Places, People and Time Passing: Virginia Woolf's Haunted Houses.
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
Country homes (Portrayals)
British fiction (Works)
British fiction (Criticism and interpretation)
|Author:||Wisker, Gina (Australian writer)|
|Publication:||Name: Hecate Publisher: Hecate Press Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Women's issues/gender studies Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Hecate Press ISSN: 0311-4198|
|Issue:||Date: May, 2011 Source Volume: 37 Source Issue: 1|
|Topic:||NamedWork: To the Lighthouse (Novel); Jacob's Room (Novel); Mrs. Dalloway (Novel)|
|Persons:||Named Person: Woolf, Virginia; Woolf, Virginia|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: United Kingdom Geographic Code: 4EUUK United Kingdom|
Haunting is a strange term to use when considering Virginia
Woolf's work. We rarely think of Woolf as a fantasist or as someone
who deals with the supernatural. She would not be normally included in a
list of those who, influenced by the Victorian supernatural, considered
ghosts, table tapping, vampires and the like. If, however, the notion of
haunting is extended to the return of the repressed, the influential,
the lovingly lost, the imprinting on important places of important
events and people, then the central question (asked in To The
Lighthouse) 'what lasts?', as well as haunted lives and houses
are immediately seen as central to her work. Woolf's Mrs Ramsay is
a lingering presence. Jacob and his boots in Jacob's Room live on
in the memories of those who loved him, while the house in 'A
Haunted House' is peopled with a couple who loiter on the edge of
consciousness, echoes of the past. A focus upon this aspect of
Woolf's work is an indication of our own fascination with the
imaginative life, the supernatural, the metaphorical, at the beginning
of the twenty-first century; on the one hand we know science can explain
so much and are attracted to the less rational as a response; on the
other, we know that so much cannot be explained by science or logic, and
we again read vampire tales and ghost stories.
In the context of her contribution to the English country house tradition and focusing on To the Lighthouse and 'A Haunted House', this essay considers Woolf's use of the supernatural, of hauntings, returns, the importance of belief in a lingering human presence, and the imprinting of the human on places, particularly houses. In doing this it relates her work to a late Victorian/early twentieth century interest in the supernatural (by Henry James, Edith Wharton, and others) and to the tradition of ghost stories by women (May Sinclair, E. Nesbit, and others), and it establishes a reading which aligns itself with the revived fascination with fantasy, ghosts, and the Other in the late twentieth, early twenty-first century.
As in both To the Lighthouse and Jacob's Room, Woolf's houses recall and replay versions of the English country house tradition, strung with British values, property relationships, continuing heredity. Ben Jonson's Penshurst, Darcy's house Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice, and, latterly, Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, George Bernard Shaw, Heartbreak House, T.S. Eliot, The Family Reunion and Tom Stoppard, Arcadia--all of which variously emphasise values of continuity and harmony, or undercut and question them. In his The Great Good Place, Malcolm Kelsall considers real and fictional country houses, exploring ways in which the ideal of the country house was established and maintained in the English imagination, and how the construction and preservation of the image has been affected by a range of historical and cultural forces. (3) Kelsall's emphasis on the aristocracy is countered by Woolf's tales of middle classes, the ordinary folk, or intellectuals and their families. Latterly Kari Boyd McBride's Country House Discourse in Early Modern England: A Cultural Study of Landscape and Legitimacy (4) reminds us of the ways in which the country house stands as a metonym for stability, undercut for example by Robert Altman's film Gosford Park, as indeed it also is in Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, both contemporary texts offering intrigue, deception, crime and loss in the heart of the aristocracy and their comfortable country houses.
The questionings and continuities of Woolf's contemporary, E. M. Forster's Howards End, similarly rewrite and revitalise this tradition. The house itself suggests the establishment of certain values and their continuity popular in British and Edwardian traditions. Virginia Woolf, desiring to express a sense of human continuity, needed to move beyond the tedious materialism of Edwardian houses, their furniture, a compulsion to detail the real, but also to avoid the sentimentality of traditional ghost stories. Her achievement is to develop new modes of writing which capture continued presence, fusing elements of the English country house tradition with psychological insights and the supernatural.
The passage from Mrs Dalloway with which I opened, identifies Woolf's continuing concern with exploring a sense of the continuity of existence, the continued presence of the human imprinted on places and on others' lives. Not for Woolf either a belief in spiritualism or in mediumship; in 'table tapping'; her ghosts and hauntings are a version of a continuation of the human.
In her revivifying of haunted places and spaces, Woolf aligns herself both with the concerns of her age, and more generally those of humankind. Woolf's locations resonate with historically contextualised losses. The deaths of a generation in World War One (Jacob's Room, Three Guineas) imprint ghostly presences and continuities on the streets of London, and in the mind of Lady Bexborough in Mrs Dalloway, who presides at a grand opening although she has just lost her favourite son. They are forever present in the London of the early twentieth century, and the holiday home (Talland House in St Ives) in the 'Time Passes' section of To the Lighthouse. Woolf's locations are also laced with the traces of those who have lived in those places; argued, loved, grown up, related to others. This latter kind of haunting is less historically contextualised, more philosophically connected. In her focus on the hauntings of homes, the return of lost loved ones, she works in ways familiar to women writers of the ghost story and the supernatural who use these tropes to suggest neglect, oppression, loss and obsession. When looking at how Woolf used spaces and places in her fictions we need to do as she does: move between inner and outer. Imprinted on the outer world and its spaces and places, are the concerns and the experiences of those who have lived, argued, developed and related there. In times of potential turmoil (wars) she represents losses; breaks and continuities; values.
