A Haunted House

tutorial, critical comment, plot, and study resources

A Haunted House first appeared in Monday or Tuesday (1921) – a collection of experimental short prose pieces Virginia Woolf had written between 1917 and 1921. It was published by the Hogarth Press and also included A Society, Monday or Tuesday, An Unwritten Novel, The String Quartet, Blue and Green, and Solid Objects.


A Haunted House

Virginia Woolf – portrait


A Haunted House – critical commentary

Pronouns

First time readers of this story are likely to be bewildered by Woolf’s very indirect form of narrative, the lack of formal identification of anybody in the story, and her switching between one pronoun and another.

In the opening sentence – ‘Whatever hour you awoke’ – she is using you in the sense of one, not speaking of any person in particular. In the very next sentence – ‘From room to room they went’ – they refers to the ‘ghostly couple’ who are re-visiting the house in search of something.

They are referred to as she and he in what follows, but in their imagined conversation – ‘Quietly’ they said, ‘or we shall wake them’ – the them refers to the couple who currently occupy the house, one of whom is the narrator of the story.

And the point of view switches back to the narrator, who confirms ‘But it wasn’t that you woke us’, and goes on to observe ‘They’re looking for it’. At this point it is not at all clear what it refers to. It appears be something like the spirit of the house: ‘Safe, safe, safe,’ the pulse of the house beat gladly, ‘The treasure yours.’

The ghostly couple then revisit their old bedroom, where the current occupants are asleep. They reflect on their own previous happiness there, which parallels that of the current occupiers, and the narrator, who has been imagining the visiting ghosts, awakens to wonder if the hidden treasure they were seeking was a sense of joy at living there.


A Haunted House -study resources

A Haunted House The Complete Shorter Fiction – Vintage Classics – Amazon UK

A Haunted House The Complete Shorter Fiction – Vintage Classics – Amazon US

A Haunted House The Complete Shorter Fiction – Harcourt edition – Amazon UK

A Haunted House The Complete Shorter Fiction – Harcourt edition – Amazon US

An Unwritten Novel Monday or Tuesday and Other Stories – Gutenberg.org

A Haunted House A Haunted House – Hogarth reprint edition – Amazon UK

A Haunted House A Haunted House – Hogarth reprint edition – Amazon US

An Unwritten Novel The Mark on the Wall – Oxford World Classics edition – Amazon UK

An Unwritten Novel The Mark on the Wall – Oxford World Classics edition – Amazon US

A Haunted House The Complete Works of Virginia Woolf – Kindle edition

Red button The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf – Amazon UK

Red button Virginia Woolf – Authors in Context – Amazon UK

Red button The Cambridge Introduction to Virginia Woolf – Amazon UK


A Haunted House – story synopsis

An un-named narrator and one of the current occupants of an old house recounts the impression of a visit to it by previous occupants in the form of ghosts.

The ghostly couple are in search of something, and move through the rooms, whilst the narrator is reading in the garden.

The house and its garden are evoked with rural images, shafts of light and shade, and the passage of time and seasons.

The ghostly couple re-visit their old bedroom at night where the current occupants are asleep. They find what they are looking for – in the form of memories of their previous existence, doing the same things as the current occupants, living in harmony with the house.


Principal characters
I the narrator
you (singular) as in ‘one’
they the previous occupants of the house
she previous occupant
he previous occupant
it the ‘ghostly treasure’
them the current occupants of the house
you (plural) the previous occupants
us the current occupants

A Haunted House – first edition

A Haunted House

Cover design by Vanessa Bell


Monk’s House – Rodmell

Monk's House

Virginia Woolf’s old house in Sussex


Further reading

Red button Quentin Bell. Virginia Woolf: A Biography. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972.

Red button Hermione Lee. Virginia Woolf. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.

Red button Nicholas Marsh. Virginia Woolf, the Novels. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

Red button John Mepham, Virginia Woolf. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.

Red button Natalya Reinhold, ed. Woolf Across Cultures. New York: Pace University Press, 2004.

Red button Michael Rosenthal, Virginia Woolf: A Critical Study. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979.

Red button Susan Sellers, The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Red button Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader. New York: Harvest Books, 2002.

Red button Alex Zwerdling, Virginia Woolf and the Real World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.


