This section looks at the key characters in The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.
Arthur is the main character and the narrator. Hill’s use of first person allows the reader to be sympathetic towards Arthur and share his fear. In the first and last chapters we see him as a man approaching old age. In the first chapter Kipp’s is shaken by his step sons’ ghost stories as they renew his ‘close acquaintance …with mortal dread and terror of spirit’ (pg 9-10). In the final chapter Arthur is completely exhausted due his difficulty in telling his terrifying experiences at Eel Marsh House – emphasised with the last word of the novel ‘Enough’. He intends that the whole world will know his ‘past horrors’ when his wife reads his tale after his death.
The youthful Arthur Kipps is a privileged, well-educated, ambitious, adventurous, impatient, arrogant, brave and foolhardy. Qualities that lead him to ignore Samuel Daily’s advice and return to Eel Marsh House. He is arrogant as he confesses to having a ‘Londoner’s sense of superiority in those days’ (pg 45). The first time he sees the woman in black at Alice Drablow’s funeral he feels sympathetic towards her and was concerned for her welfare ‘skin stretched over her bones’ (pg 56).
However, the second time at Eel Marsh house he is ‘filled with fear, his flesh creeps and his knees tremble’ (pg 75). Arthur Kipp’s character is realistic and well-rounded; he reacts to the shocking events in a human way. Therefore allowing the reader to identify with the character. After the death of Stella and his baby he is a broken man. It takes him twelve years to recover the tragic events, when he buys Monk’s piece and moves in with his second wife Esme.
Samuel Daily is a big, beefy local business man in Crythin Gifford. He is successful and not embarrassed by his wealth; which annoys other local businessmen. Daily offers Arthur advice about his work at Eel Marsh House: ‘you’re a fool if you go on with it’ (pg 118).
Although Arthur warms to Samuel Daily, he comes up with several reasons he must go back; which is when Samuel gives Arthur Spider for protection. After Arthur’s near death experience at Eel Marsh house, Mr and Mrs Daily look after him and he finished his work on Alice Drablow’s papers in their home. After Arthur’s return to London, Samuel Daily becomes his sons Godfather and visits often.
Keckwick is a silent man. He is very blunt and matter of fact when he returns in the middle of the night to collect Arthur after his first terrifying experience at Eel Marsh House, including the pony and trap and the Nine Lives Causeway. He was Alice Drablow’s link to the outside world; the only ‘living soul’ who saw her.
The reader may feel that some amnesty was reached between him and the ghost: he also suffered a great loss when his father died driving the pony and trap with the child on it. He is very unattractive ‘his nose and much of the lower part of his face were covered in bumps and lumps and warts and…the skin was porridgy in texture and a dark livid red’ (pg 94). This creates a disturbing and visual image appropriate for a ghost story.
Nobody will talk about the woman in black. The ladlord is not named and his role is to create an air of mystery. He is at the centre of the conspiracy of silence and his purpose in the story is to provide Kipps and the reader with background information and to add tension and suspense. The landlord is more significant for what he does not say rather than what he does say. “’She could hardly do otherwise, living there’ and he turned away abruptly” (pg 44).
Alice Drablow’s estate agent. ’When Arthur meets Mr Jerome for the second time in his office seeking help with his task (Alice Drablow’s paper) it is clear that he is a ironically a broken man ‘…his hands…were working, rubbing, fidgeting, gripping and ungripping in agitation’ (pg106).
We find out in the penultimate chapter from Mr Daily that he was victim of the woman in black and had lost a child in a tragic accident.
The Woman in Black
Approximately 60 years before Alice Drablow’s death, her unmarried 18 year old sister gave birth to a baby boy. The baby was taken against her will and given to Alice and her husband to adopt. The boy, Nathaniel, is killed with his nurse Rose Judd and Keckwick’s father. After suffering with a wasting disease, 12 years later Janet died of heart failure. She has been seeking revenge ever since; every time the ghost is seen a child dies in dreadful and violent circumstances. As a result the villagers live in fear and dread.
- Chapter 4: She had been a victim of starvation (pg 52) Very erect and still not holding a prayer book (pg 53)
- Chapter 5: I had felt indescribable repulsion and fear (pg 79) She directed the purest evil and hatred and loathing (pg 75)
Alice Drablow was an old eccentric character of Mr Bentley’s father. Kipp is given the responcibility of handing the legal requirements die to her death. She has no friends or relatives. From the outset mystery surrounds her: Mr Bentley, Samuel Daily and the landlord’s reaction all help to create this mystery. It becomes clear that Alice was haunted by her dead sister who wanted revenge for the death of her son.
Stella, Arthur’s fiancé, is always in the background. As not a fully developed character she, Kipps only refers to his life with her and his expectation for them in the future. Stella and Arthur’s son does in a tragic accident after a sighting of the woman in black. Note, all the female characters: Esme, Stella and Mrs Daily play small and underdeveloped roles. They are only required to support their husbands otherwise it would take away from the development of the ghost story.
Esme and her Family
Esme and her family feature in the opening chapter: Christmas Eve. They provide a domestic context and background of normality in order to make the story seem real.