English country houses--tradition updated
Using houses she has known and loved, upper middle class rather than grand English country mansions, and ones that are often more urban than rural, Woolf engages with both continuities and changes in her world. She also engages with the historical and material even as she dramatises and explores the psychical. Her haunted houses are both places where the private citizen leaves their imprint, and an answer to one of the fundamental questions of human existence--what lasts of us when we are no longer material presence. Contemporary theories recognising that the fantastic (in this case hauntings, returns and traces) can be used in the arts to connote and debate significant issues concerning the everyday politicised real (5) are essential here in our re-readings of writers such as Woolf whose works are more usually seen as concerned with either the material and social worlds of the time (6) or the psychological and phenomenological.
In The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard opens up the domestic interior as a site for longing and the location of versions of self. Lucie Armitt (7) has noted how 'like Woolf, he finds in these spaces innate creativity': 'The space we love is unwilling to remain permanently enclosed. It deploys and appears to move elsewhere without difficulty; into other times, and on different plans of dream and memory.' (8) For Bachelard, what is represented is the house of the good mother. Similarly, in Walter Benjamin's conceptions of the private citizen in the private sphere, there is a connection between construction and continuity of the individual self, through time, and the importance of the living space: the house. (9) Woolf's returning ghostly presences of Mrs Ramsay, and the couple in 'A Haunted House', combine a revived, updated interest in and expression of the supernatural, with the English country house tradition brought into an increasingly bourgeois world. The haunted space of the house offers Woolf, as it does Benjamin and Bachelard, an opportunity to enact the ongoing presence of those whose influence, private, personal and public, lingers imprinted on space and location as it is in our minds and imaginations.
Building on Benjamin, China Mieville positions the importance of the house as social architecture of the self and continuity:
Woolf's haunted houses in St Ives, and Ashame house in Sussex, the location for 'A Haunted House', represent and embody continuity of relationships and values; in To the Lighthouse, this occurs even in the destructive context of world war and its aftermath.
Woolf's haunted houses
Answering the eternal human question, 'what lasts?' of human life and endeavour, the haunted houses of Woolf's fictions continue the English country house tradition on a more domestic note, one more familiar in women's stories of haunting, (11) and utilise the conventions of the ghost story to answer fundamental philosophical questions about the nature of reality, and the reasons for our living.
Woolf was fascinated with places as well as with people, and with the interaction between the two. She was well aware of the complexities of the inheritance of family houses, of the English country house tradition and of its importance for a sense of continuity of values; lineage; history. In A Writer's Diary, locations consistently figure as stimuli for life and writing. London 'is enchanting' (Monday May 26th 1924), 'it takes up the private life and carries it on'. Rodmell stills her mind, providing time for reading and writing. Woolf's friend and, latterly, her lover, Vita Sackville-West, was a family historian, writing Knole and the Sackvilles (1922) and The Heir (1922), followed by The Edwardians (1930), that emphasised her relationship with the family estate which she was prevented from inheriting by the 'technicality' of her gender (a fate that befalls Woolf's Orlando, for whom Vita Sackville-West was the model). Together they 'broke into and explored the house' at Laughton Place (Tuesday September 18th 1927), although Woolf found it 'unspeakably dreary'. Here, in contemplating the death of Laughton's owner, her friend Philip Ritchie, we find her lacing together her thoughts about death and buying houses, emphasising the continuity this suggests.
This leads to a desire to sketch her friends, an account of Rodmell, its people, the village house prices, Monk's House, leading on to thoughts of buying a house in Amberley, and ultimately the writing of Orlando. The Woolfs and their friends clearly spent free time visiting country houses and contemplating where to buy their own versions of houses in the country, a recurrent theme in A Writer's Diary. She was 'both generous and shrewd about the actual historic role of the great houses as cultural transmitters' (13) and saw such houses as Lyme Park as 'little fortresses of civilization'.
Woolf was well aware of the workings and debates of The Society for Psychical Research, of which her father had earlier been a member. She was one of the first to satirise the mechanical fumblings that some of their member practitioners offered those seeking contact with the dead, fuelling her versions of ghostly presences and the continuum of existence. 'Kew Gardens' (1919) demonstrates her criticism of gullible women who rely upon the trappings accompanying promises of the supernatural, of life after death:
However, while Woolf is sceptical regarding the mechanisms of supernatural encounter, she knows and writes of the importance of a 'continuum' of existence, sought by Mr Ramsay who invests in 'what lasts' (though his version of this is based in the mechanistic, that which can be located or counted) and experienced by Mrs Ramsay in her moments of dissolution of self such as that before serving the Boeuf en Daube at her dinner party.
