Brief Biography of Susan Hill
Susan Hill was born and raised in the northeast of England—a location that is integral to many of her novels and works of nonfiction, including her most famous novel, The Woman in Black. Hill’s novels—though occasionally set in the modern present—are overwhelmingly concerned with Gothic sensibilities and narrative traditions. Many of Hill’s novels feature strange, old, and even haunted houses, and examine themes and motifs of claustrophobia, dread, and the desire for escape from one’s circumstances. Hill has also written a series of crime novels that marry her Gothic sensibilities with a contemporary take on violence and mystery. In 2012, Hill was awarded a CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth for her contributions to British literature.
Historical Context of The Woman in Black
Though Susan Hill intentionally never provides readers with a firm date for the events contained within the pages of The Woman in Black, it seems likely that the frame story is set roughly in the 1920s, with the main action (the young Arthur Kipps’s journey to Crythin Gifford and Eel Marsh House) transpiring sometime in the first decade of the 1900s. Though some characters, such as the wealthy Mr. Samuel Daily, are in possession of automobiles, horses and carriages, it seems that full modernization has not yet come to the countryside. Arthur brings a torch light to Eel Marsh House, but when it breaks, there are only candles left to light his way. This intersection of the “modern” and the antiquated provides the novel with a good deal of tension, and highlights the deeply isolated nature of Mrs. Drablow and her sister Jennet’s existence. The Edwardian era—the period of King Edward’s brief reign from 1901-1910 in the wake of Queen Victoria’s death—would have been in full swing during the events of The Woman in Black. The early years of Edwardian era were peaceful and relatively uncomplicated, though political unrest was simmering below the surface of the “golden age” in the years before the First World War broke out in 1914.
Other Books Related to The Woman in Black
As a love letter of sorts to the Gothic horror novel, The Woman in Black
is chock-full of references both overt and more subtle to other staples of the genre. The arrival of a naïve young solicitor to a haunted and even dangerous mansion is a trope employed most famously in Bram Stoker’s Dracula
, while hauntings, possessions, and family curses permeate the atmosphere of Victorian-era novels such as Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray
and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
, as well as more contemporary takes on the genre such as Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House
and We Have Always Lived in the Castle
and Anastasia Blackwell’s The House on Black Lake
Key Facts about The Woman in Black
Full Title: The Woman in Black
When Written: Early 1980s
Where Written: England
When Published: 1983
Literary Period: Contemporary
Genre: Fiction, horror, mystery, historical fiction
Setting: The fictional town of Crythin Gifford, in Northeast England
Climax: A local man named Samuel Daily narrowly rescues Arthur Kipps from the woman in black—the malevolent spirit that haunts Eel Marsh House and is now bent on Kipps’ destruction.
Antagonist: The woman in black (Jennet Humfrye)
Point of View: First person retrospective
Extra Credit for The Woman in Black