A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf, 1921
The magic trick:
Subverting the typical expectations, stakes and implications of the romantic comedy
I probably respect this story more than I enjoyed it. No doubt it feels very modern and far ahead of its time.
Ostensibly, it’s a ghost story. But we only know about the ghosts because our narrator tells us about them. Unlike Henry James’s The Turn Of The Screw, however, we’re not especially interested in assessing the narrator’s mental health. The story is more concerned with the ideas inherent to the narrator’s sensitivity to ghostly activity.
And that’s quite a trick on Woolf’s part.
The wind roars up the avenue. Trees stoop and bend this way and that. Moonbeams splash and spill wildly in the rain. But the beam of the lamp falls straight from the window. The candle burns stiff and still. Wandering through the house, opening the windows, whispering not to wake us, the ghostly couple seek their joy.
“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.
Nearer they come; cease at the doorway. The wind falls, the rain slides silver down the glass. Our eyes darken; we hear no steps beside us; we see no lady spread her ghostly cloak. His hands shield the lantern. “Look,” he breathes. “Sound asleep. Love upon their lips.”
Stooping, holding their silver lamp above us, long they look and deeply. Long they pause. The wind drives straightly; the flame stoops slightly. Wild beams of moonlight cross both floor and wall, and, meeting, stain the faces bent; the faces pondering; the faces that search the sleepers and seek their hidden joy.
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