“I was delighted to realise that what the ghost story depended on more than anything was a sense of place”, claims Susan Hill in her introduction to the schools edition. How successful has she been in creating a vivid sense of place in “The Woman in Black”?The setting for The Woman in Black (1983) is in the “beautiful English landscape” which Susan Hill says she finds to be so “powerfully atmospheric”. Hill herself grew up in Scarborough, which means she is able to use the English landscape with ease, as she is so familiar with it, and she says in her introduction that it is the place she “knows and loves so well”.
Hill does not specify the exact location in which the novella is set, but we do know that it is somewhere in the “flat lands” in the East Coast. This is because Gothic writers use the deprivation of knowledge and a sense of disorientation to allow the imagination of the readers to coagulate and formulate their own visual impression.
Even our narrator Arthur Kipps lacks knowledge of the place he is going to in the beginning of the novella. As the supernatural is something which most find to be incredible, or hard to believe, place is used to make the story seem more credible, as we can all be affected by the atmosphere, looks and feels of a place. If the reader is not scared by the elements of the supernatural then the author can use place to help ease their readers into a state of fear or uneasiness.
In Gothic writing, the figurative often becomes the literal; we can see this with the use of Hill’s nomenclature. Kipps says in the beginning of the novella that he has “come to the land of curious place names” and he is not mistaken. We have the “astonishingly situated house” (but not home), “Eel Marsh House”, which becomes less or more Heimlich depending on the seasons “I thought how it would be on a warm evening at midsummer, when the breezes blew balmily from off the sea” this is contrasted to the dangerous “mists” and “darkness” experienced during the winter. Samuel Daily, a character who has a Heimlich home, and good intentions refers to “Eel marsh house” as a “damned place”, a descriptive and self-explanatory choice of name for a house if you wish to invoke ideas of treachery and slipperiness about a location.The word “damned” invokes ideas of hell and the inferno. We also have the “Nine Lives Causeway” which conjures ideas of multiple deaths and danger. “Monks Piece” is an interesting name, as it could relate to the disturbing Gothic novel The Monk written by Matthew Gregory Lewis in 1796. The name also allows us to explore the Freudian idea about “The Talking Cure” which involves vocalising ones repressed traumas in order to overcome them, and for Arthur, becomes “The Writing Cure”. The irony is that Arthur Kipps could not find peace in “Monks Piece”, until he engages in the writing cure. Nature often triumphs over culture in Gothic in order to challenge the enlightenment, and The Woman In Black is no exception, “the old, overgrown orchard that lay behind the house and petered out in long grass and tangled thicket”. “Crythin Gifford”, described as a “far flung part of the world” is the name of the area in which most of the novella takes place relates directly to Jennet, the “woman in black” herself, because we know that she mourns the death of her son, and develops anorexic symptoms in the wake of his tragic death, hence “cry-thin”. “Anorexia Nervosa” was a term coined by Sir William Gull in 1874.This reference to a disease could be used to stir a sense of pity for Jennet, as much of this novella hints that Jennet would not have been evil if she was treated with respect, and allowed to keep her son regardless of social legitimacy. There are also some Heimlich places in the novella, necessary to create contrast and allow for relief from evil. “The Gifford Arms” pub for example is made heimlich by the constant presence of fires connoting warmth, and food. The name invokes images of embrace and love with the use of the word “arms”. Mr. Daily’s house is probably the most heimlich location in the novella, one of distinct grandeur, in which Arthur Kipps (our narrator) is made to feel “warmly welcome” and he was once again presented with an “excellent meal”. We see place affecting Kipps in a different way here as he experiences social anxiety and inadequacy, the sheer splendour of Mr. Daily’s house leads him to feel embarrassed about riding his bicycle up to the front of the house.The repetition of the words “comfortable”, “warmth” and “home” arouses feelings of safety and protection. Arthur experiences a sensation of “slipping down, down into the welcoming arms of sleep” he is said to be “happy and secure as a child in the nursery” this is an odd and very ironic sentence to use, but is deliberate, as we later discover that the nursery in “Eel Marsh House” is the place which Jennet haunts, and which is unexpectedly unheimlich. Hill encourages the reader to imagine a place of darkness and discomfort with the use of her adjectives, such as “a seething, blanketing, almost tangible silence”. Her use of onomatopoeia such as “pitter-patter” and repetition such as “Bump. Bump.” when describing the “panic stricken” noises that the rational narrator Arthur Kipps can hear, this helps us to really connect with the story.Susan Hill includes many ecclesiastical locations in her novella, which are often used in Gothic novels to create uneasiness. The use of churches and graveyards