The Woman in Black

by

Susan Hill

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The Woman in Black: Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Arthur feels a bright light boring through his eyes, straight to his brain. The light disappears, and he opens his eyes; he is propped up on the couch in the parlor, and Samuel Daily’s concerned face is looming over him. Arthur sits up, but the room spins, and he is forced to lie back down. He remembers the events of the morning; chasing Spider across the marsh, struggling to free her, and at last spying the woman in black at the nursery window.
Arthur has survived his hellish morning, and though he is certainly worse for wear, he at last has company at Eel Marsh House. Samuel Daily has proven himself a true friend and, apart from Arthur, the bravest resident of Crythin Gifford by coming out the Marsh to rescue Arthur.
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Samuel Daily hands Arthur a glass of water and confesses that he was so worried about Arthur he could not rest, and drove his own pony trap out to check up on him. Arthur is relieved that the sound of the pony trap he heard coming down the causeway was real after all. Arthur is grateful, and Daily tells him to rest a bit—once he is feeling better, he should gather his things and prepare to leave. Daily insists that he will not leave Arthur alone in the house even a moment longer.
Arthur had been so traumatized by the awful sound of the ghostly pony trap accident that when he heard the approach of hooves, he resigned himself to believing that the loop had begun repeating himself, and that he would be doomed to re-experience it again and again forever. The symbol of the pony trap as a bridge between worlds works both ways—in this case, Samuel brought “reality” across the causeway to disrupt the hauntings at Eel Marsh House, if only for a moment, and save Arthur.
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Arthur lies back on the sofa and wishes he could uncover the reason behind the terrible ghostly hauntings he has encountered at Eel Marsh House; more than that, he wishes he could understand how the hatred, malevolence, grief, and despair of someone else could so easily enter his own soul. Arthur does not want to leave the mystery unexplained—especially because he knows that at some point, some other poor soul will have to come back to the house and finish the work Arthur could not.
Arthur feels a mix of stubborn resistance and deep guilt over leaving Eel Marsh House with his job still incomplete. He does not want the cycle of terror and violence to be thrust upon some other poor soul—nor does he want to flee back to London with nothing to show for all he has endured, and with no guarantee that anyone outside of Crythin Gifford will even believe him.
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Arthur stands and begins walking around the room in an attempt to get his bearings. He confesses to Samuel Daily that he is grateful to leave the house and all the papers within it behind—though he does, for the sake of his own curiosity, wish to bring the packet of letters he was looking over the previous night along with him. With that, Daily goes through the downstairs, shutting up the windows and putting out the lamps and fires; Arthur retrieves the packet of letters and his few belongings from upstairs, no longer afraid now that he knows he is leaving Eel Marsh House. Though he is uncertain of whether he will ever return, he knows at least one thing—he will not come back here alone.
Arthur, despite his twinge of reluctance, prepares to leave Eel Marsh House. Samuel Daily’s quick and efficient shutting up of the house shows that he is in fact fairly desperate to leave the house quickly, whereas Arthur, it seems, still wouldn’t mind tempting fate and lingering a bit longer.
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Arthur packs his belongings and leaves the bedroom—but before heading back downstairs, he cannot resist looking back down the passageway to the nursery, where the door is ajar. Reassured by Samuel Daily’s presence downstairs, Arthur peers inside. The room is in a state of disarray “as might have been caused by a gang of robbers, bent on mad, senseless destruction.” The bedclothes have been disturbed, the toys have been thrown about, and the clothes have been dragged from their drawers. The rocking chair, which was once in the corner, is now at the very center of the room.
Arthur, for all the trauma he has suffered in the last few days, cannot resist one last chance to confirm that all the things that have been happening to him are in fact real. The destruction of the nursery—and the open door beckoning him to bear witness to the chaos within—signal the woman in black’s fury at having failed to beat Arthur. The rocking chair is placed defiantly in the middle of the room as if to symbolize the way in which his time at Eel Marsh House will come to centrally occupy Arthur’s own life.
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Arthur climbs up into Samuel Daily’s pony trap, and Daily sets Spider on Arthur’s lap. As they move across the causeway, Arthur sits very still, as if in a trance. He looks back only once at Eel Marsh House, and does not see the woman in black in the nursery window. He faces front again, turning his eyes away from the house for what he “fervently pray[s]” is the very last time.
