Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, July 18, 2010

"A Haunted House" by Virginia Woolf

"A Haunted House" by Virginia Woolf-(6 pages, 1921)

I have known I needed to read Virginia Woolf (1882 to 1941)  for a long time.    I  am so glad I have now begun to read her work.   So far I have read and posted on two of her novels, The Waves and Jacob's Room, three short stories, and  two essays.    Probably I will never finish it but I have begun the Reading Life Virginia Woolf Project in which I will undertake to read all her fiction.   I take my reading projects quite seriously and I try to acquire background information that may increase my enjoyment and understanding of what I read.    After reading the normal web pages I knew I needed and very much wanted to read Virginia Woolf by Hermoine Lee.   I read her Edith Wharton in late 2008 and I knew that her biography on Woolf would be superbly well written and quite authoritative.   It is also long enough (893 pages) to give Lee space to say what she wants.   I am a bit more than half way through this book (I will attempt a post on it when completed) and I really love it.    Lee talks a lot about the houses Woolf lived in and Woolf's feeling for the history of the places she called her home.   In this context, she speaks of one of Woolf's short stories, "A Haunted House".   As I said earlier, I see the short stories of Woolf as kind of a training ground for reading her longer works of fiction and I am in the process of deciding if she or her best female friend and worse female rival Katherine Mansfield is the best female writer of short stories ever.   As a writer and cultural icon Woolf towers above Mansfield (who did live a very short life) and  all other 20th century women writers in any language.

"A Haunted House" is a ghost story and a three way love story.    Two of the partners are a man and woman, now ghosts, who clearly loved each other very much and had a very long relationship.   There is a third party in their relationship, the house where they lived together.   The ethereal couple walk hand and hand through the house being very careful not to wake the couple sleeping in the bed.   The house is hundreds of years old.    The story begins with these heart breaking lines about going on after death of your love:

 Death was the glass; death was between us; coming to the woman first, hundreds of years ago, leaving the house, sealing all the windows; the rooms were darkened. He left it, left her, went North, went East, saw the stars turned in the Southern sky; sought the house, found it dropped beneath the Downs. "Safe, safe, safe," the pulse of the house beat gladly. "The Treasure yours." 

"Death was the glass.."-No one has said what this means better.     I think anyone who has a partner they deeply love and know they will be with from now on has to think about the one who will be left behind.

The thoughts of the couple as they wander the house are near heart breaking (especially knowing what I do about the  life of Virginia Woolf based on Lee's book) to me:

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. 
"Safe, safe, safe," the heart of the house beats proudly. "Long years " he sighs. "Again you found me." "Here," she murmurs, "sleeping; in the garden reading; laughing, rolling apples in the loft. 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.
"A  Haunted House" is a beautiful story about love, death and history.   It is short and I will admit I read it three times.    Upon completion of Lee's biography I will begin Mrs Dalloway.

If anyone has any suggestions as to how I should proceed with my Virginia Woolf reading project, please leave a comment.    I know many of the readers of my blog know a lot about Woolf and I would appreciate some guidance in this project.   thanks

It can be read on line HERE.   

Mel u


Rebecca Chapman said...

Sounds great, I am definitely going to try and read that soon. I am really enjoying ghost stories at the moment

JoAnn said...

I liked this story, too. Have been looking around for Hermione Lee's VW bio, but my local stores don't seem to carry it. Thanks for reminding me... I'll check in New York next weekend.

Dwight said...

I'm not a Woolf expert, even though I took my blog name from her work, but I can tell you my experience.

I read To the Lighthouse before reading Mrs. Dalloway, which wasn't the best order for me. Mrs. Dalloway is a fine book but to me everything she was developing in that book she did much better in Lighthouse. If I had it to do over again I would read Mrs. Dalloway first.

Suko said...

I am glad you're reading Mrs. Dalloway and look forward to an insightful review.

Dwight said...

Mel, I forgot to mention...I don't know if you are much into books on disc (or tape), but both Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse are wonderful to hear. Woolf would have been one of the last writers I would have thought listening to would improve the text. And I would have been wrong.

Or said...

I need to read more of Virginia Woolf. Thanks for highlighting these titles.

(P.S. I’m going to add “The Reading Life” to my blog’s blog recommendations. Wonderful book discussions!)

Jaja said...

hello, what is meant by the line, "safe safe safe" in the story?

"' said...

I am being introduced to Virginia Woolf. And we have one of her short stories for study- The Searchlight. Could you throw some light on the collection- A Haunted House and this particular story as well. I read it online, just a couple of minutes back and I was lost. It was interesting, but took me nowhere.

I'll be glad if you could help.

Flying peageon said...

Virginia woolf wan an amezing writer..She was persuded d reality as distinct frm realism,is an inward subjective awareness,and in doing so she attemted 2 cnstruct an external world..she was a prolific 'stream of consciousness' fictional writr..Her all wrks wonderfully deals wid internal monologue and psycho analysis..specially JACOB'S ROOM..She was a great modernist.