The Woman in Black

by

Susan Hill

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The Woman in Black / Jennet Humfrye Character Analysis

The titular woman in black appears to Arthur for the first time at the funeral of Mrs. Alice Drablow. Arthur is struck by the woman’s antiquated mourning garb and her frightening appearance; though young, the woman is ghastly pale and sickly. When Arthur mentions the woman to his companion at the funeral, Mr. Jerome, Jerome becomes deeply frightened—and Arthur realizes that he was the only one at the service able to see the woman. Arthur encounters her again when he arrives at Eel Marsh House—this time, Arthur knows for sure that the woman must be a ghostly apparition. After Arthur uncovers a parcel of letters written from a woman named Jennet Humfrye to Alice Drablow, the story of the two women’s lives becomes more clear: blood relatives and perhaps even sisters, Jennet and Alice were bound forever by a terrible transaction. When Jennet became pregnant with an illegitimate child, she was forced to abandon the baby to Mrs. Drablow’s care—she did so only after warning the woman that the child would never truly be hers. Jennet harassed and even stalked the Drablows over the years until she at last secured access to the child; she planned to run away with him, but the child, Nathaniel, sunk into the marsh alongside his nanny in a horrible pony trap accident. The woman in black’s rage, hatred, grief, and pain are translated into a horrible malevolence as she becomes the figure which haunts Eel Marsh House. Any time she appears, a local child dies—a lingering effect of her obsession with her own lost son.

The Woman in Black / Jennet Humfrye Quotes in The Woman in Black

The The Woman in Black quotes below are all either spoken by The Woman in Black / Jennet Humfrye or refer to The Woman in Black / Jennet Humfrye. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Gothic Horror Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Woman in Black published in 2011.
Chapter 5 Quotes

Suddenly conscious of the cold and the extreme bleakness and eeriness of the spot and of the gathering dusk of the November afternoon, and not wanting my spirits to become so depressed that I might begin to be affected by all sorts of morbid fancies, I was about to leave […] But, as I turned away, I glanced once again round the burial ground and then I saw again the woman with the wasted face, who had been at Mrs. Drablow's funeral. […] As I stared at her, stared until my eyes ached in their sockets, stared in surprise and bewilderment at her presence, now I saw that her face did wear an expression. It was one of what I can only describe—and the words seem hopelessly inadequate to express what I saw—as a desperate, yearning malevolence; it was as though she were searching for something she wanted, needed—must have, more than life itself, and which had been taken from her. And, toward whoever had taken it she directed the purest evil and hatred and loathing, with all the force that was available to her.

Related Characters: Arthur Kipps (speaker), The Woman in Black / Jennet Humfrye
Page Number: 62-63
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

So I thought that night, as I laid my head on the soft pillow and fell eventually into a restless, shadowy sleep, across which figures came and went, troubling me, so that once or twice I half-woke myself, as I cried out or spoke a few incoherent words, I sweated, I turned and turned about, trying to free myself from the nightmares, to escape from my own semi-conscious sense of dread and foreboding, and all the time, piercing through the surface of my dreams, came the terrified whinnying of the pony and the crying and calling of that child over and over, while I stood, helpless in the mist, my feet held fast, my body pulled back, and while behind me, though I could not see, only sense her dark presence, hovered the woman.

Related Characters: Arthur Kipps (speaker), The Woman in Black / Jennet Humfrye
Related Symbols: Fog and Mist, Pony Traps
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

"It seems to me, Mr. Daily," I said, "that I have seen whatever ghost haunts Eel Marsh and that burial ground. A woman in black with a wasted face. Because I have no doubt at all that she was whatever people call a ghost, that she was not a real, living, breathing human being. Well, she did me no harm. She neither spoke nor came near me. I did not like her look and I liked the… the power that seemed to emanate from her toward me even less, but I have convinced myself that it is a power that cannot do more than make me feel afraid. If I go there and see her again, I am prepared."

"And the pony and trap?"

