|Virginia Woolf and her Father|
The Reading Life Virginia Woolf Project
"The Searchlight" was first published in a collection of Virginia Woolf's (1882-1941-UK) A Haunted House and Other Stories in 1944. It was not published elsewhere prior to her death.
"The Searchlight" is a bit of a strange story. As it opens a group of friends are enjoying a drink at an outdoor cafe in London one night.. The time is just before the start of WWII. We know this because of air raid search lights are plying the sky, testing their capability in a soon to come war.
The lead figure in the conversation is a rather elderly financially comfortable lady. She obviously likes to tell stories and is a bit disconnected from reality. Tonight's story is about her great-great-great-grandfather. The story is set around 1820. He seems the source of her wealth. She tells her friends (family?) that her grandfather began to "let himself go" when his wife died. He moved a country girl in with him and people were offended by this and stopped coming to call on him. Her account of the activities of her ancestor does not fully make sense. Either there is something wrong with him or her. I suspect she is in the opening stage of mental problems brought on by old age.
I really liked this passage, especially the part about the books!
"She paused. "There they lived," she went on, "the old man, the woman and the boy. She wasn't his wife, or the boy's mother. She was just a farm hand, a girl the old man had taken to live with him when his wife died. Another reason perhaps why nobody visited them-why the whole place was gone to rack and ruin. But I remember a coat of arms over the door; and books, old books, gone mouldy. He taught himself all he knew from books. He read and read, he told me, old books, books with maps hanging out from the pages. He dragged them up to the top of the tower-the rope's still there and the broken steps. There's a chair still in the window with the bottom fallen out; and the window swinging open, and the panes broken, and a view for miles and miles across the moors."
Something really fun and interesting happens involving a telescope and if it had not happened our speaker would never have been born.
I think it is a misdirected to try to seek out a "meaning for this short narrative. The pleasure in the story comes from the wonderful prose of Woolf and our efforts to figure out what really happened back in 1820. I also enjoyed wondering what the relationship of the elderly lady was to her younger companions. If one wanted you could see the partial illumination of the sky as mirroring the mind of the older lady and as a commentary on the nature of perception.
This delightful story can be read HERE.
Do you have a favorite Virginia Woolf Short story?