The Woman in Black - Context
What do you know about the woman in black?

The Woman in Black - Context

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.

How to write about 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.

When was The Woman in Black first published?
The novel was first published in the 1980s, although it is set at an earlier date
In what genre is the novel written?
Ghost Story
The novel is sometimes described as "gothic" because it resembles gothic novels of the 18th and 19th centuries. Susan Hill, however, places the novel firmly in the nineteenth-century ghost story tradition
The novel is set sometime in the first half of the twentieth century, although many of the events with which it is concerned took place in the late-nineteenth century. How does the late-Victorian setting for these events affect the plot?
Victorians were more likely to believe in ghosts than people in late-twentieth-century Britain
The plot depends on the absence of technology
The expectation that an unmarried mother would hand her child over to her married sister would be much less likely in twentieth-century Britain
Having key events set in an earlier era has no effect on the plot
The plot hinges on the terrible grief and desire for revenge felt by Jennet Humfrye, who blames her sister for the loss of her son Nathaniel. The expectation that Jennet would give up her son derives from late-Victorian societal norms
Who is Nathaniel's father?
Mr Drablow
Mr Jerome
Mr Bentley
The unknown "P" is sent abroad, according to one of Jennet Humfrye's letters. "P" is likely to be short for Pierston, the surname Nathaniel loses when he is adopted by the Drablows
The title of the chapter, 'Whistle and I'll Come to You', is a reference to a ghost story by which of the following authors?
Horace Walpole
Charles Dickens
Henry James
M. R. James
The title is a reference to M. R. James's short ghost story, "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad"
What does Arthur believe distinguishes Jennet Humfrye's experience from that of a Victorian servant girl?
As a genteel woman, she would not have cared at all what society thought of her behaviour
She was more fortunate than unmarried servant girls because she had enough money to care for her child
She would have known at least that her son was alive and well cared for
She was less fortunate because unmarried servant girls would have been able to bring up their own children without shame
Arthur considers Jennet Humfrye to have been more fortunate, as a respectable woman from a land-owning family, than the unmarried servant girls who sometimes murdered or abandoned their children in shame and despair
In an interview with The Guardian, Susan Hill discusses the necessary ingredients of a "true" ghost story, explaining that the ghost ought to have a purpose. What is the Woman in Black's purpose?
To cause mayhem in Crythin Gifford
To give solace to bereaved parents
To warn travellers of the dangers of Nine Lives Causeway
The Woman in Black is a typical ghost, a restless spirit still attached to the living world by an unrealised desire
Where is Jennet Humfrye sent by her family?
To Eel Marsh House
To Scotland
To live with a family in London
To Crythin Gifford
The Humfrye family send their pregnant, unmarried daughter away to give birth in Scotland. The Victorian practice of "hiding" out-of-wedlock pregnancies was intended to preserve the reputation of the family and the young woman herself
What one of the following is NOT a characteristic of the novel?
The setting, including the landscape, architecture and weather, is gloomy
The primary concern of the text is a dark romance
The story depends upon an actual ghost
The central characters of the novel are isolated
Although Arthur loves his fiancée Stella, and Jennet might have loved "P", romance is not central to the novel
Which of the following is correct?
The Woman in Black has been adapted as a play
The Woman in Black has been adapted as a film
The title of The Woman in Black is a nod to a well-known nineteenth-century mystery novel, The Woman in White
All of the above
The play based on the novel was first staged in 1987, at Christmas. In 2012 the film of the novel was released, starring Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps
You can find more about this topic by visiting BBC Bitesize - The Woman in Black

Author:  Sheri Smith

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