The Woman in Black

by

Susan Hill

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The Woman in Black: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Samuel Daily takes Arthur to the Gifford Arms in his shining, spacious car. As he drops Arthur off, Samuel hands him his card; though Arthur doubts he will need it during his brief stay, he tucks it into his pocket. Inside the inn, Arthur is pleased to find that it is warm and inviting. He feels as if he is on a holiday, not in town to attend a funeral for business. Arthur drinks a glass of mulled wine and enjoys supper by the fire; after eating, Arthur prepares to head up to bed. The landlord, clearing away Arthur’s dishes, asks if Arthur is in town for the auction. When Arthur asks him to clarify what he means, he informs Arthur that tomorrow at eleven, several farms south of town are being auctioned off—afterward, there is a great luncheon and an open market.
Arthur is quite enjoying himself in the little town of Crythin Gifford, despite the uneasy train journey and the odd feeling he got towards the end of it when talking to Samuel Daily about the late Mrs. Drablow. The idea that there is a lively community here, and several events going on in the next days, bolsters Arthur’s sense of security and excitement.
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Arthur tells the landlord that he regretfully won’t be able to attend the auction or the market—he is attending the funeral of Mrs. Drablow of Eel Marsh House. At the mention of the woman’s name, Arthur sees something like alarm or suspicion flash across the landlord’s face. Arthur tells the landlord he’s just Mrs. Drablow’s solicitor, and has heard she kept very much to herself. The landlord remarks that living where she lived, “she could hardly do otherwise.” The landlord bids Arthur goodnight.
The landlord’s reaction to Arthur’s mention of Mrs. Drablow’s name is similar to Samuel Daily’s. Both seem to have a certain wariness about them where Mrs. Drablow is concerned, and both note her extreme isolation out at Eel Marsh House.
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Arthur chalks up the landlord’s odd behavior to the claustrophobic nature of local “silliness” and small-town rumors grown out of proportion. Any “poor old woman,” Arthur thinks, would have a hard time in this dreary town being seen as anything other than a witchy character. Despite his attempts to reassure himself, Arthur senses that because the landlord and Mr. Daily both reacted oddly to the mention of Mrs. Drablow, there must be “some significance” in what each man left unsaid at the sound of her name.
Despite having solicited two odd reactions when describing his connection to Mrs. Drablow, Arthur chooses to see things in the unserious light in which he originally saw them, back in Mr. Bentley’s office. Nevertheless, he cannot shake the feeling that the two men’s odd reactions are connected, and that perhaps there is indeed something strange about Mrs. Drablow and her manor.
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After a cozy and warm night’s sleep, Arthur leaps from bed the next morning, ready to greet the day. Had he known, he says now, that that night was to be his last untroubled night for a long while, he might not have jumped out of bed so soon or been so eager to get to the funeral. Even now, safe with his family at Monk’s Piece, Arthur knows deep down that he has never in his life slept as soundly as he did that night at the Gifford Arms. Soon after, he says, his innocence was “lost forever.”
The older Arthur’s editorial interjection in this passage demonstrates that he laments the loss of his innocence greatly, and sees this as the last truly pure, happy moment he ever had. Such an idea is quite bleak, but gives his audience an idea of just how traumatizing an ordeal he is in for.
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Arthur eats breakfast and sets out to explore the town of Crythin Gifford. It is a beautiful day, and Arthur finds the town quite cheerful—though when he heads away from the central square, he is surprised by how small the town is and how flat and quiet the surrounding open country. Arthur realizes that the town must be quite dreary in inclement weather, but as he believes he is only staying for a day or two, he feels quite comfortable as he takes it all in.
Arthur sees the town as a strange, intriguing, and slightly amusing oddity. He seems grateful to only be here for a short while, and disdainful of daily life here—little does he know that this town will come to figure in his consciousness very greatly.
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Arthur returns to the inn to find a note from Mr. Jerome—the man Mr. Bentley arranged to be Arthur’s companion at the funeral and guide in Crythin Gifford—stating that he will collect Arthur at ten-forty and bring him to the funeral. At the appointed time, Mr. Jerome arrives, and as the two make their way through the streets towards the funeral, Arthur observes the man. Mr. Jerome is short and middle-aged, blandly formal and “shuttered,” though courteous and conversational.
Mr. Jerome, like Daily and the landlord, seems to be closed-off in a noticeable way. There is something odd about this town indeed—Arthur just hasn’t been able to put his finger on what it is quite yet. With each new character Arthur meets, Susan Hill deepens the story’s sense of creeping dread.
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As the men approach the church, Arthur asks if Mrs. Drablow is to be buried in the churchyard or a family plot. Mr. Jerome is silent for a moment, and then admits that though there is a family grave, it is not in the churchyard—and is “unsuitable” for present use, anyway. The men are the first to arrive at the church, and wait solemnly for the funeral car—Arthur resisting all the while the urge to ask more about the Drablow family and their mysterious burial ground.
Mr. Jerome clearly does not want to discuss Mrs. Drablow, her family, or her estate—Arthur notes the man’s touchiness, but still burns with questions about the odd woman’s life and the dark cloud that seems to surround any mention of her.
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The funeral is melancholy, and Arthur finds himself “inexpressibly sad.” Towards the end of the funeral, Arthur hears a rustling behind him. He turns and catches a glimpse of a woman dressed head-to-toe in black. Arthur notes that her elaborate mourning garb has “rather gone out of fashion.” Arthur cannot see the woman’s face clearly due to her bonnet-style hat, but senses that she is suffering a “terrible wasting disease,” as she is very pale, with sunken eyes. Arthur has heard of conditions which waste one away, but is surprised to see that despite the woman’s frailty she does not look very old—perhaps thirty years of age. As the services conclude, the woman slips out to the churchyard, and leans against a headstone near Mrs. Drablow’s open grave.
