Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“A Haunted House” employs several themes that became the focus of Virginia Woolf’s later fiction. The permanence of love, the difficulties of marriage, the inevitability of death, and the connections between all souls, living and dead, are concepts that Woolf treats with great complexity in the ten paragraphs of this short story, as well as in the many pages of her best-known novels. She attempts to uncover the profound, unspoken aspects of human relationships.

Love endures in “A Haunted House.” Not even cruel fate can keep the ghostly lovers apart. By locating their old sense of joy in the living couple that shares their house, Woolf raises the hope that both this life and the afterlife will be kingdoms of the heart. This is as optimistic a vision of human relationships as Woolf will ever offer. Although many of the characters in Mrs. Dalloway (1925) can never forget the first, most enduring loves of their lives, there is no suggestion in that novel that lost love can be recovered, even in the afterlife, as it is in “A Haunted House.” In Woolf’s novels, love, particularly love expressed through the institution of marriage, rarely runs a smooth course.

The interruption of the ghostly lovers’ marriage by death forecasts many such occurrences in Woolf’s major fiction. Her first heroine, Rachel Ambrose of The Voyage Out (1915), dies before her wedding. Septimus Smith commits suicide in Mrs. Dalloway,...

(The entire section is 426 words.)