Commenting on Henry James's ghost stories, Woolf rejects traditional blood-curdling tales of headless horsemen, insisting that the most interesting and important stories using the supernatural have their origins in the behaviour of living people. Ghost stories are a mirror held up to versions of our lives. The imaginative, evoked, is reflected in the supernatural: 'Henry James's ghosts have nothing in common with the violent old ghosts--the blood stained sea captains, the white horses, the headless ladies of dark lanes and windy commons. They have their origin within us.' (16) Her choice of 'Sir Edmund Orme', where the ghost of Orme is attached to a specific person rather than place, and The Turn of the Screw, where ghosting is attached to a specific place, relates to such versions of the supernatural. James's characters are, she says, on a life/death continuum so that Milly in The Wings of the Dove goes on with her work after death. (17)
Woolf's particular focus is on the ways in which homes, houses and cities carry the haunting presence of times and people who have left, died, are gone in a material sense. The losses of the war are everywhere in the actions and atmosphere of Mrs Dalloway's London and Londoners. The St Ives holiday home of the Ramsays in To the Lighthouse and Jacob's actual room in Jacob's Room resonate with the continued presence of people who have died and gone. The histories and ghostly presences in Woolf's haunted houses are not the remnants of aristocracy latent in great English country houses but their felt presence in (upper) middle class homes. There are at least two modes of haunting. In one, the presence of World War One leaks out and up through the streets of London for Septimus Warren Smith whose lost friends and comrades from the war are imagined in its streets and buildings, and in the other, traces of personal relationships linger, imprinted on homes, part of the more psychological and philosophical sense that the dead live on in memory and place. As in the English country house tradition, this sense of continued presence suggests the same kind of continuity of established values, traces of the impact of actions of actual people, indicating a much-needed sense of ongoing life and values in times when social stability was under threat, and when the stability of identity, religion, the family and social class was also increasingly tenuous.
Little has been written about Virginia Woolf's versions of the questions, fears and events so familiar in Victorian, Edwardian and twentieth century writings of the supernatural or the Gothic. Different ages and different critical schools approach their subjects of study from different angles. Not unsurprisingly, ours, poised on the other side of the cusp between the twentieth and twenty-first century, is, like the fin de siecle, fascinated by the Gothic and the supernatural, with borderlines between states of being, and between modes and forms of expressions. Revisiting Woolf as one revisits James, Wharton, Mansfield, Eliot, we find not only texts which have been to some extent overlooked, but texts with which we are familiar and about which we now have other things to say: things about hauntings, the repressed, explorations of questions about the meaning of life and what lasts. Eliot's 'Burnt Norton' (Four Quartets) evokes images of ways in which real and avoided past experiences trace their way into the present, make their mark upon the future. He evokes a rose garden, children's laughter, routes, echoes, paths, decisions; all of which effect the present. Yeats and his wife were involved in table tapping, the Order of the Golden Dawn and the circle of Madame Blavatsky, satirised in Eliot's 'Madame Sosostris', clairvoyant with a cold--representing and seeking after false alternative religions and spurious solutions. Henry James's The Turn of the Screw places the reader in the same confusions as the second governess. Peter Quint and his lover, the first governess, lurk round the house, in the turret, across the lake, always inside when the narrator is outside, outside when she is in, divided by a window, water--their presence represented by their positioning. Their effects on the governess and her charges fill the narrative as it fills the house and garden, the governess's mind, the reader's speculations. With his characteristic twists and turns of expression, James leaves us grasping after the single right reading--but it is a ghost tale after all; its veracity is claimed by the first person narrator's personal acquaintance with the governess herself. It is a tale of ways in which the powerful emotions of others affect those around them, the next generation; and they colour and change perceptions of places and events--readings of 'reality'.
Place is as significant in the supernatural tale as it is in a writer's diary that records visits and meetings with friends and family. Hardy, speaking of places in Cornwall where he and Emma walked as young lovers, insists that the rocks record 'that we passed', noted their existence, the nature of the experiences, their imprint upon place. If we turn to science, even the proof of some tracing within rocks of usually tragic or tumultuous events in the past has, we are assured, been found. Such trace elements lie behind the imprinting of Mrs Ramsay; Jacob; the couple in 'A Haunted House'. Woolf's ghosts are imprinted on houses. Their presence enables an investment in the continuity of human endeavour, of human values. These ghostly presences are aligned with similar investments made in the country house tradition, each suggesting something that lasts of what it means to be human.
