It’s Day 5 of the #A2ZChallenge. This year, I invite you to read and discuss short stories with me. Each day, I will bring you a ‘Read of the Day,’ a short story in English, so that we can indulge in the joy of reading. You can visit my site daily for a short story with analysis and participate in the discussion in the comments.
Read of the Day
Today, we will read The Haunted House by Virginia Woolf.
You can read the short story online here.
About the Author
Virginia Woolf is a famous English novelist, essayist, and trailblazer in modern literature. Her most accomplished works include novels like Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), and Orlando (1928), and the essay A Room of One’s Own (1929).
The Haunted House by Virginia Woolf is a tease. I know how hard it is to write horror. But it’s also equally a lot of fun to scare people off their seats. You have to paint your words deftly to invoke fear, excitement, and curiosity in your readers.
It’s evident when you read the story that Woolf must have had a blast writing this story. She builds anxiety and anticipation in the reader with her wizardry of words, sketchy narrative, blurred characterization, and genre-bender.
The story starts with the opening line – “Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting.” That’s a brilliant way to start a horror story. You is a vague character that could point out to the living house-inmates, a couple in this case, or you, the reader. The opening phrase “Whatever hour” plays upon the eternal question of humankind – Do ghosts exist or a figment of our imagination? It also dances upon our perpetual fear of all things spirits and the otherworldly.
So, we learn there’s a potential ghost couple who’s busy searching for something around the house. We hear fragmented pieces of their conversations elevating our confusion about the reality of ghosts, and curiosity for the treasure they’re desperately seeking.
“Here we slept,” she says. And he adds, “Kisses without number.” “Waking in the morning—” “Silver between the trees—” “Upstairs—” “In the garden—” “When summer came—” “In winter snowtime—” The doors go shutting far in the distance, gently knocking like the pulse of a heart.”
There’s a lot happening inside the house, and for a haunted one that too. There’s a living and dead couple, a possible narrator, and us (?) in the story as characters. The house is far from silent and brims with action as Woolf uses the techniques of personification.
“the wood pigeons bubbling with content and the hum of the threshing machine from the farm.”
It’s Virginia Woolf’s ingeniousness to take a story, topple it completely, and turn it into something else altogether. As a reader, she takes us, the readers, on a wild emotional ride that goes from fear and confusion to surprise and clarity.
You have to read the story to know how Woolf takes us from an opening line like—
“Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting.”
to this concluding line—
“Here we left our treasure—” Stooping, their light lifts the lids upon my eyes. “Safe! safe! safe!” the pulse of the house beats wildly. Waking, I cry “Oh, is this your buried treasure? The light in the heart.”
The story is unlike any horror story you’ve read to date. It’s got a poetic language to it that lends it a delicate touch. When you come to a conclusion like the one in the story, it all makes perfect sense. The house is definitely haunted. But more so by the memories of the ghosts’ lived experiences in the house than the ghosts per se. The light is symbolic of the love shared between them and how it got extinguished with the woman’s death. The ghosts searched for the love they shared once upon a time in this sacred space – their house.
What are your thoughts on The Haunted House by Virginia Woolf?
*I’m participating in the #BlogchatterA2Z Challenge.