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Virginia Woolf’s short story “A Haunted House” was published in 1985 and offers up an interesting take on the modern ghost story. Using a modernist take on the genre, Woolf turns the conventions of a ghost story on its head, and at times makes it difficult to even understand what is going on in the passage. Throughout the story, two ghosts are searching through their old home, looking for a lost “treasure” but without going into detail on what the treasure is.
The narrator, the inhabitant of the house the ghosts are in, doesn’t see the spirits, but feels their presence in the house.
The word “safe” is repeated numerous times throughout the story toward the ghosts, indicating that the treasure the couple is looking for is in fact inside this house somewhere. The couple is described as how they were before they died, stating that the woman died hundreds of years ago, and her husband left their home and traveled, not wanting to deal with the grief of his departed wife.
In the end of the story we discover that love, and more specifically, the “light in the heart” is the thing that the couple had been searching for, and realized that the thing that they had been searching for the whole time had actually been right in front of them the whole time.
This short story by Virginia Woolf does an excellent job of making the reader question what point of view they are experiencing, the ghosts or the resident of the house.
When Woolf writes, “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.” she states that love was their buried treasure, long kept safe inside the house the ghosts had once inhabited. The love they shared being kept safe, and passed on toward the inhabitants of the house. Virginia Woolf’s style makes it easy for her to blend romance and ghost stories in a way that the reader almost won’t notice the connection. Woolf’s use of stream-of-consciousness acts as a vessel for connecting to the readers most inner emotions, and tugs at the heart strings in a way that makes the reader question what they read, and might make the reader even think about picking up the story again to take another glance at the deep emotion that Woolf conveys in under two pages of prose.
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