My New Favorite Ghost Story: The Woman in Black
So when I told my husband that I wanted to go see The Woman in Black for our Valentine’s Day date, he wasn’t at all surprised. (After being married to me for almost a decade, he knows that if there’s anything, weird, Gothic, or Victorian, well…I’m on it.) Although excited to see the film, I fully expected to be disappointed by it as I tend to be picky with period dramas, and I feared that the movie would cater to modern audiences by creating a slasher movie with a cravat-wearing Radcliffe in the lead somewhat revising his Harry Potter hero role. But I LOVED the movie; in fact, I loved it so much I kind of geeked out and soon read Susan Hill’s book, The Woman in Black. I found the book to be both beautiful and unsettling. There is nothing so unusual (check out this link) about a haunted house, curses, and pissed off female ghosts so why did this book hook me so?
I think seeing the solid Arthur Kipp unravel was particularly disturbing. Kipp might have stepped out of a Dickens novel; in fact, the book’s sentimental opening, where a much older Kipp sits around the fire with his family at Christmastime, has a very Dickens-like feel to it. It makes his “breakdown” as his teenage sons begin telling ghost stories particularly dismaying. When he sets out for Crythin Gifford he is not like Catherine Morland, in Northanger Abbey, looking for adventure. More or less, he is looking to wrap up a recluse’s papers and get back to his fiancée.
Secondly, Kipp’s relationship with the ghost intrigues me. The book is able to show an almost Oedipal element to Kipp’s view of Jennet In fact, when the haunting at Eel Marsh begins he feels an almost comforting feel when he hears the rocking chair rocking by itself in the nursery. He is reminded of his nurse, sitting by his bed at night. Kipp’s feelings, I think, mirror, part of the essential horror of the book: what happens when the Victorian mother, the “Angel of the House” decides to “revolt”? What happens when she decides to kill children as opposed to care for them. I do think the Victorians had no greater fear than women bucking against their angel roles. This is why so many of the females, including the man-eating crocodile in Peter Pan, are conniving and murderous; Pipp in Great Expectations needs serious therapy after his relationship with the insane Miss Havisham. And the female Lucy, the “bloofer lady” in Dracula preys on children around Highgate Cemetery.
I think the other terrifying aspect of the book is the senselessness of the ghost’s anger. She killed those who had never wronged her. She killed simply to kill. The movie referenced to her being in a mental asylum at some point. But in the book, there is no mention of this, which makes it all the creepier. She is furious at the injustices done to her by her sister Alice and yet she seeks vengeance upon everyone. Kipp literally finds himself against a force where there seems to be no appeasement, no forgiveness, just a senseless fury.