The Woman in Black, Essential Revision Notes
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Table of Contents
Susan Hill’s novel The Woman in Black has inspired both a successful stage adaptation and now a blockbuster movie. The success of the tale is largely based on its simple nature, combined with the horror and Gothic elements that have the ability to scare and create suspense.
Looking at both the play and the novel it would be wise to first consider the context of the piece, in both the theatrical and wider literary context. Susan Hill’s novel was inspired by Henry James’s short story, ‘The Turn of the Screw’, which she makes clear in her introduction.
She aimed to write a short ghost story for which there would be no clear explanation, evoking the rules of classical ghost stories by having a humane figure appearing at regular intervals. Hill wanted to keep the gothic tradition firmly in mind throughout, which she achieves due to the setting and isolation of many of the key places, such as Eel Marsh House.
In a literary context, elements of other Gothic novels such as Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are evoked – both works written by the Bronte sisters in the mid Victorian period. Isolationism, especially within the countryside is a typical setting for a Gothic story, and Hill uses this to her advantage throughout most of her work. Rather than creating an epic novel along the lines of Wilkie Collins’, The Woman in White, Hill stayed true to the novella form used by Henry James. The piece achieves recognition as a short story as the suspense is drip fed to the reader for maximum dramatic potential.
Once the play has set up the narrative frame, the ghost story plot begins to unravel. Sticking firmly within the conv...