Woolf was not a fan of ghost stories that relied upon sharp final twists, that failed themselves to hold some mirror up to our own reality and experience, that were somehow only figments of fantasy unrelated to the various imaginative and shared experiences we have. These she critiques in essays on Henry James's stories, many of which she loved. She was 'unsentimentally sceptical' of the Gothic Ann Radcliffe kinds of ghosts, and the incongruous use of the supernatural, because 'one of the risks of using the supernatural is that it removes the shocks and buffetings of experience': (18)
Woolf, in George Johnson's view, 'in order to establish the originality of her own work' charts probable critical responses to the Georgians and suppresses references to women writers dealing in the psychological novel, such as May Sinclair or Dorothy Richardson. Actually, 'a significant number of late Victorian and Edwardian writers were much more concerned with portraying the spiritual element of character than the material. Not only did they probe the dark places of psychology, but they explored extensions of the powers of the human mind in such phenomena as telepathy, hypnosis, extrasensory perception, prevision and psychic possession.' (20) Writers in this vein include Algernon Blackwood, Wilkie Collins, Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, Walter de la Mare, May Sinclair and Elinor Mordaunt. Arthur Machen also uses the language of the supernatural and the psychical. Their fiction was labelled 'psychical' at times, and considered to be a branch of supernatural fiction, influenced by the Psychical Society founded in Cambridge in the 1820s. The main aim of the society was to test the hypothesis that personality survived bodily death. Its journal and proceedings introduced readers to the supernatural and hysteria. It is interesting to note that, as they began to be developed, psychiatry and psychology were initially merged areas of investigation. Pierre Janet, William James, Freud and Jung were among those whose theories were discussed and introduced. Sir Leslie Stephen, Woolf's father, was a member of the society before becoming an agnostic. Friendship with the Stracheys was another influence. James Strachey worked in psychical phenomena before focusing on psychoanalysis.
Woolf tends to explore the idea of the spiritual and the psychic self as a part of the natural world rather than providing either a religious reading or one labelled as hysteria. In Mrs Dalloway for instance, although Septimus Warren Smith is clearly suffering from shell shock, Woolf does not dwell on this as a negative hysterical response but instead evokes Septimus's visions and what he hears as a personal alternative reality. He is troubled, but in touch with the continuities of life and death, feels the presence of his war comrades and friends; this is a continuity that Mrs Dalloway herself feels and similarly responds to. Clarissa Dalloway's choice, however, is life, rather than death.
Woolf's review of her contemporaries and immediate predecessors testify to a wide-ranging reading which includes those of writers of psychic fictions such as Marjorie Browne, Vernon Lee, Elinor Mordaunt, Walter de la Mare, Oliver Onions and Henry James, and indicates that she has read E. F. Benson and William Hope Hodgson. Many critics have overlooked Woolf's own work in this field as dubious; perhaps not serious. This is a real absence--and lingering presence. Johnson rightly argues that if Woolf ignores genre writing, she is herself contradicting her own tenets that such boundaries are arbitrary and limiting. (21)
Several of Woolf's essays reveal her interest in the supernatural. In her review essay on Elinor Mordaunt's Before Midnight (March 1917) she commends Mordaunt's exploration of 'dreams and visions in which all our lives are at mercy', but condemns the trickery of closure. 'Across the Border' (January 1918) looks at Dorothy Scarborough's The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction (1917), a book which begins in Gothic romances, traces supernatural fiction from 1887 onwards and focuses on ghosts, devils, witches, metamorphosing, hypnotism, spiritualism, the supernatural and psychic categories.
Exploring the fears and joys of reading supernatural fiction, Woolf notes:
She talks of those ghosts living within ourselves which we have grown to recognise, and suggests that in the current years our sense of our own ghostliness has become more sensitised. To gloss Woolf, she indicates that a rational stage is succeeded by one which seeks the supernatural in the soul of man. The development of psychical research offers a base in evidence for disputed facts on which this desire for elements of sensibility can feed.
Much of our sense of the spiritual or supernatural in Woolf's novels and short stories derives from her narrative voice, the all-seeing 'eye'. Some also derives from her choice of language. Woolf consistently employs 'ethereal or spiritual terminology', (24) highlighting elements missing from the Edwardian novel--she uses terms such as the 'soul' of English fiction, and describes James Joyce as 'spiritual'. Mrs Brown in 'Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown', Johnson points out, is 'will-o-the wisp', 'flying spirit', and in 'Character in Fiction' she is 'that surprising apparition' 'the spirit we live by, life itself'. (25) To portray unseen worlds, the ones which exist when we close our eyes, is one aim; to suggest that humans and our works live on in these worlds, both traced in and beyond the material, is another. Both are achieved through Woolf's focus on haunted places. This exploration is no surprise since her focus on the borderline between subject and object invites investigation into the ways in which consciousness refracts and reflects events and discussions in the 'shared world of reality'. It also enables exploration of breaking that other borderline, between life and death.
Other women's writing of ghosts, vampires, horror: late nineteenthlearly twentieth century
Woolf's ghosts have a family history in late nineteenth/early twentieth century women's ghost stories, and sensation fictions. She revisits a Victorian tradition, overturning conventions, as did radical women writers of the fin de siecle and the early twentieth century. She was also acquainted with the work of Freud. Freud's essay 'The Uncanny' (1919), a key text for the development of ghost and horror fictions, identifies the 'unheimliche', the intrusion of the unfamiliar into the familiar. Strategies in ghostly, horror, fantasy fictions driven by 'the uncanny' expose and enact dread and apprehension--'that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar'. (26) The destabilising impulse of the uncanny locates contradictory experiences of the homely and familiar, revealing concealed, alternative versions of sell relationships and family, energies which might erupt, threatening everyday life. The repressed, destabilising element leaks or bursts out as a ghost, monster or disruptive energy in often the most familiar and comfortable surroundings such as the home.
