Well, I’ve dived into Virginia Woolf’s short stories. Not sure why since most of you will know that this is not my favourite genre. I’ve only read the first two stories in this collection but I am so excited to be reminded of Woolf’s magnificent prose that I couldn’t resist sharing.
The first story, A Haunted House, is remarkably short. Woolf’s strength is revealed here as she clearly captures the atmosphere of this house and the ghosts haunting it. The story is filled with rhetorical questions – “What did I come in here for? What did I want to find?” – which are posed by the ghosts who are seeking “their joy” which they describe as a buried treasure. The metaphor is marvellous, the house imbued with this miraculous energy, their memories encased in the very air that fills these spaces, the “heart of the house” literally “beats proudly”. The notion of this joy as connected to pride leads us to the heart of Woolf’s message in this story: Joy comes from connections between people and it is through others that we find ourselves. For Woolf, this realisation often comes too late:
“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 … ‘Safe, safe, safe,’ the pulse of the house beats gladly. ‘The Treasure yours.’”
Ironically, the second story in this collection is remarkably different to the first one. In A Society Woolf clearly conveys her feminist bent, parodying patriarchal influences and emphases. The story describes a group of young women who gather regularly over a period of years to investigate the contribution that man has made to the world, particularly to the world of books.
“We have gone on all these ages supposing that men were equally industrious, and that their works were of equal merit. While we have borne the children, they, we supposed, have borne the books and the pictures. We have populated the world. They have civilised it. but now that we can read, what prevents us from judging the results? Before we bring another child into the world we must swear that we will find out what the world is like.”
The subtext is clear here, the revelation “Why did my father teach me to read?” when there is nothing worth reading? Together these women decide that they will collectively not bear any more children until they are satisfied with man’s contribution.
The realisations abound in this story and it is quite brilliant in the way that it engages reader through humour and wit. For me, this is essential Woolf, encapsulating all that makes her brilliant.