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The Woman in Black | Social / Historical Context

mandy_lloyd | Monday December 03, 2012


Guide Navigation

1. Introduction 
2. Narrative Viewpoint
3. Structure
4. Social / Historical Context
5. Language
6. Top Ten Quotations
7. Exam Preparation
8. Using Quotations
9. Sample Exam Response

This story is set in Victorian England. Knowledge of the social, historical and cultural context will help you understand the novel more fully.

Victorian society placed much more importance on motherhood than our contemporary society does. Motherhood was praised and celebrated as the highest honour that could be imparted on a woman. Despite that, many lower-middle and working class women had to work in order to make ends meet.

Before the 1960s, in many families and in society in general, it was considered deeply shameful for unmarried women to give birth. Single motherhood carried social stigma, as it was a much rarer event compared to our contemporary society. In middle class families, pregnant unwed daughters would be encouraged to give birth in secret away from their home, and then put the child up for adoption.

Both the characters of Mrs Drablow and The Woman in Black are created to represent women from the upper-middle classes. Bentley tells Kipps that Mrs Drablow owned Eel Marsh House, as well as other properties in Crythin Gifford, trusts and investments. Jennet Humfrye is Alice Drablow’s unmarried sister. She gave birth to a baby boy who was taken against her will and adopted by Alice and her husband.

Babies were often taken from unmarried women and offered for adoption. This aspect of Victorian cultural context is made by Hill to be a central aspect of the whole story. Can cruelty ever be justified in the name of righteousness?

Susan Hill has stated in an interview that her story has a moral point – what is called a ‘theme’ of the story, an aspect if life the writer wants her reader to contemplate:

I also think that ghost stories have to have a point beyond frightening. It’s all very well to be frightened, but there has...

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