For all his curiosity, his final viewing of the interior of the nursery has rattled Arthur deeply, as evidenced by his desire to turn away from Eel Marsh House and never look back.
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Back at the Daily house, Arthur finds that a large room has been prepared for him. Samuel Daily helps Arthur to bed and lets him sleep for the rest of the morning. Spider is bathed and groomed and sent up to Arthur’s room to keep him company. Arthur rests, but cannot sleep; he is too disturbed by all that has befallen him. He writes a “guarded” letter to Mr. Bentley and a more detailed one to Stella, informing them of what has happened to him, though he does not reveal the full extent of his distress to either.
Even though Arthur is now safe at the Dailys’ expansive, comfortable home, he remains rattled and unsettled. His letters to his familiars in London, however, are purposefully restrained; perhaps Arthur is afraid of being disbelieved, or perhaps he simply doesn’t want to traumatize his boss and his fiancée in the way he himself has been.
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At lunch, The Dailys are attentive and kind to Arthur, and insist that he stay with them a day or two longer and recover before returning to London. Arthur now feels no shame about leaving his job unfinished; when a man is physically threatened, he believes, to flee is cowardice, but when the supernatural threatens his very soul and sanity, retreat is “the most prudent course” by far. Though he is unashamed, Arthur does feel angry that his arrogance and confidence were proven wrong, and that whatever malevolent force haunts Eel Marsh House has bested him.
Though Arthur was reluctant to leave Eel Marsh House behind even after spotting the woman in black in the nursery window, his final encounter with her spirit in the nursery seems to have rattled him out of the illusion that leaving the job behind entirely was in any way shameful.
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After lunch, Arthur returns to the packet of letters and begins sorting through them. He attempts to deduce who Jennet was—he realizes she must have been a blood relative of Mrs. Drablow, as evidenced by her surrender of her own child to the woman, and was likely even Alice’s sister. As Arthur reads Jennet’s letters again, he feels deeply sorry for her. After rereading them, he turns to the rest of the papers in the packet—they are three death certificates. The first is of the boy, Nathaniel Drablow, who died at six years old of drowning. The next, bearing exactly the same date, belongs to a woman named Rose Judd—the Drablows’ nurse.
As a fuller portrait of the story told by the letters begins to emerge, Arthur comes face to face with the complete truth of the nightmare he has just experienced. As the truth washes over him, all of the ghostly horrors and lingering trauma and grief he encountered at Eel Marsh House start to make sense—but whether this will calm or further agitate Arthur remains to be seen.
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Arthur feels a sickening sensation rise up from his stomach, and yet forces himself to look at the last death certificate. It belongs to Jennet Humfrye, who died a spinster at age thirty-six of “heart failure.” Agitated, Arthur calls for Spider and goes out to take a long turn outdoors. As he walks, he concentrates on the papers he has just read, and the story they illuminate. He now understands that the pony trap carrying Nathaniel and his nursemaid had somehow veered off into the marsh and been swallowed up. Now, on the marshes, the chilling event repeats itself again and again.
Arthur is so overwhelmed by the information the death certificates reveal that he is forced to take a walk to soothe his spirit. As the full realization of the horrors that haunt Eel Marsh House crashes over him, he comes to understand that the property is a veritable vortex of anguish and trauma that drives any who approach it mad by sucking them into its depths—much like the marsh, a force of nature which has claimed so many lives.
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Jennet, the boy’s mother, Arthur realizes, must have died of a wasting disease twelve years later. The child’s memory was preserved in the nursery, and Jennet, in death, began haunting the room, distilling the full intensity of her grief, hatred, and desire for revenge within it. Arthur remains troubled by the force of the ghost’s emotions, and determines to relay the full story to Samuel Daily after dinner.
Though Arthur now understands the mechanics of Jennet’s story, the overwhelming power of her emotions—her anguish and malevolence—still deeply unsettle and unnerve him.
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Back in the study after supper, Arthur finishes illuminating the tale of Eel Marsh House to Samuel Daily. He confesses that though it has been just a few days since he arrived in Crythin Gifford, he feels like “another man.” Daily admits that Arthur has been through some rough seas, and Arthur expresses his relief to be “in the calm after the storm.” Daily’s face, however, is still troubled.
Arthur brings his story to his friend Mr. Daily at least half-hoping that Daily will share in his relief at having figured the mystery out. Daily, however, is still uneasy—and Arthur realizes with creeping dread that perhaps there is still more to be ascertained.
