, and tries to put the events at Crythin Gifford behind him. At a fair, while his wife and child are enjoying a pony and trap ride, Kipps sees the Woman in Black. She steps out in front of the horse and startles it, causing it to bolt and wreck the carriage against a tree, killing the child instantly and critically injuring Stella, who dies ten months later.

Kipps finishes his reminiscence with the words, "They have asked for my story. I have told it. Enough."

Stage play


The play of The Woman in Black was adapted by Stephen Mallatratt in December 1987 and started off as a low budget production for the new Christmas play in Scarborough. It turned out to be so successful that it arrived in London's West End 13 months later in January 1989, taking up residence at the London Fortune Theatre on 7 June that same year. It is currently the second longest-running play in the West End.[2] For the 30th Anniversary year the West End cast from May 2018-March 2019 was Richard Hope as Arthur Kipps and Mark Hawkins as the Actor, then from 19 March 2019 Stuart Fox with Matthew Spencer. As of November 2022, Julian Forsyth now plays Arthur Kipps with Matthew Spencer still playing the Actor.[3] Mallatratt's version sees Arthur rehearsing with an actor in an attempt to perform the story to family and friends, which allows him to relive the haunting of Eel Marsh House as a play within a play.

Radio, television, and film adaptations


Inclusion in the National Curriculum for the United Kingdom

Front cover of the 2016 paperback edition, used in British schools. Published by Vintage books. Designed by Jamie Clarke
Front cover of the 2016 paperback edition, used in British schools.[8] Published by Vintage books. Designed by Jamie Clarke

The Woman in Black is commonly used as a set text in British schools[9] as part of the National Curriculum for English. The book is recommended for Key Stage 3 and above with the paperback edition most frequently used by students. [8] The novel is the subject of GCSE English Literature questions from the Edexel and Eduqas examination boards.[10]



A sequel to the book, The Woman in Black: Angel of Death, written by Martyn Waites, was first published in the United Kingdom on 24 October 2013, and in the United States on 12 February 2014. It was made into the 2015 film The Woman in Black: Angel of Death.[11]


  1. ^ "Blackwell Books Online". Rarebooks.blackwell.co.uk. Archived from the original on 30 March 2012. Retrieved 1 July 2012.
  2. ^ Kattelman, Beth. "Still Scary after All These Years: Gothic Tropes and Theatricality in THE WOMAN IN BLACK." in FRIGHTFUL WITNESSING: THE RHETORIC AND REPRESENTATION OF FEAR, HORROR, AND TERROR. ed. Beth A. Kattelman and Magdalena Hodalska. Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2014: 37.
  3. ^ "The Woman in Black -".
  4. ^ "Why I love... The Woman in Black". British Film Institute. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  5. ^ "The Woman In Black: why did Britain's scariest horror film disappear?". The Guardian. 7 August 2020. Retrieved 7 August 2020.
  6. ^ "Woman in Black, The [drama]". Radiolistings.co.uk. 24 January 2012. Retrieved 1 July 2012.
  7. ^ "The Woman In Black, review". The Telegraph. 9 February 2012. Retrieved 17 January 2024.
  8. ^ a b "Year 8 recommended reading list for children aged 12-13". The School Reading List. Archived from the original on 1 September 2023. Retrieved 1 September 2023.
  9. ^ Mullan, John (24 February 2012). "The Woman in Black by Susan Hill". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 1 September 2023.
  10. ^ "BBC Bitesize, The Woman in Black, Search results". BBc Bitesize. Archived from the original on 1 September 2023. Retrieved 1 September 2023.
  11. ^ Nardone, Jamie-Lee (18 February 2013). "Martyn Waites Interview: The Woman in Black: Angel of Death". Den of Geek. Retrieved 18 October 2014.