Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
A ghost is to horror what a knight is to fantasy. It isn’t required of the genre, but it is a fundamental option. The first thing that comes to mind when speaking of the horror is the ghost story. The roots of these stories intertwine with folk tales and legends as old as the earth itself. Their height in popularity appears to have risen out of the gothic literature movement of the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, the emphasis is on more visceral depictions of horror in the guise of serial killers and the corporeal walking dead. However, the ghost story and gothic literature still exist today. This is thanks, in no small part, to writers such as Susan Hill and her perfectly formulaic delivery of The Woman in Black.
The story follows solicitor Arthur Kipps. He has a ghost story to tell: one that involves the town of Crythin Gifford, Eel Marsh House, and the mysterious woman in black. It is Arthur Kipps’s story and ultimately, led him to become the man he is today. However, this is not immediately apparent nor is it clear exactly what is afoot in the isolated community for no one will talk about the woman in black. Solicitor Kipps is left to uncover the truth and suffer the consequences.
The Woman in Black is not original. Rather it takes everything, from the dilapidated building framed against a barren countryside to the grotesque imagery of the malevolent spirit, and executes it flawlessly. Hill’s Arthur Kipps is a stand in for Stoker’s Johnathan Harker. Sentence structure and flow of the narrative derive from past juggernauts within the gothic literature movement. Hill is herself seemingly a phantom of M. R. James or Edgar Allen Poe. The horror builds slowly and steadily only to climax in the very last brilliantly poignant word.
The Woman in Black is something you have read before, but when you did, it never came together as perfectly as penned here by Susan Hill. It is a love letter to the roots of horror and gothic literature. A must read for fans of the genre.