Other works by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf To the LighthouseTo the Lighthouse (1927) is the second of the twin jewels in the crown of her late experimental phase. It is concerned with the passage of time, the nature of human consciousness, and the process of artistic creativity. Woolf substitutes symbolism and poetic prose for any notion of plot, and the novel is composed as a tryptich of three almost static scenes – during the second of which the principal character Mrs Ramsay dies – literally within a parenthesis. The writing is lyrical and philosophical at the same time. Many critics see this as her greatest achievement, and Woolf herself realised that with this book she was taking the novel form into hitherto unknown territory.
Virginia Woolf To the Lighthouse Buy the book at Amazon UK
Virginia Woolf To the Lighthouse Buy the book at Amazon US

 

The Complete Shorter FictionThe Complete Shorter Fiction contains all the classic short stories such as The Mark on the Wall, A Haunted House, and The String Quartet – but also the shorter fragments and experimental pieces such as Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street. These ‘sketches’ (as she called them) were used to practice the techniques she used in her longer fictions. Nearly fifty pieces written over the course of Woolf’s writing career are arranged chronologically to offer insights into her development as a writer. This is one for connoisseurs – well presented and edited in a scholarly manner.
Virginia Woolf - The Complete Shorter Fiction Buy the book at Amazon UK
Virginia Woolf - The Complete Shorter Fiction Buy the book at Amazon US

 


Virginia Woolf: BiographyVirginia Woolf is a readable and well illustrated biography by John Lehmann, who at one point worked as her assistant and business partner at the Hogarth Press. It is described by the blurb as ‘A critical biography of Virginia Woolf containing illustrations that are a record of the Bloomsbury Group and the literary and artistic world that surrounded a writer who is immensely popular today’. This is an attractive and very accessible introduction to the subject which has been very popular with readers ever since it was first published..
Virginia Woolf - A Biography Buy the book at Amazon UK
Virginia Woolf - A Biography Buy the book at Amazon US

© Roy Johnson 2013


Virginia Woolf – web links

Red button Virginia Woolf at Mantex
Biographical notes, study guides to the major works, book reviews, studies of the short stories, bibliographies, web links, study resources.

Virginia Woolf web links Blogging Woolf
Book reviews, Bloomsbury related issues, links, study resources, news of conferences, exhibitions, and events, regularly updated.

Virginia Woolf web links Virginia Woolf at Wikipedia
Full biography, social background, interpretation of her work, fiction and non-fiction publications, photograph albumns, list of biographies, and external web links

Virginia Woolf web links Virginia Woolf at Gutenberg
Selected eTexts of her novels and stories in a variety of digital formats.

Virginia Woolf web links Woolf Online
An electronic edition and commentary on To the Lighthouse with notes on its composition, revisions, and printing – plus relevant extracts from the diaries, essays, and letters.

Virginia Woolf web links Hyper-Concordance to Virginia Woolf
Search texts of all the major novels and essays, word by word – locate quotations, references, and individual terms

Virginia Woolf web links Orlando – Sally Potter’s film archive
The text and film script, production notes, casting, locations, set designs, publicity photos, video clips, costume designs, and interviews.

Virginia Woolf web links Women’s History Walk in Bloomsbury
Tour of literary and political homes in Bloomsbury – including Gordon Square, Gower Street, Bedford Square, Tavistock Square, plus links to women’s history web sites.

Virginia Woolf web links Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain
Bulletins of events, annual lectures, society publications, and extensive links to Woolf and Bloomsbury related web sites

Virginia Woolf web links BBC Audio Essay – A Eulogy to Words
Charming sound recording of radio talk given by Virginia Woolf in 1937 – a podcast accompanied by a slideshow of photographs.

Virginia Woolf web links A Family Photograph Albumn
Leslie Stephen compiled a photograph album and wrote an epistolary memoir, known as the “Mausoleum Book,” to mourn the death of his wife, Julia, in 1895 – an archive at Smith College – Massachusetts

Virginia Woolf web links Virginia Woolf first editions
Hogarth Press book jacket covers of the first editions of Woolf’s novels, essays, and stories – largely designed by her sister, Vanessa Bell.

Virginia Woolf web links Virginia Woolf – on video
Biographical studies and documentary videos with comments on Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group and the social background of their times.

Virginia Woolf web links Virginia Woolf Miscellany
An archive of academic journal essays 2003—2014, featuring news items, book reviews, and full length studies.


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