This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at context in The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. "Context", when referring to a literary work, usually applies to the environment in which the text was written. “Context” therefore includes an author’s geographical time and location, along with any social and political events which occurred during the author’s lifetime. Some of these identifying features might sound familiar because they are also elements of a text’s “setting”. You remember, of course, that setting refers to the fictional aspects of the world contained in the text. “Context” describes the same aspects of the author’s own world. For some works of historical fiction, the term more appropriately refers to a text’s “historical context”, especially when the author explicitly addresses social and political issues of the past, rather than those of the time the work was written. This is the case with The Woman in Black.
This novel draws upon nineteenth-century genres, traditions and social issues, and its historical context is more relevant in many ways than the author’s own context.
Making the effort to learn about the context of a work of fiction is a good use of your time. You can develop an understanding of the environment in which the text was produced, or even the history of the genre in which the text was written (genre is especially relevant to the study of The Woman in Black). Think about how the author responds to context and how this response shapes the text. Remember not to assume that context dictates the meaning of a text, however. The influence of context is subtle and sometimes even authors struggle to explain how they have been influenced and how this affects the work! Historical events, or issues, are not represented in a clear and unbiased manner in the pages of a fictional text.
Research the context of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, remembering everything you have learned in your English lessons, and try these questions to see how much you know about the novel's various contexts.
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