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A GCSE English Literature Guide to Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black

Chris Curtis | Monday December 03, 2018

Categories: KS4, Prose, The Woman in Black, Writing, Analytical Writing, Literary Analysis, Prose Analysis

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The Woman in Black – A Modern, or a ‘Victorian’ Ghost Story?

It is cold and dark outside; but it is Christmas and a family is gathered together telling ghost stories around a warm open fire; each is trying hard to surpass the others. Then, an individual tells a story that is truly frightening. Why? Because it’s real. In the exposition to her 1983 novel, recently filmed and starring Daniel Radcliffe for the big screen, Susan Hill creates a fictional context for The Woman in Black that, at least in the reader’s imagination, exactly matches that of the traditional context for the telling of Christmas ghost stories in Victorian times.

Susan Hill’s novel isn’t just mimicking the traditional Victorian ghost story: it is her love letter to it. The opening chapter shows us the optimum conditions for the telling of a ghost story. It was a habit that had been established over many years, but sadly it died out, although TV did, in the 1970s, attempt to reignite the tradition. What makes Christmas so suitable for ghost stories? After all, aren’t there more suitable stories to tell? Maybe, it is the fact that Christmas is the one time of the year where everything stops. People stop working. People stay at home. If everybody is at home, then who is that outside when everything is still and silent? This atmosphere makes the perfect melting pot for imagination and ghosts. Or, maybe Christmas is the time when we have an audience to tell that one good story that will provoke a reaction.

The Protagonist Narrator

Susan Hill has written a number of ghost stories such as The Small Hand and The Man in the Picture. It is interesting to note that these stories feature a male narrator. One would assume a woman would explore the impact of a ghost on a female character; however, the Victorian ghost-story genre seems to prefer to tell the story from a male perspective; for them, a woman tended to be the victim in such stories. They are the...


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