The Woman in Black - Setting

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at setting in Susan Hill's The Woman in Black. Setting refers to the time and location in which a work of fiction takes place. As in life, the events in most texts usually take place in several different settings, in a variety of locations and times. Individual settings within texts include natural features, buildings, vehicles and other spaces. Atmosphere will also change multiple times over the course of a fictional work. Contrasting various settings can be a useful exercise to help you analyse the meaning of a text..

Events, whether occurring as part of the plot, or taking place in the background, provide another crucial element to a text’s setting, with social and political issues often playing an important role. For instance, the personal tragedy of Jennet Humfrye’s loss of her son belongs quite specifically to the particular social class and time in which she was born.

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Setting in The Woman in Black is complex. The novel contains three narratives, each set in a different time. The beginning of the novel sets the scene with Arthur Kipps as a comfortably settled, mature man, surrounded by family. Within this frame, he narrates the main story, his account of the events which took place when he was a young solicitor travelling to an isolated town to attend the funeral of an old client of the law firm for which he worked. His business, which appeared to be simple and straightforward before he discovers the local ghost which haunts the town and island, continues to haunt him in later life. The final narrative, of Jennet Humfrye and her sister, Alice Drablow, is revealed through the letters exchanged by the pair. The geographical locations for these different narratives ranges narrowly; these locations are dominated by the magnificent border between sea and land where Arthur first views Eel Marsh House.

Answer the questions below on setting in The Woman in Black.

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  1. When is The Woman in Black set?
    This is a tricky one! The main events of the novel take place in the early-twentieth century, although Arthur writes his account some years after they occur. The terrible loss of life on the Nine Lives Causeway occurs in the late-nineteenth century and Jennet Humfrye dies early in the twentieth century (her gravestone includes part of her death date: 190...)
  2. Besides London, where does the novel take place?
    To get to Crythin Gifford, Arthur must first take the train to Crewe, where he changes for the final two legs of his journey. Susan Hill has said that a visit to the Suffolk coast partly inspired the novel's setting. Although the geographical location is northern, rather than in Suffolk, the eerie feel of that coastal visit remains
  3. What distinguishes the island where Eel Marsh House is located from most other islands?
    Most British islands experience strong winds and sea mists. A good number even have graveyards. What is distinctive about the island in the novel is that it is a tidal island - connected to the mainland twice a day and cut off the remainder of the time. This situation is ideal for building the suspense and sense of terror necessary for a ghost story
  4. "Sounds were deadened, shapes blurred. It was a fog that had come three days before, and did not seem inclined to go away and it had, I suppose, the quality of all such fogs - it was menacing and sinister, disguising the familiar world and confusing the people in it, as they were confused by having their eyes covered and being turned about, in a game of Blind Man's Buff." To which of the following does this description belong?
    London is swathed in a sinister fog at the beginning of Arthur's tale, and yet it is not London which is the source of the novel's sinister events. London fog hides the familiar, which is still present and comforting, despite appearances
  5. Which of the following best describes Monk's Piece?
    Arthur conceives of Monk's Piece, the house he shares with his wife Esmé, as a restful retreat from London, a place of domestic harmony
  6. "I simply went about the house looking in every room and finding nothing of much interest or elegance. Indeed, it was all curiously impersonal, the furniture, the decoration, the ornaments, assembled by someone with little individuality or taste, a dull, rather gloomy and rather unwelcoming home. It was remarkable and extraordinary in only one respect - its situation." What does Arthur find interesting about Eel Marsh House?
    Eel Marsh House is dull and uninteresting in every way. Even its gloominess is undermined - the narrator describes it only as "rather gloomy". Instead, it is its position on the island which makes the house "extraordinary"
  7. Which of the following is correct?
    Arthur sees the Woman in Black in the town, in the island burial ground, at the window, and finally, in a London park; outside, he hears the terrible incident in which the pony and trap are lost in the marsh, as well as hearing the sound of the rocking chair from within the house. The fact that Arthur can be "haunted" anywhere makes the apparitions more terrifying
  8. The door to which room is locked?
    The door to Nathaniel's room is at first locked, then inexplicably unlocked. The final visit Arhtur makes to the room shows evidence of an enraged presence which has wrecked the room
  9. "I had never been quite so alone, nor felt quite so small and insignificant in a vast landscape before, and I fell into a not unpleasant brooding, philosophical frame of mind, struck by the absolute indifference of water and sky to my presence. Some minutes later, I could not tell how many, I came out of my reverie, to realise that I could no longer see very far in front of me and when I turned around I was startled to find that Eel Marsh House, too, was invisible." How does the experience of trying to cross Nine Lives Causeway make Arthur feel?
    At first Arthur enjoys feeling small and insignificant. He writes that the experience makes him feel philosophical. The sudden appearance of mist (and the disappearance of the house) is surprising and confusing
  10. "I could see the entrance to the old, overgrown orchard that lay behind the house and petered out in long grass and tangled thicket at the far end. Beyond that, I glimpsed the perimeter of some rough-looking, open land." Which word choices are especially striking in this description of Arthur's future happy home?
    The place to which Arthur feels mysteriously connected is wild and overgrown in contrast to the cosy domesticity he associates with home

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