or “burial grounds” makes way for the supernatural, and is generic of the Gothic genre. Arthur first sees Jennet, in a church. It could also show that her intentions are not pure, as in Gothic figures of evil are often placed in locations which are presumed to be safe, as it creates suspense. Churches are places which people go to, to relieve themselves of fear and sin. The twist here is that things that we fear the most haunt these places. If the almighty Lord canThe Sublime is very important in Gothic literature, as Gothic is fascinated by spaces of absence. The idea of the Sublime, coined by Edmund Burke in 1753, is to show the insignificance of the character, and the overwhelming nature of his or her surroundings, or as he puts it, to make us feel “annihilated”. “The Woman in Black” uses the sublime to create a more vivid sense of place, it shows our insignificance, and the insignificance of our narrator, which is important because we are then forced to realise that they are susceptible to harm. “I had never been quite so alone, nor felt quite so small and insignificant in a vast landscape before”. Arthur sometimes tries to make the unheimlich seem heimlich for example in “Eel Marsh House” he takes up a domestic role (domestic literally meaning home in Latin) washing crockery, laying it out, and setting his linen out to dry before a fire he had built in the drawing room. “I made other fires too, in the little parlour and in the dining room” this shows how he is attempting to make his surroundings more Heimlich, as it is unnecessary to have so many fires, perhaps he is trying to keep the house light and warm, we come to understand that he feels uncomfortable, and tries to busy himself as if trying to force himself to feel differently.Kipps shows an interest or perhaps expresses a fantasy of bird watching; this shows his enlightenment status due to his need to classify things. Experiencing both attraction and repulsion are important elements of the Gothic genre; we see this in his descriptions of “Eel Marsh House” which he both “romanticises” and finds “unpleasant”. Kipps also attempts to make the sublime seem beautiful, when he opens the blinds he says he has a “fine view of the sky, the marshes, the estuary” we know that this would be more of an unheimlich view than a beautiful one, and yet we can completely understand our narrators need to make it beautiful, because he seeks to comfort himself, and to rationalise the situation.Ruination is another important factor in Gothic. This is because it shows the abandonment of something or somewhere, and makes a mockery of the Enlightenment. Jennet’s gravestone is ruined for a very important reason, nature always triumphs over culture in Gothic. It reads:In L . . . g Mem . . .. . .net Drablow. . . 190 . . .. . . nd of He . . .. . . iel . . . lowBor . . .This shows us the lack of care that is taken with Jennet both in life, and after her death, again suggesting that the social obsession with marital legitimacy is responsible for the way that she is. Nobody will tend to her grave out of fear of her, showing that they know she has something to be vengeful of. It also shows us that the only thing surviving on the gravestone is a lie, as Jennet’s real surname was Humfrye, and not Drablow, thus showing how important legitimacy was during the nineteenth century, as even after death society would not accept that Nathaniel Drablow was born out of wedlock. Ruination is especially important to place because we always feel less comfortable in a place that people have left to deteriorate, as we can assume that there must be a reason for it.The beginning of this novella takes place in winter; this is typical for Gothic novels as it is the darker, colder and spookier of the seasons, light is often associated with knowledge, so the use of darkness can be used to show us that the characters are ignorant of something. Hill decides to change this however, as the scariest part of the story, the death of Arthur’s’ wife and son occurs at a pleasure ground in summer. Families “strolled in the sunshine” there was lots of grass, which is representative of life (in contrast to the infertile soil of Crythin Gifford) a band was present “playing jolly tunes” all of this creates a sense of enjoyment, relaxation, and the idea that danger has passed for Arthur and his young family.This is probably done because Hill likes her heimlich locations to become scarily unheimlich. This explains the “frets” experienced on the East coast, and the mysterious “fog” making London unfamiliar. This is highly effective as it is even scarier when the places we believe to be safe and protective are penetrated with evil hence the common use of ecclesiastical locations, haunted churches and monasteries. There are other examples of transforming locations that we presume to be Heimlich into Unheimlich or frightening ones, the nursery, which Jennet haunts, and London, which is meant to be home for Arthur, but gets infested with a fog that distorts its familiarity and makes it seem like it is not home at all.Hill uses the “mists” in this story along with elements like the “chills” and “drizzling dampness” to make the settings more uncomfortable and smothering than they already are. Mist and fog are used in Gothic to show that there are things happening that can not easily be explained, as the narrator cannot see what is around them, but it by no means there is nothing there, in