Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
Haunted House" is a short short story in the
fantasy genre about a ghost couple and a living couple
occupying the same dwelling.
Press published the story in London in 1921 as part of
a collection of Woolf stories entitled Monday or
Tuesday. In the same year, Harcourt, Brace, and
Company, Inc., published the collection in New York
action takes place in a coastal region of Southeastern
England at a house in an unidentified locale where
there is a farm. The time is the late nineteenth
century or the early twentieth century.
Current occupants of a house.
Couple: Past occupants of the house.
Point of View
living man and woman tell the story in first-person
point of view, reporting the conversation and activity
of the ghost couple.
tone is playful and lighthearted. The reader realizes
that the ghosts—who are conducting a search—pose no
threat to the living couple.
man and woman who occupy a house hear male and female
ghosts wandering about the dwelling as they talk about
a finding a treasure. The living man and woman have no
knowledge of a treasure, such as gold or money, hidden
on their property.
....... When they were alive, the
ghosts had occupied the house more than a century
before the current residents. The woman died first,
and the man left the house and traveled. "He . . .
went North, went East, saw the stars turned in the
Southern sky; sought the house, found it dropped
beneath the Downs," the narration says. The Downs are
a range of chalk mountains along the southeastern
coast of England.
.......After the man died, he
rejoined the woman ghost at the house they once
occupied, the same house where the living man and
woman now dwell. As the ghosts search for their
treasure, they roam the house, opening and closing
doors and drawing curtains back. Although they try not
to disturb the living couple, the latter can hear them
now and then.
.......And what is the treasure
the ghosts seek? The narration reveals that it is the
rediscovery of the places in and around the house
where the ghosts spent little moments expressing their
love for each other. The female ghost says, "Here,
sleeping; in the garden reading; laughing, rolling
apples in the loft. Here we left our treasure."
After an encounter with the ghost couple in their
bedroom, the living couple realize what the ghosts are
.......In the second sentence of
the story, the phrase "hand in hand" hints that the
ghosts are in love. The author then leads the reader
to believe that the story is about finding a treasure,
perhaps gold or money. In fact, the story is about
treasure—the treasure of love. As the ghosts wander
about the house, they are rediscovering places full of
memories of their love for each other.
climax occurs at the end of the story, when the
narration reveals that the treasure is "the light in the
style in this story has a poetic touch.
.......In the second sentence, for
example, she uses a commonplace poetic device,
inversion, when she writes "making sure a ghostly
couple" instead of "a ghostly couple making sure."
This is the same device that Edgar Allan Poe uses in
the first line of "The Raven," his most famous poem:
"Once upon a midnight dreary (instead of once upon a
dreary midnight). Another example of inversion occurs
in these two sentences: Stooping, holding their silver
lamp above us, long they look and deeply. Long they
.......Wharton also repeats a
phrase—"Safe, safe, safe—" in way that makes it
resemble a refrain in a ballad.
.......In addition, Wharton uses
the kind of finespun imagery that occurs frequently in
poetry. Examples of this imagery appear under Figures
Figures of Speech
So fine, so rare, coolly sunk beneath the surface the beam I sought always burnt behind the glass
Wandering through the
house, opening the windows, whispering not to wake us, the ghostly
couple seek their joy.
The wind drives straightly; the flame stoops slightly
The wind falls, the
rain slides silver down the glass
So fine, so rare
"What did I come in
here for? What did I want to find?"
The window panes reflected apples, reflected roses;
the faces bent; the
faces pondering; the
faces that search the sleepers and seek their
darkness for a wandering beam of sun
of the trees to a weaver (trees spun)
Death was the glass
death to the glass
"Safe, safe, safe," the
pulse of the house beat gladly.
of the house to a beating heart
Moonbeams splash and
spill wildly in the rain.
moonbeams to a liquid
the hum of
the threshing machine
from the deepest
wells of silence the wood pigeon drew its bubble of
Whatever hour you woke there was a door
shutting. From room to room they went, hand in hand,
lifting here, opening there, making sure a ghostly
"Here we left it," she said. And he added, "Oh, but here
too!" "It's upstairs," she murmured. "And in the
garden," he whispered. "Quietly," they said, "or we
shall wake them."
But it wasn't that you woke us. Oh, no. "They're looking
for it; they're drawing the curtain," one might say, and
so read on a page or two. "Now they've found it, " one
would be certain, stopping the pencil on the margin. And
then, tired of reading, one might rise and see for
oneself, the house all empty, the doors standing open,
only the wood pigeons bubbling with content and the hum
of the threshing machine sounding from the farm. "What
did I come in here for? What did I want to find?" My
hands were empty. "Perhaps it's upstairs then?" The
apples were in the loft. And so down again, the garden
still as ever, only the book had slipped into the grass.
But they had found it in the drawing room. Not that one
could ever see them. The window panes reflected apples,
reflected roses; all the leaves were green in the glass.
If they moved in the drawing room, the apple only turned
its yellow side. Yet, the moment after, if the door was
opened, spread about the floor, hung upon the walls,
pendant from the ceiling, what? My hands were
empty. The shadow of a thrush crossed the carpet; from
the deepest wells of silence the wood pigeon drew its
bubble of sound. "Safe, safe, safe" the pulse of the
house beat softly. "The treasure buried; the room . . ."
the pulse stopped short. Oh, was that the buried
A moment later the light had faded. Out in the garden
then? But the trees spun darkness for a wandering beam
of sun. So fine, so rare, coolly sunk beneath the
surface the beam
I sought always burnt behind the glass. 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. "Safe, safe, safe," the pulse of the house
beat gladly. "The Treasure yours."
The wind roars up the avenue. Trees stoop and bend this
way and that. Moonbeams splash and spill wildly in the
rain. But the beam of the lamp falls straight from the
window. The candle burns stiff and still. Wandering
through the house, opening the windows, whispering not
to wake us, the ghostly couple seek their joy.
"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
doors go shutting far in the distance, gently knocking
like the pulse of a heart.
Nearer they come, cease at the doorway. The wind falls,
the rain slides silver down the glass. Our eyes darken,
we hear no steps beside us; we see no lady spread her
ghostly cloak. His hands shield the lantern. "Look," he
breathes. "Sound asleep. Love upon their lips."
Stooping, holding their silver lamp above us, long they
look and deeply. Long they pause. The wind drives
straightly; the flame stoops slightly. Wild beams of
moonlight cross both floor and wall, and, meeting, stain
the faces bent; the faces pondering; the faces that
search the sleepers and seek their hidden joy.
"Safe, safe, safe," the heart of the house beats
proudly. "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" Stooping, their light lifts the
lids upon my eyes. "Safe! safe! safe!" the pulse of the
house beats wildly. Waking, I cry "Oh, is this your
buried treasure? The light in the heart."
Study Questions and Essay
- Are the living
couple as much in love as the ghostly couple?
- At what point in
the story does the reader realize that the ghostly
couple pose no threat to the living couple? Explain
Write an essay explaining
why you like the story (or why you dislike it).
- Write your own
short story about friendly ghosts.
- Write a short story about malevolent