I could not answer because, yes, that had been worse, far worse, more terrifying because it had been only heard not seen and because the cry of that child would never, I was sure, leave me for the rest of my life.

I shook my head. "I won't run away."

Related Characters: Arthur Kipps (speaker), Samuel Daily (speaker), The Woman in Black / Jennet Humfrye
Related Symbols: Pony Traps
Page Number: 99-100
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

As soon as I awoke, a little before seven, I felt that the air had a dampness in it and that it was rather colder and, when I looked out of the window, I could hardly see the division between land and water, water and sky, all was a uniform gray, with thick cloud lying low over the marsh and a drizzle. It was not a day calculated to raise the spirits and I felt unrefreshed and nervous after the previous night. But Spider trotted down the stairs eagerly and cheerfully enough and I soon built up the fires again and stoked the boiler, had a bath and breakfast and began to feel more like my everyday self.

Related Characters: Arthur Kipps (speaker), The Woman in Black / Jennet Humfrye
Related Symbols: Fog and Mist
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

In Scotland, a son was born to her and she wrote of him at once with a desperate, clinging affection. For a few months the letters ceased, but when they began again it was at first in passionate outrage and protest, later, in quiet, resigned bitterness. […]

"He is mine. Why should I not have what is mine? He shall not go to strangers. I shall kill us both before I let him go."

Then the tone changed. "'What else can I do? I am quite helpless. If you and M are to have him I shall mind it less." And again, "I suppose it must be."

But at the end of the last letter of all was written in a very small, cramped hand: "Love him, take care of him as your own. But he is mine, mine, he can never be yours. Oh, forgive me. I think my heart will break. J."

Related Characters: Arthur Kipps (speaker), The Woman in Black / Jennet Humfrye
Page Number: 114-115
Explanation and Analysis:

I picked things up, stroked them, even smelled them. They must have been here for half a century, yet they might have been played with this afternoon and tidied away tonight. I was not afraid now. I was puzzled. I felt strange, unlike myself, I moved as if in a dream. But for the moment at least there was nothing here to frighten or harm me, there was only emptiness, an open door, a neatly made bed and a curious air of sadness, of something lost, missing, so that I myself felt a desolation, a grief in my own heart. How can I explain? I cannot. But I remember it, as I felt it.

Related Characters: Arthur Kipps (speaker), The Woman in Black / Jennet Humfrye
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

But she was alive and so was I and, gradually, a little warmth from each of our bodies and the pause revived us and, cradling Spider like a child in my arms, I began to stumble back across the marshes toward the house. As I did so and within a few yards of it, I glanced up. At one of the upper windows, the only window with bars across it, the window of the nursery, I caught a glimpse of someone standing. A woman. That woman. She was looking directly toward me. Spider was whimpering in my arms and making occasional little retching coughs. We were both trembling violently. How I reached the grass in front of the house I shall never know but, as I did so, I heard a sound. It was coming from the far end of the causeway path which was just beginning to be visible as the tide began to recede. It was the sound of a pony trap.

Related Characters: Arthur Kipps (speaker), The Woman in Black / Jennet Humfrye
Related Symbols: Pony Traps
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

[…] I had been growing more and more determined to find out what restless soul it was who wanted to cause these disturbances and why, why. If I could uncover the truth, perhaps I might in some way put an end to it all forever.

But what I couldn't endure more was the atmosphere surrounding the events: the sense of oppressive hatred and malevolence, of someone's evil and also of terrible grief and distress. […] But I was worried, not wanting to leave the mystery unexplained and knowing, too, that at the same time someone would have to finish, at some point, the necessary work of sorting out and packing up Mrs. Drablow's papers.

Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:

The door was ajar. I stood, feeling the anxiety that lay only just below the surface begin to rise up within me, making my heart beat fast. Below, I heard Mr. Daily's footsteps and the pitter-patter of the dog as it followed him about. And, reassured by their presence, I summoned up my courage and made my way cautiously toward that half-open door. When I reached it I hesitated. She had been there. I had seen her. Whoever she was, this was the focus of her search or her attention or her grief—I could not tell which. This was the very heart of the haunting. […] It was in a state of disarray as might have been caused by a gang of robbers, bent on mad, senseless destruction.

Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

I began to run crazily and then I heard it, the sickening crack and thud as the pony and its cart collided with one of the huge tree trunks. […]

They lifted Stella gently from the cart. Her body was broken, her neck and legs fractured, though she was still conscious. […]

Our baby son had been thrown clear, clear against another tree. He lay crumpled on the grass below it, dead. This time, there was no merciful loss of consciousness, I was forced to live through it all, every minute and then every day thereafter, for ten long months, until Stella, too, died from her terrible injuries.

I had seen the ghost of Jennet Humfrye and she had had

her revenge.

They asked for my story. I have told it. Enough.

Related Characters: Arthur Kipps (speaker), The Woman in Black / Jennet Humfrye, Stella
Related Symbols: Pony Traps
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Woman in Black / Jennet Humfrye Character Timeline in The Woman in Black

The timeline below shows where the character The Woman in Black / Jennet Humfrye appears in The Woman in Black. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4: The Funeral of Mrs. Drablow
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Chapter 5: Across the Causeway
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...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. (full context)
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...he does, he takes one final glance around the burial ground and spots the wasted woman in black from the funeral. (full context)
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The woman in black is dressed in the same mourning garb she wore earlier—her bonnet has been pushed back,... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Sound of a Pony and Trap
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Arthur walks quickly down the drive, glancing over his shoulder to see if the woman in black is following him. At the same time, though, he has half-persuaded himself that there is... (full context)
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...horrible things he has seen and heard all in one day, and realizes that the woman in black must be a ghostly spirit after all. He wonders if the pony and carriage he... (full context)
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...the pony, the calling of the ghostly child, and the dark, hovering presence of the woman in black . (full context)
Chapter 7: Mr. Jerome is Afraid
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...“for fear of encountering what [Arthur has] already encountered.” Arthur reveals that he saw the woman in black again, and asks if the graveyard outside of Eel Marsh House is the Drablow family... (full context)
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...takes his leave, and Mr. Jerome expresses the hope that Arthur will not encounter the woman in black again. Arthur, putting on a show of carefree cheerfulness, urges Jerome not to worry about... (full context)
Chapter 8: Spider
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...more than prepared to return to the manor—and to encounter the ghost of the wasted-faced woman in black again. (full context)
Chapter 9: In the Nursery
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...the following year. The letters are often addressed to “Dearest Alice” and signed “J” or “Jennet.” The letters reveal that Jennet, a young woman and a blood relative of Mrs. Drablow,... (full context)
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...soften as time goes on—Arthur intuits that Alice and her husband agreed to take in Jennet’s child and raise him as their own. The final letter urges Alice to love the... (full context)
Chapter 10: Whistle and I’ll Come to You
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...Marsh House, he looks up; in one of the upper windows, he sees the wasted-faced woman in black peering down at him. Exhausted and terrified, Arthur collapses on the front lawn as the... (full context)
Chapter 11: A Packet of Letters
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...morning; chasing Spider across the marsh, struggling to free her, and at last spying the woman in black at the nursery window. (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Jennet, the boy’s mother, Arthur realizes, must have died of a wasting disease twelve years later.... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 12: The Woman in Black
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...off around a bend. Looking over the other festival-goers, Arthur spotted a familiar face: the woman in black , standing away from the crowd, hiding behind the trunk of a tree. (full context)
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...a deep and penetrating fear. He could feel the hatred, bitterness, and malevolence emanating from Jennet just as he did in the nursery back at Eel Marsh House. The pony trap... (full context)
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...and dead in the grass. Ten months later, Arthur reports, Stella died of her injuries; Jennet Humfrye had at last taken her revenge. (full context)