A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf.
A Haunted House is a short story by Virginia Woolf that was first published in 1921 in her collection Monday or Tuesday (which included eight stories), her only short story collection to appear in her lifetime. In 1944, a few years after her death, Leonard Woolf published eighteen of her short stories under the title A Haunted House. This review though is only on the story of that title, not the whole collection.
Woolf's fiction is never easy and this is no exception. It begins,
Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting. From room to room they went, hand in hand, lifting here, opening there, making sure—a ghostly couple.
“Here we left it,” she said. And he added, “Oh, but here too!” “It’s upstairs,” she murmured. “And in the garden,” he whispered “Quietly,” they said, “or we shall wake them.”
But it wasn’t that you woke us.
Woolf goes on to describe the sensation of the narrator who feels the presence of ghosts and hears them moving about and speaking of a mysterious buried treasure. When she, the narrator, goes seeking them however she doesn't see them:
Not that one could ever see them. The window panes reflected apples, reflected roses; all the leaves were green in the glass. If they moved in the drawing room, the apple only turned its yellow side. Yet, the moment after, if the door was opened, spread about the floor, hung upon the walls, pendant from the ceiling—what? My hands were empty. The shadow of a thrush crossed the carpet; from the deepest wells of silence the wood pigeon drew its bubble of sound. “Safe, safe, safe,” the pulse of the house beat softly. “The treasure buried; the room . . . ” the pulse stopped short. Oh, was that the buried treasure?
It's a beautiful piece, a little unsettling but very moving. There's a sense of frustration, or rather lack of fulfilment, but it is by no means sinister as these ghosts wandering always looking but it is not until the end they find it. The love these ghosts have for each other, however, is undeniable and eternal: these are not a threatening presence. It's very unusual too and an excellent modernist take on ghost stories. I admit I had to read it more than once to get the hang of it, but it is worth it. The story can be read in full here.
And that was my 13th title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week - The Lady of May by Philip Sidney.