Vampire and ghost tales were often written by 'sensation' novelists who took part in debates about the 'Woman Question', often concentrating on the supernatural as well as murders, secrets and adulteries. Like New Woman fiction, sensation writing 'contested the dominant definitions of woman, put into play a number of anxieties about sexual difference and gender boundaries'. (27) Lyn Pykett argues that gendered discourse on women's reading was bound up with a need to fix gender boundaries. (28) Contemporary reviewers considered realism the proper subject of woman's writing; supernatural and horror writing were, accordingly, targets for those determined to restrict women's challenge to writing conventions. Buchanan (1862) talks of women writing of 'the domestic experience of sensible daughters, wives and mothers'. (29) Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Ellen Wood wrote sensation fiction, a feminised form located in domestic space, viewed as second rate and dangerous (sensual and critical), inciting women to revolt. Braddon's Good Lady Ducayne (1896) is a vampire narrative. She also wrote the popular Lady Audley's Secret (1861-2). Both the sensation novel and supernatural writing upset received notions of suitable subjects, tones, and areas of concentration for women (even though they did usually ultimately restore the status quo). Initially transgressive, sensation novels returned the poisoner or adulteress to order, and supernatural fictions settled restless ghosts. One reason why women's supernatural and horror writing of the period is perhaps difficult to locate today stems from the established critical debasement of all kinds of popular fiction, most particularly those indulged in by women writers and readers, especially if they challenged received opinions. These forms return, or can now be perceived as, like the ghosts they conjure, lacing even seemingly conventional, non-supernatural fictions.
Women's writing of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries often develops a treatment of the Other, of boundaries and of issues of space and time, that can be seen to relate to our positions within domestic and economic relations. For some women writers, man is to be feared as an Other that invades, fills space, takes over their minds and bodies. Or man's house and his structures and laws are all to be feared, embodied in horror, exorcised. This can be shown through innovative treatments of boundaries of sell space and time. In Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper (1973) the doctor husband has knowledge and power on his side; the wife entombed in the bedroom visited only by her husband's sister projects another self--the woman behind the wallpaper. Gilman writes of the Other breaking out from behind the barred patterns on it. The narrator breaks through the wallpaper at the tale's end. Her insight about the need to be free, from the room and the shackles of her role involves madness. Gilman's tale breaks down boundaries and reunites/unites the self with the Other. It refuses comfortable closure because the narrator does not regain sanity; that would in fact be an oppressive ending. Neither can Gilman suggest a freedom and alternative way of life once the narrator has broken from the false bars and boundaries.
Women's supernatural and horror writing becomes more innovative, looks at more women-oriented fears and desires, breaks down more boundaries at the century's turn.
Locating Woolf's strategies for expressing what survives; how houses, homes and places are imprinted with traces of human endeavour and presence, recuperates also her supernatural-influenced writing.
They 'play with the patterns of our own ambivalence'. (33)
Sara Maitland highlights ways in which ghost stories cross formal and technical boundaries interweaving the real with the fantastic to give it credibility: 'In order for the ghost story to work, the realist elements of it have to be firmly fixed', mixing 'the language of social realism and the language of the subterranean, the not-explained'. (34)
In the work of Gilman, Woolf, Sylvia Townsend Warner and Katherine Mansfield, among others, we find development and a new kind of woman's supernatural and horror writing. Mansfield and Woolf refuse to define ghosts as abject but show them instead as friendly familiars; children changing into animals or birds in Mansfield's 'A Suburban Fairytale' are not feared horrors. There is none of the need to restore an order which rejects the Other and the non-boundaried.
Sylvia Townsend Warner's Lolly Willowes becomes a witch of her own accord. The novel rejects any sense that this position would be dangerous or cause concern--most of the village's folk are witches or warlocks anyway. It celebrates what is often conventionally seen as a feared demonic female Other. Woolf's 'A Haunted House' is a familiar setting. In most ghost and horror tales, horror enters the domestic space; the vampiric ghostly and murderous threatening an invasion to parallel that of entering the body space. It disrupts. Woolf's 'A Haunted House' defuses this fear. The haunters are a couple who lived there previously. We hear them and live alongside them; they hold no harm or hatred for us.
We might expect Woolf's versions of ghost and horror tales and tropes to be concerned with overlooked women, loving relationships, dominant, nurturing and engulfing angels, female ghosts in the house: 'what lasts' from a woman's point of view. Are they?
To the Lighthouse: Mrs Ramsay and what lasts?
Hermione Lee called To the Lighthouse a ghost story--and it is, plainly so. It is also a tale of continuity, a family's resonance imprinted on an English country house. Lily sees a vision of Mrs Ramsay, after her death. Her presence haunts and affects the holiday home (Talland House in biographical terms) at St Ives. It also sets up the central questions that Woolf asks in her dealings with the supernatural, her touchings upon the well springs of the Gothic and of horror. 'What lasts?' is the main issue--the spiritual effect upon the material, the traces of the human in existence, the nature of life and death.
Woolf's parents, Leslie and Julia Stephen, haunt To the Lighthouse, and it both exorcises and celebrates them. Woolf decided that she would get inside of and understand her parents' influence upon her; she stated they were to be 'written out' through this novel.
