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Virginia Woolf’s A Haunted House


Does literature depend on the length of the work, or its quality, in order to give it meaning?

If a poem of 2-3 lines can give so much meaning beyond what is read, so can a short story of, say, 500 words, if it's written adequately and expertly. What can a short story of 500-700 possibly contain to give it that literary interpretation, you might ask?

The art of literature has little to do with its length but more to do with its depth, its words, and the illusion that is being created with these words. Let's take a look at one particular classic short, Virginia Woolf's A Haunted House.

This short story only has about 710 words, yet it is packed with so many elements, only a literary mastermind could have carefully written and implemented them. This story, when read at first, seems like it's a ramble, mixed with random quotes and awkward /incomplete sentences. When we read it again, it then begins to dawn on us what the story is about – two ghosts rummaging and looking for a treasure at house where they used to occupy, which was at that moment being occupied by a living couple. It is narrated by one of the living beings as they describe how the ghosts open doors and run up the stairs, "drawing the curtains" in search of the treasure. They hold hands as they walk around the house, outside to the garden, and so on. It is not until we read the last paragraph that we realize that the treasure that the ghostly couple seeks is the treasure of their love. They go around the house, looking for the spots where they shared their love, 'seeking their joy'. They reminisce on the good times, and the love they shared in the house while they lived, and they look on to the sleeping living couple, 'seeking their hidden joy', wanting to know if the couple shared as deep a love as theirs was.

I found A Haunted House very different from the usual shorts that I read, and I thought it was a perfect literary one. Some might find it confusing somewhat, but i thought it was interesting; it's concise, playful yet full of hidden meanings, almost like the hidden treasure that the ghosts were looking for: the reader trying to figure out the speakers and what treasure they were aiming to find. It didn't waste time on too much words, dialogue, descriptions, or revelations.

It is indeed my most favorite of all of Woolf's short collections.
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Content copyright © 2014 by Ije Kanu. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Ije Kanu. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Ije Kanu for details.

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