Last Updated on January 15, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 488
The Ghost Couple
The ghostly couple are the previous inhabitants of the house who now “haunt” it. When the wife died, the house “darkened,” and the husband spent the rest of his life traveling aimlessly, lost without the treasured “light” of love. Upon his eventual return to the house—implied to be his death—he was finally reunited with his wife after many “long years.”
The ghosts can be interpreted as literal specters or as more metaphorical presences. Read literally, the ghosts represent the promise of an afterlife and the idea that love can transcend death. Though they cannot interact directly with the house’s living inhabitants, the ghostly couple can manipulate objects in the house and communicate with one another. Woolf offers a peaceful vision of death that focuses on the happy reunion of the lovers and the promise that they need never be separated again.
Read metaphorically, the ghosts represent the continuity of life and love across time. Though the past inhabitants of the house are long departed, the house is still “haunted” by their presence through the shared experiences and emotions of love—such as an admiration of the reflections from the drawing room window or the fun of “rolling apples in the loft.” This reading positions love as something that transcends individual circumstances and instead acts as a unifying human experience. Rather than being literal specters, the ghosts are a symbolic acknowledgment that love is and always has been humanity’s greatest treasure.
The Living Couple
The living couple are the current inhabitants of the titular haunted house. Despite being haunted, they seem more intrigued than frightened by the ghost couple and more excited by the prospect of a buried treasure than they are fearful of any supernatural implications. The story is filtered primarily through the living couple’s perspective as they speculate as to what the ghost couple are searching for. The climactic moment arrives when the living couple are woken by the epiphany that they possess the ghost couple’s treasure—love—within themselves.
As the current inhabitants of the house, the living couple have symbolically inherited the love of the ghostly couple, keeping the treasured “light in the heart” bright so that it may someday be passed to future generations. Though the death of the ghostly wife centuries in the past “darkened” the house, it is now once again lit up, offering sanctuary from the harshness of the “wind” and “rain” outside. Throughout the story, Woolf uses luminous imagery to convey a sense of safety and warmth, and light symbolically represents love. By occupying the house, the living couple have brought love back into its walls, keeping the ghost couple’s treasure alive in their hearts. Despite living hundreds of years apart, the ghost couple and the living couple have found the same treasure, suggesting that love is a source of unity for all who have seen its light.