She explores how experimental she can be; trying to capture time, changing relationships, reality. (36) The work wants a new name, she argues, not that of a novel. 'Elegy', the form she alights upon as a possible description, is a form which mourns and celebrates what has died, has passed or is passing: a central subject of the book.
The construction of To the Lighthouse provoked consideration of the causes and course of inspiration, life, her thoughts. Nearing the time of the book's composition, Woolf becomes mystical and thoughtful about conveying the nature of life:
One version of registering human continuities appears in the narrative voice asserting a perceiving eye, assuring us the human does eventually last. And this appears in Lily's response to Mrs Ramsay. Lily, unlike logical Mr Ramsay, is sensitive and intuitive. When she asks Andrew about what his father, Mr Ramsay, is working on, this turns out also to be the nature of reality. Andrew suggests that Lily try out the age-old philosophical question about existence and its proof. We know we exist and that other things and people exist, it is argued (by Locke), because we have sense impressions of them--we feel, see, hear, and so on. But if we want to know if the world exists when we are not present, we need to consider, how can this be imagined or even proved. Some philosophers argue that the world exists, perceived by God. Andrew cuts into this kind of debate by taking it very literally and suggesting to Lily that she 'think of a kitchen table when you're not there'. As a visual artist, she then constantly has the image of a kitchen table whenever she thinks of Mr Ramsay's work, totally missing the point--but creating solid, visual continuities in her own mind, as she does later when she turns Mrs Ramsay's ghostly presence into art.
Woolf is searching to convey reality, impressions, feelings through images, states of consciousness and the passages of time, experienced as taking place when there is no-one to experience them. On one day when To the Lighthouse is finished she thinks it is a 'hard muscular book', and on another, fears that it will be misunderstood, that it will be pronounced 'soft, shallow, insipid, sentimental'. Such also is the kind of criticism levelled at books dealing with the intangible and philosophical, which use the supernatural as a vehicle for debates and projections.
In To the Lighthouse, Mr Ramsay asks of his work 'what lasts?' and of life Mrs Ramsay also asks 'what remains of us?' One a romanticising positivist, the other both a solipsist and choreographer of human relations, each asks the same question. Mr Ramsay's books remain, so something of human productivity tangibly outlasts us. Mrs Ramsay moves beyond the bodily experience into a scene of eternal space and time. As a wedge-shaped core of darkness, she moves beyond material constraints, lasts. Sinking down:
In the midst of a family gathering; ordering; choreography; human interaction, Mrs Ramsay can imagine a continued sell a widespread, lingering presence, reinforcing a sense of human continuity, suggesting an existence beyond the here and now, linked with eternity. Her own role in the family home--organising meals and people--creates lasting moments, artwork in human relations. This contributes to Woolf's identification of what lasts, answering those spiritual questions about the traces we leave in life, the more fluid, less rigid nature of the life/death relationship.
Role of narrative voice--in suggesting continuity
In 'Time Passes', nature reigns supreme. The country house continues but without human presence, gnawed at by time and the elements. People in the family are noticeable by their absence, minimal, distant, in brackets because of their secondary role in relation to nature's invasiveness which gradually attacks their home, sprouting eyeless flowers unrelated to the human gaze. Without the lingering presence of the human, existence would continue but be unimaginable. The role of the narrative voice is to suggest presence and continuity even in human absence. Some trace elements of the human remain, can be rescued. We imprint on the world. By recalling, creating, writing, we preserve what's past. Woolf notes:
She imagines and describes absence, but the narrative eye, perceiving, manages to confirm human continuities. The supernatural offers us eternal certainties that something does last, is continual, must exist--but perhaps it is no more than a compulsive peopling driven by the human inability to conceptualise absence. Woolf knows this. It terrifies. She overcomes it with novelistic tricks--and she reassures herself and us in doing so.
In The Waves Bernard terms such impossible absence 'how to imagine a world without a self'. In To the Lighthouse, the house lasts, its values last, the effects and traces of people can only temporarily be nudged and mouldered--they return, as the family do, in time.
Woolf's development of the narrator which is always there, all-seeing in a room when even people are absent, (40) is itself a ghostly presence. On the one hand she evokes this ghostly all-seeing presence, suggesting that the narrators themselves enable continuity, that the role of fiction is to preserve and to ensure existence. The narrative voice, as ghostly presence, is itself a haunting that ensures eternity and continuity. Focusing objects and events, golden moments, all falls into a relationship around these fixed points. Ghostly presences are people, events around us just not in sharp focus. The realm of what is in existence is continuous, cyclical, eternal. This can be seen in 'Time Passes'; the short stories 'The Lady in the Looking Glass', 'A Haunted House' and 'Miss V' evoke a realm of continuity, the supernatural and spiritual. Life, existence, goes on with a greater sense of eternity than these moments. Mrs Ramsay, sinking down, recognises, and Mrs Dalloway, choosing life over death, understands that the pull of death is not something final, it is easing into another perspective, another realm, more continuous perhaps. This exploration of the life-death continuum underlies Woolf's penumbras, the halo effect around the seemingly distinct, a version of a 'semi-transparent envelope' rather than a 'gig lamp' ('Modern Fiction'). Woolf's penumbras of suggestion and exploration surround events and people, storylines, what the books seem perhaps to be 'about'. If we consider assertions about the changing nature of the role of the novel and of fiction, penumbras are more her focus than concentrations on fixed event, story, character, theme. Woolf, questioning the fixity of the real, explores the spiritual, supernatural, superstitious, imaginative life coexistent with the life in shared 'reality'. Like auras, trace elements, the penumbras and ghostings in Victorian photographs of spiritualists and mediums at work these expressions managed by novelistic strategies suggest continuity of people and events partly because they are not so finalised and distinct even in everyday life.
