What is the climax, or moment of change, in "A Haunted House" by Virginia Woolf?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The climax or the turning point in a story is usually a moment of the greatest intensity, when a major shift occurs in the plot or when something of importance takes place that affects the reader's perceptions and/or understanding of the tale.

In this case, it seems mostly likely that the present homeowner's realization of the treasure "left" (or more likely, "experienced") by the ghostly visitors represents the story's climax. Though we often will find the climax toward the end of a story, followed by some resolution, this is not always the case. For example, in the short story, "The Most Dangerous Game," by Richard Connell, the climax comes at the very end of the story—with little or no resolution. Such is the case with Virginia Woolf's "A Haunted House."

The reader soon understands that the inhabitant of the house (a woman) has ghostly visitors, and in reading this short piece, there are hints as to the activities the couple engaged in when they were alive and living in that house—at the end—but the haunting seems to come from their separation in life, and the search for their "treasure" in death:

Death was the glass; death was between us, coming to the woman first, hundreds of years ago, leaving the house, sealing all the windows; the rooms were darkened. He left it, left her, went North, went East, saw the stars turned in the Southern sky; sought the house, found it dropped beneath the Downs.

Woolf expertly presents the mood quickly (for the story is very short) by introducing the presence of the ghosts once the sun goes down. Light is referred to several times. The weather conditions emphasize a night perfect for "haunting:"

The wind roars up the avenue. Trees stoop and bend this way and that. Moonbeams splash and spill wildly in the rain.

However, this haunting is unlike the stereotypical kind we might expect that produces a sense of fear and/or dread. What seems to drive this "visitation" is not horror, but love.

"Here we slept," she says. And he adds, "Kisses without number." "Waking in the morning--" "Silver between the trees--" "Upstairs--" 'In the garden--" "When summer came--" "In winter snowtime--"

The information that may foreshadow the "treasure" in the story comes with, "Kisses without number" and "Sound asleep. Love upon their lips."

The couple, reunited in death, come "home," and speak of the sorrow and joys of their life together: sleeping in the bed there; reading, laughing and "rolling apples," things that they lost when she died—when he went away—perhaps a sailor..."saw stars turned in the Southern sky..." (Though these might well be the things the new inhabitants enjoy also.) The ghostly couple's joy is complete in finding each other, but then grows in seeing others sharing what they had:

"Long years--" he sighs. "Again you found me." "Here," she murmurs, "sleeping; in the garden reading; laughing, rolling apples in the loft. Here we left our treasure--"

Woolf reveals the secret in the last line:

Waking, I cry, "Oh, is this your buried treasure? The light in the heart."

In finally realizing what the treasure is, the reader sees not only the turning point of the story (the climax), but the story's end as well, without the falling action or resolution. However, the story does not suffer from the lack of a more "traditional" structure—but keeps the reader guessing until the end.

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