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Arthur feels that Samuel Daily is holding something more back—perhaps more information about the house and the Drablow family. Arthur pressures Daily to tell him the full truth, and Daily says sadly that though Arthur gets to return to London tomorrow and leave the whole thing behind, the town of Crythin Gifford has to live with “whatever will surely follow.” For fifty years, many denizens of the town—including Jerome and Keckwick—have suffered the curse of Eel Marsh House.
Daily is not exactly holding information back on purpose—he is rather sadly reflecting on the fact that though Arthur gets to solve the mystery and go home (perhaps, he thinks, like a hero in a novel,) the residents of Crythin Gifford must continue to live in fear of the woman in black’s wrath.
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Samuel Daily reveals that after giving her child to her sister, Jennet became inconsolable. She took up residence in Crythin Gifford, away from the house, and begged her sister to have contact with young Nathaniel. Alice Drablow eventually consented after Jennet threatened violence against their family. As Jennet visited with the boy more and more over the years, he developed an attachment to her, and Jennet planned to take him away; before she could do so, though, Keckwick—the family’s driver—steered his pony trap carrying Nathaniel and the boy’s nursemaid into the marsh during a sudden fog. Jennet watched the whole incident from an upper window. Only Keckwick survived.
Jennet’s violence and malevolence is rooted in her obsession with securing her connection to her child after being forcibly isolated from him, and the emotional toll this took on her. Her already suspicious and unstable mental state was tipped into madness when she witnessed the death of her child, causing her an even greater trauma and sense of isolation than she had ever known. Keckwick’s role in the ordeal explains his stoic air and his willingness to approach Eel Marsh House—he has conquered it before, and knows clearly what lies within it.
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After the bodies were recovered, Jennet began to go mad. On top of her mental instability, she suffered physically, and developed a disease that caused her to waste away. When she walked through the streets of town, she terrified young children, and eventually died “in hatred and misery.” Since her death, the town has been plagued by hauntings. Arthur speculates that now that Mrs. Drablow, the object of Jennet’s hatred, is dead, the hauntings will cease. Samuel Daily, however, continues on with his story.
In a cruel twist of fate, Jennet—who only ever seemed to love and crave the returned love of children—became frightening and odious to them as she grew sicker and sicker, and this perhaps explains her continued preoccupation with the nursery—and the dark, horrifying curse that Daily is about to reveal.
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Wherever the woman in black has been seen, Samuel Daily says, there has been “one sure and certain result”—after a sighting, a child in town has always died in some “violent or dreadful circumstance,” often in an accident or an illness. Mr. Jerome’s own child, Daily reveals, was a victim of the woman in black. Arthur wonders whether the deaths are a coincidence, but Mr. Daily says he holds no doubts that the woman in black causes them. Arthur, seeing Samuel’s assurance, says he believes him, and the two sit in silence.
Jennet has chosen to take her revenge on the world that treated her so cruelly by harming children. She could never have children in life—so she collects them, as victims, in death.
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Arthur goes up to bed, ready to return to London in the morning. All night, though, he suffers turbulent nightmares and awful sweats; when he wakes up, he is nauseated and feverish, and becomes confined to bed for several days. The delirium passes by the end of the week, and though Arthur is left exhausted and weak, he begins returning to himself. The worst part of the illness, he remembers now, was not the physical torment, but the psychological distress—he felt as he lay in his sickbed that the woman in black was haunting him even there, and his ears constantly rang with the sounds of Nathaniel’s cries as he drowned.
Arthur’s fragile state, exacerbated by the new horrors revealed to him by Samuel Daily, gives way to a horrible illness. As Arthur takes to bed, it as if the fever he experiences is a culmination of all the terror he faced at Eel Marsh House—or perhaps as if the woman in black is still finding ways to threaten Arthur’s life.
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After twelve days, Arthur has recovered completely. As he sits one day in a chair after lunch near the drawing room window, he watches a robin on a stone urn outside, and delights in the quiet, ordinary nature of the moment. He hears voices at the front of the house, and then footsteps—someone calls his name and he turns, delighted to see his dear fiancée, Stella.
At last, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Arthur’s ordeal is over, and he is reunited with Stella—a beacon of stability, normalcy, and the life awaiting Arthur back in London.
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