fact it makes us think that there is. Weather is one of the most important factors used when creating a sense of place as it can dramatically change the appearance and atmosphere. It also creates the perfect circumstance for shock, as things can appear and disappear from view, and can be heard moving, but not pinpointed as to their location. Hill tells us of the absence of stars and moonlight, making the nights “pitch black”. Black and darkness is often associated with evil, which is why Jennet herself is dressed in black.Yet Hill also cleverly uses moonlight to make Arthur feel comforted as he is not in total darkness, and he begins to get ready to go to the window to look at what he calls a “strange and beautiful light”, once awoken however he is distracted by the growl and obvious fear displayed by his companion Spider the loyal dog who’s name is misleading, the dog was given to him by the trusty Samuel Daily. Noises are all the more important when the narrator is deprived of sight, allowing Hill to use descriptive adjectives such as “rustling” and “rumbling” to describe what Arthur is hearing. This helps the reader to better imagine the fear that Arthur must be feeling, and that Alice Drablow felt during her time in the unheimlich “Eel Marsh House”.Hill effortlessly portrays the paradoxical nature of “Eel Marsh House” with Arthur’s deliberate contradiction “I could not sit still in that claustrophobic and yet oddly hollow-feeling old house”. This sentence brings about ideas of possession and death, as the house is empty yet oppressive simultaneously. “Once again it was a noise that awakened me”, this is an attempt to create suspense, and it is effective because people fear what they cannot see as what they hear cannot be explained. Sound is used effectively in this novella to create a sense of place for example the dissonant “rawk-rawk” of a bird contrasting to his earlier desire to go bird watching, this may be another attempt to challenge the enlightenment as bird watchers seek to categorise all that they see. Auditory is so important in Gothic as it contributes to giving the reader a total sense of awareness of the setting of the story. In Gothic there is always the initial need to explain that is present, this allows us to put our trust in the narrator. This is something, which Arthur tries hard to do in the beginning, but later abandons as he realises his attempts for reason and rationality are futile.Hill’s tactics are highly successful at creating a sense of place, as she has to invoke ideas of fear, and of comfort depending on where the characters are. Gothic often concerns journey’s, examples of this are both Arthur Kipps, and “Dracula’s” Jonathan Harker who undergo both literal and mental journeys, their perception of the world and of the supernatural change due to the events that occur, as they are forced to accept what they previously thought to be impossible. The trustworthy nature of our narrators, when paired with the forced realisation of the truth helps readers to feel more fear than they otherwise would. It is a technique used by many Gothic writers.Hill’s depiction of the pleasure ground deaths are highly effective as they are unexpected, “families strolled in the sunshine, children tumbled in the grass” and it is not often done like that in Gothic, setting this story apart from the others. Susan Hill also explores place in terms of society, women during Jennet’s time had little choice, and her treatment by her fellow villagers who ostracised her and forced her to give up her baby could have been the reason and motivation for her evil actions. Jennet had a very low place in society’s ranking, as an unmarried young female, she would not have received very much respect or had much control over her own life, this story shows that there are consequences for treating people this way.Place is the most important factor in creating atmosphere in a story, and atmosphere is the most successful way of stirring certain desired emotions in the readers. These emotions are necessary to acquire the right reactions, for example shock in the right places, and relief where is needed. Hill is extremely good at using words to manipulate the readers. For example Arthur is at one point blindly stumbling in the dark, Hill describes the water from the marshes as lapping very closely to the edge of the path, showing the danger closing in on Arthur, and his helpless situation. This use of disorientation is extremely important in Gothic literature. “It was the suddenness of it that had so unnerved and disorientated me.” Hill’s use of thresholds is typical to the Gothic tradition as it presents us with a barrier to the knowledge, which as human beings, we cannot help but desperately seek.The crossing of a threshold usually makes way for new ideas and twists within the story. Thresholds are the connectors between the knowledge, which is gradually gained over the course of the story. In the beginning the character is clueless, and in denial, their mental and physical journey’s will lead them to thresholds which when crossed, will grant us with some more knowledge This is shown by the nursery, which remains locked until Jennet chooses to open it. An example of this in another Gothic novel, are the locked doors in Dracula’s castle which prevented Harker from gaining knowledge about Dracula. I think Hill is highly successful at creating atmosphere and a sense of fear by use of place.