30 Sep 2013

Tension in Chapter 4 Woman in Black Analysis for GCSE

‘The Funeral of Mrs Drablow’ starts on a positive note. Samuel Daily’s vehicle is as ‘capacious’ and ‘plush’ as anything Kipps has seen ‘in all my life’. In Kipps’ description of the inn, the word ‘capacious’ appears again. Though remote, Crythin Gifford is shown to be prosperous, and normal, in its way, with the day-to-day business of the auction. Daily’s offer of help fits with the jovial mood, but carries darker undertones, emphasized by

his choice of the strong word ‘need’ when he tells Kipps ‘should you need anyone…’ The mystery is increased by the combination of vague words and the ellipsis, which suggests something unspoken – perhaps too horrible to be spoken. Kipps brushes him off, saying it is ‘unlikely’ and that he ‘intend[s]’ to stay only a few days. The dramatic irony here increases the tension. In the framing narrative, the middle-aged Kipps has shown himself a man broken by torments, so the suggestion he might need help, re-awakens this tension.

The contrasting moods continue with the semantic field of death in ‘dreary’, ’died’, ‘funeral’ and ‘death’ balanced against Kipps’ firm statement ‘my spirits rose’. But even his mention of the word ‘spirits’ reminds us of the framing narrative where he describes himself tormented in ‘spirit’ – a word which also foreshadows the ghosts that we will later meet. The landlord’s reaction to Kipps’ explanation that he is visiting for the funeral echoes that of Daily. Hill uses the ellipsis again, to indicate gaps that cannot be filled, a hollow where fear can settle. Kipps cannot read the landlord’s reaction. Tellingly, his first guess is ‘alarm’, then ‘strong emotion’ which he tried to ‘suppress’, suggesting something too horrible even to think about or feel. He moves ‘abruptly’ away, suggesting aversion, as if Kipps has become contaminated in some way by his link to Eel Marsh House. At the end of this scene, Kipps has no doubt there is importance in what had been ‘left unsaid’. The lack of information leaves troubling gaps we can’t close, into which darkness pours.

Still, Kipps persists in ‘dismiss[ing]’ superstition and what he calls ‘silliness’. As narrator he then comments on his beliefs ‘in those days’, bringing the voice of the damaged, older Kipps back into the story, a motif often used in Gothic fictions. In this story, we know how Kipps will be affected, something which increases the tension at all points as he hurtles towards something too horrible to describe directly. Hill has the younger Kipps rattle off and dismiss the same gothic conventions: ‘eerie marshes, sudden fogs, moaning winds and lonely houses’, that she will later crush him with. At present, he thinks it ‘extravagant’ and ‘melodramatic’. Later, his, and our prejudices will be overturned.

Kipps’ description of the village gives vivid and realistic detail, setting the scene for the appearance of the ghost. Though he sees it now in fine weather, he says he can imagine it ‘drear and grey and bleak’ in ‘dank rain and mist’. Now, the sky is blue ‘as a blackbird’s egg’, suggesting the freshness of countryside and hope. We meet Mr Jerome, who is tiny, ‘bland’, ‘formal’ and ‘shuttered’. The last word links to the Daily and the landlord, who both become blank around the topic of Mrs Drablow, but with Jerome, the reason is different. He is one of those who has lost a child to the Woman in Black. At first, we assume Mr Jerome is dull only, with ‘nothing interesting’ about him. It is only later that we make the link that he is hollowed out, as Kipps will become. His conversation, like the other men’s is full of ellipses … and Jerome’s expression is more than just ‘professionally mournful’, as Kipps mistakenly assumes.

In this very ordinary village, at the ordinary setting of a funeral, Kipps does not recognize the ghost at first, but describes her in extensive, solid detail, from her dress to her bonnet: ‘very erect and still, and not holding a prayer book’. This last detail is sinister: of one who cannot pray. The hint of decay is subtle, eerier for its funeral setting: ‘dug out’, ‘rusty’ ‘blackness’, ‘thinnest layer of flesh’ ‘blue white sheen’ and ‘eyes seemed shrunken’. First, Kipps assumes she is a ‘victim’ of ‘terrible wasting’ – suffering and on the threshold of death, which is as near the truth as may be – though not quite in the way he assumes. The word ‘wasting’ has a double meaning – shriveling, or decaying, but she causes the decay and the waste, as well as seeming wasted herself – an empty, bitter life so powerful it has spilled into her death and kept her on the threshold of the living. The ‘dreadful disfigurement of burning’ describes the nature of the Woman in Black if only Kipps could see it. Jennet Humfrye is ‘wasted’ ‘disfigured’ from what she ought to be ‘burning’ up with the desire to lay waste to all around her.

The appearance of the row of children’s ‘pale, solemn’ faces fits the funeral mood, but is uncanny too. They are ‘quite silent, quite motionless’. The asyndeton tightens the description, with the unnecessary repetition of ‘quite’ for emphasis underlining that something here is not right. When Kipps smiles at one of the children, the short sentence immediately after adds to the uncanny effect: ‘He did not smile back’. This echoes the short sentence used for Mr Jerome’s reaction when Kipps asks him about the woman: ‘Mr Jerome stopped dead.’ where the last word suggests death. Here, Jerome’s character is used as a catalyst for the discovery that the woman is not real, and now, Arthur Kipps’ speech is shattered by ellipsis: ‘But surely…’ and ‘there she is again… ought we not to…’ When Kipps sees her again, the mild, boring Jerome ‘grabbed my wrist and held it in an agonizingly tight grip’ looking about to ‘collapse’ with some ‘seizure’. Hill shifts his previously calm characterization into hysteria which is more terrifying because Kipps does not know why Jerome should react so violently. Jerome is ‘agitated’ and ‘anxious’ but Hill does not give us the reason until much later in the book. This unexplained terror, along with the silences of the other characters, settles on the reader like mist. The rest of the chapter shifts into a more businesslike mood, but even here, the estate is portrayed by Kipps’ neighbor as untouchable – that “not even Samuel Daly would go so far”. Kipps comments on his exasperation at ‘half hints’ and ‘mutterings’ and explicitly asks his neighbor “Why” but receives no response.
The author, , is an Oxford graduate, outstanding-rated English Language and Literature teacher and of ages 10-18 in the British education system. In 2012, she was nominated for Pearson's Teaching Awards. As a private tutor, she raises grades often from C to A. Her writing is also featured in The Huffington Post. She offers private tuition in the Haywards Heath area, West Sussex.