Arthur feels sad for the titular woman in black rather than horrified. Rational and unassuming, Arthur chalks up her horrific appearance to illness, and attributes the sense of emptiness and dread beyond words he feels during the service—and in the woman’s close proximity—to sadness at the idea of someone’s life ending. The woman is clearly a ghostly or at least uncanny presence, but Arthur does not seem to realize this yet.
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Arthur, Jerome, and the rest of the gathered mourners join the woman in black at the graveside, and Arthur finds he cannot look away from the woman, who, despite her current affliction, bears “some lingering hint of a not inconsiderable former beauty.” As Mrs. Drablow’s coffin is lowered into the ground, Arthur bends his head and shuts his eyes in a brief prayer. When he looks up again, the service is over, and the sick-looking woman is nowhere to be seen.
Arthur is studying the woman very closely—and so it is odd when he does not even notice her slipping away during the service. Something is strange about this woman, and yet Arthur continues to justify the odd, uncanny nature of both her looks and her presence.
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While talking with the other mourners at the church gate, a strange sight catches Arthur’s eye. There is a school next to the church and, lined up along the iron railing which separates the church from the school, are twenty or so children standing silent and motionless, presumably having watched the entire outdoor portion of the service. Arthur attempts to smile at one of the children, but the boy does not smile back.
The children in the schoolyard next door deepen the sense of dread and terror—clearly, the children have seen the woman, too, and are transfixed and mortified by her. Again, Arthur comes up with a rational explanation, believing they have simply been struck by watching the funerary services.
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As Mr. Jerome and Arthur depart the churchyard, Arthur remarks that he hopes the “dreadfully unwell” woman in black from the service can find her way home all right. Mr. Jerome frowns, uncertain of whom Arthur is talking about. Arthur asks Jerome if he saw the wan-looking woman in the tall bonnet, but Mr. Jerome is silent, and actually turns pale. Arthur asks Mr. Jerome if he is all right, and Mr. Jerome answers only that he did not see a young woman.
Mr. Jerome’s intense fear in this passage clearly comes from the fact that he knows exactly what Arthur is talking about—without, obviously, having seen the woman at all. The idea that she appeared only to Arthur and the children marks her as a ghostly presence, even if Arthur is not yet ready to admit this.
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Arthur looks over his shoulder, back towards the churchyard; the woman in black is there again, standing at the edge of the grave. Arthur supposes she must have concealed herself until the procession left the yard so that she could be alone at the grave. Arthur wonders fleetingly what connection the two women have, and then points the woman out to Mr. Jerome with his finger. Jerome grabs Arthur’s wrist in a tight grip. Arthur wonders if Jerome is having some kind of seizure, and asks him to release his grip. Mr. Jerome quickly apologizes for his “passing faintness,” and suggests the two walk back towards his own office.
Arthur is spooked by the woman’s sudden reappearance—but, again, chooses to find a way in the depths of his mind to rationalize her odd behavior. Mr. Jerome can barely control his traumatized reactions to any mention of the woman. It is unclear whether he can see her when Arthur points her out, but what is obvious is that he wants to get away from her as soon as possible and prevent Arthur from drawing attention to her—or perhaps drawing attention from her.
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By the time the men get back to town, Arthur notices that Mr. Jerome is looking much better. Arthur asks if Jerome is going to accompany him over to Eel Marsh House, but Jerome declines. He advises Arthur to cross the causeway any time after one o’clock in the afternoon—a man named Keckwick, who has always been the “go-between” to the estate, will come and collect him, and then bring him back to the inn in the evening. Arthur tells Jerome that there is quite a bit of business to attend to at the house, and suggests he might just stay at the house for the sake of convenience; Mr. Jerome “carefully” suggests that Arthur will be more comfortable at the inn. The two men shake hands, and Arthur goes off to the great luncheon.
Though Jerome is feeling better himself, he is still guarded when it comes to talk of Eel Marsh House. He will not tell Arthur what is wrong, but instead cautiously and indirectly suggests Arthur avoid spending any length of time at the manor. Arthur, despite having witnessed Jerome’s intense terror, seems as if he will not exactly heed the man’s advice—though Jerome’s past clearly involves prior experience with the mysterious woman in black.
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The lunch is a joyous, noisy occasion, and though Arthur initially feels out of place in his stuffy funeral garb, the farmers make him feel right at home. One tells Arthur that Samuel Daily purchased a very big parcel of land at the auction earlier—Daily is a large landowner, and is, the farmer implies, disliked throughout town due to this fact. Arthur proudly states that as he is the solicitor looking after the affairs of Mrs. Drablow, he may very well be selling her estate to Daily sometime soon. To this proclamation, the farmer says nothing.
This passage establishes that the farmers, though convivial and friendly, see Samuel Daily as a bigwig and even a little bit of a threat. Arthur, sensing this, attempts to joke about becoming involved in a transaction with Mr. Daily, as he himself is in charge of settling up Eel Marsh House. The joke falls on deaf—or frightened—ears, however, as the farmers barely acknowledge his statement.
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Arthur notices the time, and makes to get up to head back to the inn and change before it is time to head over to Eel Marsh. His neighbor solemnly speaks up and warns him that Arthur will not find anybody in town—not even Samuel Daily—who will have anything to do with Eel Marsh House, or any of Mrs. Drablow’s assorted other properties. Sick of everyone’s “dark mutterings” on the subject of Mrs. Drablow and Eel Marsh, Arthur impatiently asks why that might be. The farmer does not answer, though, and instead turns away.
It is clear from this interaction that something very terrible is preventing everyone in town from openly discussing Eel Marsh House—it is obvious to everyone but Arthur that the house should not even be mentioned, let alone visited, bought, or sold.
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