The Woman in Black

by

Susan Hill

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The Woman in Black: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Keckwick pulls up outside the Gifford Arms in a shabby pony trap. Arthur was expecting a car and driver, but is equally eager to take a ride in the small buggy. He climbs up in alongside Keckwick and the two make their way out of the square and down the lane leading to the church. As they pass it, Arthur remembers the sick-looking woman in black, but his thoughts drift elsewhere as the journey continues.
Throughout the novel, pony traps indicate travel between worlds—Keckwick’s arrival in a pony trap to take Arthur to Eel Marsh House signifies that the manor is part of a different realm which Arthur cannot—or should not—enter alone.
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Beyond town, Arthur can see hardly anything but the bright clear sky and the “sheer and startling” beauty of the marshes. As the pony trap draws near to the Nine Lives Causeway, Arthur realizes it is little more than a narrow strip of land lapped at on either side by water. Halfway across, Arthur can see Eel Marsh House rising in the distance—it is perched on a spit of land situated a bit higher than the causeway, so that during high tide it effectively becomes an island.
The marshes themselves seem to be a sort of transition between worlds. They are certainly otherworldly in appearance—though flat, strange, and potentially dangerous, though, they strike Arthur as beautiful and ethereal.
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The carriage arrives at Eel Marsh House, and Arthur feels a blend of excitement and alarm. Arthur hops out of the cart and asks Keckwick how long before high tide—Keckwick says it comes in at about five in the evening. Arthur asks if Keckwick will wait outside the house for him while he works inside, but as his answer, Keckwick pulls on his pony’s rein and heads back across the causeway.
Keckwick is a man of few words—his sole purpose, it seems, is to ferry souls between “worlds,” even if only the world of Crythin Gifford and the world of Eel Marsh House. It is also significant that Keckwick seems to be the only local willing to even venture this close to Eel Marsh House.
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Before going inside, wanting to take in the “mysterious, shimmering beauty” of the land, Arthur decides to explore. As he walks about, he feels his senses becoming heightened, and thinks that if he were to stay for any length of time, he would grow “addicted” to the solitude and serenity. He spots some ruins in the distance, and ventures toward them. As Arthur grows closer, he realizes that they are the ruins of an old chapel; exploring the area, he comes upon a small burial ground containing about fifty gravestones. There is a decayed, abandoned air about the graveyard, and Arthur turns to head up to the house—as he does, he takes one final glance around the burial ground and spots the wasted woman in black from the funeral.
Arthur, intrepid as ever, decides to do some exploring and figure out what’s what at Eel Marsh House. Though the mention of a Drablow burial plot clearly spooked Mr. Jerome, when Arthur comes upon a graveyard, he goes for it headlong—only to wind up face-to-face with the terrifying visage of the woman in black, who has seemingly followed Arthur here—or perhaps it is he who has followed her.
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The woman in black is dressed in the same mourning garb she wore earlier—her bonnet has been pushed back, though, and Arthur can see that her face quite resembles bare bone, and bears an expression of “desperate, yearning malevolence”; she seems to be searching for something she wants, which has been taken from her. Arthur intuits that whoever took this thing from her is the object of her hatred and loathing.  As Arthur stares at the woman, he becomes possessed by fear in a way he never has been. He longs to run, but feels paralyzed by fright—just as he fears he will drop dead of terror, the woman slips behind a gravestone, goes through a gap in the low stone wall around the burial ground, and disappears from sight.
This encounter with the woman reveals more about her than the previous encounter at the graveside. Arthur can now sense something terrible emanating from the woman—whereas at the funeral he thought his sudden sadness and rush of emotion was due to the nature of the event, he now realizes that the woman carries a dark, hateful energy. Although it’s unclear what the woman’s story is or why she’s wandering around the manor, this encounter begins to explain why Jerome was so terrified by the mere mention of her.
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Arthur feels his strength flooding back—he is actually angry with the woman in black for inspiring such fear in him, and decides to follow her, ask some questions as to who she is, and get to the bottom of everything. He follows her through the gap, but comes out on the other side to find that the grass of the yard meets with the sand which separates the estate from the water of the marsh. There is no sign of the woman—nor of any place she might have concealed herself. Arthur feels frightened one again, and begins running, longing to put the graveyard, the ruins, and the woman as far behind him as he can. He does not look back until he reaches the house.
As soon as the woman is gone, Arthur feels like himself again. This strange effect she has on him mirrors but does not exactly imitate the effect she had on the children in the schoolyard. Despite the sense of dread and despair she inspired in him, Arthur is—foolishly, no doubt—determined to follow her and learn more about her, before realizing that to see her again would be to surrender to the paralyzing fear she created within him, and deciding to flee instead.
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At the front door, Arthur fumbles with the key, but soon gets inside and slams the great door shut behind him. Arthur does not move for a long while—he wants company, light, warmth, and an explanation above all. He is more curious than afraid, now, and feels “consumed with desire” to understand who or what he saw in the graveyard. Arthur has never believed in ghosts until this day—after his encounter with the woman in black, however, and sensing something emanating from her presence, Arthur finds himself converted. He knows that though he does not believe in ghosts or spirits, there is no other explanation for the woman’s presence.
Arthur’s fear has again dissipated, and he is overcome with a rational need to know the truth. All the strangeness he has encountered in Crythin Gifford thus far—and all the fear and suspicion surrounding Eel Marsh House—seems to be directly connected to this ghostly woman.
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Somewhere in the house, a clock strikes, dragging Arthur from his thoughts of the woman in black. He begins moving through the house, turning his mind to the business at hand—uncovering Mrs. Drablow’s important documents. Arthur had created an image in his mind of a cobwebbed, filthy house stuffed top to toe with “the debris of a recluse”—but as he wanders through the house, he finds that it is mostly in order, though there is the smell of damp and must everywhere.
Arthur seems to work himself up about the wrong things. He’d conjured an image in his mind of Eel Marsh House being dirty, drab, and odious; however, the physical atmosphere of the house appears to be the least of his worries.
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Arthur unlocks several bookcases, desks, and bureaus—all of which are stuffed with bundles and boxes of papers. Arthur becomes overwhelmed as he realizes that Mrs. Drablow has kept meticulous hold on receipts, letters, legal documents, and notebooks that will take forever to sort through—everything, no matter how worthless-looking, must be examined. Arthur realizes that it is pointless to start going through it all now so late in the day, and instead walks through the house, looking through each room. He begins to wonder how Mrs. Drablow endured such isolation here—his previous fantasies of enjoying the silence and stillness evaporate. He has had enough solitude for one day, and though there is an hour before Keckwick’s return, Arthur decides to begin walking back towards town rather than linger in the house any longer.
As Arthur pokes around the house, he realizes that Mrs. Drablow was perhaps just an oddball after all—she has kept meticulous hold on some very unnecessary things. The way Mrs. Drablow held onto receipts, notebooks, and documents mirrors how the woman in black herself is holding onto some things, too—even from beyond the grave. Arthur’s fear at realizing how deeply isolated he is here at Eel Marsh creeps into his bones, and he experiences an intense desire to leave—as he sets out onto the marsh, he decides it’s better to face whatever lies out there than whatever lurks in here.
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