Women in conventional horror and ghost tales are frequently spatialised as absences. Mrs Ramsay is certainly spatialised thus in To the Lighthouse. Thomas Hardy, seeing and hearing Emma in Cornwall flitting away from him in their favourite walks, in the garden bending and turning away, walking up the drive, imprinted the landscape with her. Trace elements recorded she passed/remained. Woolf similarly interprets Mrs Ramsay's death and return in To the Lighthouse. Mr Ramsay's empty arms, wide open cannot find her in the house at night. Her family are at a loss. But she returns/remains to haunt and cohere the final part of the novel. Lily, Mr Ramsay and the others feel her presence (oppressive, nurturing, creative) around them. This presence enables Lily to finish her picture, translating, reconfiguring the trace of mother and son in the doorway into a triangle, purple, mystical shape of power. Mrs Ramsay is reclaimed, the returned presence recuperated by Lily into her own version of art, and life putting other shapes into relief, into a controlled, created pattern. Lily re-peoples the place with Mrs Ramsay, filling the space of the house and land with her.
In a revitalised, new, rich mixture of the English country house tradition and the supernatural ghost tale, Woolf's house reveals and restores Mrs Ramsay. The house is the focus of continuity, lasting values, of Mrs Ramsay's lasting presence, enabling harmonious relationships to recommence and artwork to be completed. Windows offer glimpses in, through, access into the room and beyond perhaps, into the inner world where Mrs Ramsay does still exist inside this version of the house.
Lily sees Mrs Ramsay, actually sees her and James, as abstract shapes, real people, ghosts. A visual, imaginative person, she perceives them as forms and shapes, conjures their presence into the shared space of the house and garden, the step, the place of entrance. This borderline is one much favoured by ghosts who return, like Cathy in Wuthering Heights--seen outside windows trying to get in, coming through doors and walls, bursting into central spaces from cellars and attics. Transitional, liminal figures they are boundary crossers. Mrs Ramsay sits with little James on the step. Lily perceives this, recognises the harmonious, (pyramid, triangular?) presence, and can complete her picture. The ghostly presence restores order, fills a lack and a void in family life and in the picture, the house, the art.
Haunted houses, disappearances
Woolf's haunted houses resonate with power relations, convention, and family relations which all shape identity and social position. Hers are also partly haunted houses of fiction, of previous work traced in her own writing. The haunted house, or house of horror, is also referenced here. Its entrances and exits, cracks and fissures, leak both repressed, dubious, contradictory histories and current discord. They embody their legacy of conflict, deceit, destruction or doubt. This legacy is reflected in the kinds of leakages, spillages, eruptions and explosions, implosions to be found so much later in the houses of Virginia Andrews--children locked in the attic, the secret garden-women's sexuality and childhood in a hidden secret space, the hotel in The Shining with its bloody secret and mania erupting through corridors and doors. Poltergeist, Amityville--the domestic suburban homes of Nightmare on Elm Street, and so on. The haunted house is a figure to explore the socially repressed and denied, the guilty, disruptions to heredity and other social and cultural processes. A fiction is itself a haunted house also reminding of works past, the fictions of one's forebears, overt, covert, contradicted, denied--but ghostly, sometimes overwhelming.
Woolf's short stories provide an opportunity for exploration of narrative experiments and states of being. Here, particularly in 'A Haunted House', we see hauntings, ghostly presences in an upper middle class version of the English country house tradition.
