A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf
In A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf we have the theme of struggle, loss, commitment, connection, love and acceptance. Taken from her The Complete Shorter Fiction collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed female narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Woolf may be exploring the theme of struggle. Both the deceased man and woman are searching for something (love) yet they cannot find what they are looking for at the beginning of the story. They roam the house for the majority of the story till they find what it is they are looking for. Woolf bringing the reader closer into the relationship of the deceased man and woman. It may also be important that the house, though hundreds of years old, is still standing as symbolically Woolf may be suggesting that so too is the love of the deceased man and woman. They remain very much in love despite the passing of time. What is also interesting about the story is the fact that Woolf never gives any of the three characters in the story a physical description which might suggest that love is not confined to the physical. Love goes deeper than physicality. It is also noticeable that the deceased man and woman are committed to finding their buried treasure which may suggest that they are also committed to each other. Despite the passing of time, hundreds of years, both remain very much drawn to each other.
It may also be important to remember that the deceased couple pose no threat to the narrator. If anything the tone of the story is one of playfulness. The deceased couple appear to be enjoying their search and at the same time not disturbing the narrator. Their primary focus is on finding what they have lost or misplaced. Woolf’s use of the line ‘Safe, Safe, Safe, the pulse of the house beat softly’ may also have some significance as it is possible that Woolf is comparing the house, though it is occupied by the deceased couple, to a beating heart. Which suggests there is life in the house beyond the narrator. Despite the fact that the couple are dead they live on in the house. They are still alive in some way. This may be important as Woolf could be suggesting that once a person has love in their life, they will live on regardless. The fact that Woolf also uses the line ‘Safe, Safe, Safe’ three times in the story mirrors in many ways the repetitive beating of the heart. It happens more than once it beats again and again. Which further suggests that there is life in the house even though it is occupied by the deceased couple.
Another important line in the story is ‘from the deepest wells of silence the wood pigeon drew its bubble of sound.’ Again this line suggests that there is life in the house and gardens. From nothing comes something, a breath of life. Just as Woolf introduces, at least symbolically, a beating heart now she introduces breath which further suggests there is life in the house for the deceased couple. Though they may be physically dead they are very much alive in every other form. They are ghosts with not only a beating heart but also with the breath of life inside them. Woolf managing to turn the dead into the living again without using physicality. The deceased couple may be spirits but they are spirits who are very much alive. There is also a closeness between the deceased couple which may again suggest that they were or are very much in love. They communicate with each other throughout the story.
The end of the story is also interesting as the narrator has no fear when it comes to engaging with the deceased couple. She knows that they are looking for ‘the light in the heart.’ The very thing that keeps people alive, love and hope. If anything the narrator welcomes the deceased couple which suggests that she understands what it is they are looking for. She also respects their search and does not at any stage hinder the deceased couple. Which further suggests that the narrator understands the deceased couple. Their plight is very human. The search for happiness and love. Which both find at the end of the story. It is also ironic that Woolf uses the word ‘light’ in the final sentence as death is often associated with darkness. However there is no darkness for the deceased couple. They find the love they were looking for albeit through the intervention of the living. Which very much suggests that there is a connection between the living and the dead or in the case of the story between the narrator and the deceased couple. It is also noticeable that the narrator accepts the deceased couple. Again she does not fear them rather she allows their spirit to roam the house where many would be too afraid to live in a house that was haunted.