Virginia Woolf’s short story ‘a haunted house’ is about a house and a ‘ghostly couple’ that inhabit it. The short story uses much symbolism and is very short but can be read again and again with new discoveries each time. The first time I read this story I was pretty clueless to what it was all about. I was unsure of who the characters were and the story was just generally confusing and I got the feeling that the ghosts were antagonistic characters. What are they looking for anyway? On the second go-round I started seeing connections: lots of outdoor things inside this house, the house itself seems to breathe and hold a secret.
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The beautiful thing about this story is that it’s very difficult to say exactly what is going on, but the images that come to mind when reading it are unmistakable. In the first two paragraphs four characters are established as the ‘ghostly couple’ and ‘they’. The ghostly couple is defined further as ‘he’ and ‘she’, which is effective enough to discribe them to the living couple. The second pair, “they” are assumably a living couple, one of which is the writer, who is experiencing these ghosts and their ‘haunting’.
It is possible that the story changes perspectives throughout, but is mostly told from the eyes of one from the living pair. One might guess it is the living female’s account of a night in the haunted house because the author is female, but there is no way to say for sure! She seems to experience more confusion that fear with these ghosts. There is a fifth character who is defined even more loosely, but discribed more thoroughly throughout the story: the house itself. The house has a ‘pulse’ and seems to breath. It even speaks saying, “safe, safe, safe” through the voice of a wood pigeon.
The house seems to be hiding something from the living, a secret treasure. The story is about the house more than anything, discribing and then justifying it’s character. There seem to be three groups of symbols
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mentioned. Images of nature come to mind: apples, roses, grass, wind, trees, a wood pigeon, the garden, . Images of reflection: glass, windowpanes, . The last group are images of light, which may represent this ‘hidden treasure’:a wandering beam of sun, the beam from a lamp, moonbeams, the candle, silver(which is used to discribe the lamp and also ‘silver between the trees’), the flame, the “shadow of a thrush”(which seems to tie these groups of light and nature together).
This light seems to belong to the ghosts, and seems to be sought by the narrator. Nature seems to be a recurring theme in the story. The house seems to be open to the world, decaying, and filled with character. It gives the feeling that At the end of the story the treasure is revealed, “the light in the heart”. These are the spirits of a couple that lived their lives in this house. ” Here we left it” “here we slept” “”waking in the morning” “ upstairs” “ in the garden” the ghosts recall their past lovingly.
The author seems interested something secret they keep “So fine so rare, cooly sunk beneath the surface (of the glass) the beam I sought always burned behind the glass. Death was the glass, death was between us” In this paragraph there are two images that seem to remind us of water. Notice the use of the word ‘sunk’ and later we find that at one time the house was found ”dropped beneath the Downs”. Perhaps these ghosts drowned? In any case we know that the writer is deeply curious about something that these ghosts know. This ‘beam’, this ‘light in the heart’ is still uncleasr, even after reading the story again and again.