The Woman in Black
by Susan Hill
Let's put it this way: Arthur isn't about to be starring in a hit show about talking to people's dead relatives. He's as pragmatic, rational, and—we'll say it—boring as they come. At first, when he sees the woman in black, he goes for the most rational explanation: she's just some poor woman who has a terrible disease and has showed up at Mrs. Drablow's funeral to pay her respects.
Even when confronted with things like the ghostly sound of the pony and trap, Arthur's mind still jumps to reality rather than to ghosts; he's convinced that there is an actual person drowning in the marsh. He likes very real, tangible things and readily explained stories:
Indeed, since those earlier experiences I had deliberately avoided all contemplation of any remotely nontangible matters, and clung to the prosaic, the visible and tangible. (1.13)
Even after his experiences with the woman in black (and her proven supernatural-ness) he continues to cling to the safer, more prosaic part of life. In his relationship with Esmé, he relishes the most mundane parts of life, like living in a cottage, hanging out with the kids, maybe watching some football on Sundays. You know. He never wanted to encounter ghosts, and now that he has, he definitely never wants to encounter one again.
A Modern Young Man
The young Arthur Kipps who goes to Crythin Gifford is definitely a modern man. He doesn't believe in any of this magic or supernatural stuff, pish posh! He points out things like the old and "nasty train" that he's on, and dismisses older people immediately. Check out his awesome (not) initial reaction to Sam Daily:
Having, in my youthful and priggish way, summed up and all but dismissed him… (3.13)
Arthur is modern, urban, and proud of it: he sees the villagers at Crythin Gifford as backwards and rustic in their ways. When they act weird about the fact that he is investigating Eel Marsh House, he just brushes it off as a sign of their backwardness rather than a clue that something hinky might be going on:
I did not believe in ghosts… and whatever stories I had heard of them I had, like most rational, sensible young men, dismissed as nothing more than stories indeed. (5.30)
Here's another way of thinking it: Arthur is a thoroughly modern guy who wants nothing more than to forget about all the embarrassing aspects of the past—like, say, neon leggings or how everyone used to wear really low-rise jeans.
But when he's actually confronted with the past in the form of a very angry woman in black, he finds that his modern sensibilities are no match for the past.
Lost in Memories
And the past definitely has a hold on Arthur now. Even with his façade of calm domesticity in his new life with Esmé, it's obvious that he'll never really get over his past. He can't even settle down for a cozy night telling ghost stories with his family:
I had always known in my heart that the experience would never leave me, that it was now woven into my very fibers, an inextricable part of my past… (1.62)
And maybe this is why the story is told from Arthur's perspective: it's a story about being haunted by the past. Just as the woman in black is haunted by her past and cannot move on, Arthur is haunted by his encounter with the ghost of Eel Marsh House. But Arthur wants something different. He doesn't want to be trapped in the past like she is, wandering through the same painful memories again and again. He wants to tell his story and move on in earnest. And we think he succeeds. Check out the very last line:
They asked for my story. I have told it. Enough. (12.30)
That sounds to us like a man ready to start living in the present again.Arthur Kipps' Timeline