Based on Asheham where the Woolfs lived briefly, Woolf's haunted house is a living place, pulsing with the continuity of speaker, ghosts, reader, nurturing communities. It revives the English country house tradition in giving us lived presences, the ghostly nurturing the contemporary. Careful use of pronouns, direct speech and slippage between ghosts, speaker and readers suggests continuities over time, between us. This gentle tale both references and refuses many of the characteristics of conventional ghost stories, and so 'we see no lady spread her ghostly cloak'. (43) A ghostly couple preside over the house, ensuring its safety and that of those who live in it. Their stirrings are not those of destructive poltergeists. Of a piece with rejecting 'love interest and a plot embalming the whole' ('Modern Fiction'), Woolf refuses conventional ghostly troublings and destruction. The tale is circular, definitions between speaker/reader, the ghostly couple and the couple whose safety they check blurred as is the definition of the treasure they both seek and preserve, evoked in the pulse of the slumbering house whispering 'safe, safe, safe', 'the heart of the house beats proudly'. (44)
'Whatever hour you woke' draws us into the tale, its authenticity guaranteed, in conventional ghost story formulae, by the first person narrative. The immediacy of the ghosts is evoked in their dialogue and individual comments: '"Here we left it," she said. And he added, "Oh but here too!'" (45) Their kindly interest is established in their wish not to disturb the human sleepers in their shared home. Speaking directly to the ghosts 'But it wasn't you that woke it. Oh, no' reinforces their presence. Woolf's narrative strategies of eliding the speaking/reading subject, and the subjects of the tale (the ghosts) ensures their presence, and our belief in them. They flit through the pages of the tale as through the house. The book we read is the book the narrator reads, slipping into the grass in passing, and perhaps this itself is the treasure, 'only the book had slipped to the grass'. 'But they had found it in the drawing room.' (46)
The passing, the presence of the ghostly couple is recorded on the objects and life of the house itself which seems a throbbing, living, being. Initially, like traditional ghosts, the repressed and denied returning, the couple seem to be seeking something lost. We discover from the embedded tale that they lost life and to some extent each other, because while the man went east and saw the southern hemisphere stars, the woman died in his absence. But the house and tale resonate with presence rather than with absence. They seek something around the house but have found each other. As they seek upstairs and down, so the reader/speaker fixes points in her book. Her hands, empty while they seek, mirror their movement on the page as if they were both fictional constructions and ghostly fictional presences. Woolf and the narrative voice are such ghostly fictional presences also. An absentminded, gentle vagueness prevails, involving us:
Whose is the search? Are the movements hers or theirs? As the book slips into the grass, the constructed tale merges with the place in which it is read--outside on the summer lawn (we assume). The invisibility of the wandering happy ghosts is assured through reflections of other things suggesting an alternative existence, a mirror image, a self more real than the ghosts. In the glass is perpetual summer. 'The window panes reflected apples, reflected roses; all the leaves were green in the glass.' Three parallel searches proceed here. The ghosts' movements have no effect on things or furniture--and if you follow them and open the door? The 'what?' suggests that there is searching being carried out by the narrator/speaker as it is by the reader who seeks to know more about the couple, and more about the speaker/narrator too. As soon as anyone tries to pin this down we have: 'what? my hands are empty. The shadow of a thrush crossed the carpet.' (48)
Boundaries are blurred, between the seekers, the reader/narrator and ourselves as readers. Boundaries are asserted, of time, identity, glass, the seasons, but also blurred for the shadow of the thrush, as the ghostly couple appears inside, not out, on the carpet, and the glass reflects the summer apples and roses. These are transferred records of the actions of the ghosts. Their presence is confirmed by imprinting, resonance, slight changes they seem to effect. 'Death was the glass; death was between us; coming to the woman first, hundreds of years ago, leaving the house, seeing all the windows, the rooms were darkened.' (49) This is the firmest establishment of information and difference. At the centre of the tale and all round it there is slippage, searching and merging. The house is as alive as the people and the ghosts, its heart pulsing and asserting a serenity and sense of survival 'Safe, safe, safe,' 'the soul of the house beats gladly'. 'The treasure is yours.' (50)
The first part of the tale is in summer, the second autumn or winter, the weather fierce. Doors shutting are compared to the soul of a heart which the ghosts preserve for the new sleeping couple with their protective, nurturing wandering. Their steps cease at the doorway 'nearer they come; cease at the doorway' (like vampires), but this is the inner doorway: they are part of the heart of the house. The ghostly couple seeking a resonance for their own joy in that of the contemporary people in the house, nurture the sleepers. The ghosts have a stronger more vivid presence although unseen, than do the sleepers because they are imagined as seeking and moving, searching and remembering. As returners they are not repressed but continuing their love, ensuring that of the sleepers.
This country house, equally or more alive even than ghosts, speaker/narrator, carries the past into the present, and the future. 'What lasts' of human endeavour and existence is answered by its living, pulsing continuity of lived presence over the years. This is a caring ghostly past, an assertion of the continuity of past in present and traces of past in present and future. The few boundaries in the story are both asserted and blurred so that ghostly couple/sleepers, the speaker, reader, narrator and ourselves are distinct but related and similar; inside and outside are distinct and merged summer and winter similar and different. Firm boundaries are traversed but nothing is lost, their caring is delicate and joyful. We do not see traditional ghosts, we imagine their actions but the telling of them makes them real for speaker, reader, narrator and you:
The 'buried treasure' sought throughout is asserted again at the end in italics. 'Waking, I cry "Oh, is this your buried treasure? The light in the heart?"' (51)
Traditional buried treasure, hauntings, borderline crossings, disturbances are here positive, nurturing and beneficial. Gentle hints of continuity and kindness are suggested in the lyricism. The circularity and the parallelism, slippage between characters, ghosts, speaker and ourselves as readers make them as tangible and real as we are though they are asserted as unseeable. The work of the novelist is referenced here also because she creates characters, ghostly presence, and reader. The ghostly couple in Woolf's story turn the light on the speaker and bring her safely in: 'stooping, the light lifts the lids upon my eyes. Safe! safe! safe! the pulse of the heart beats wildly. Waking I cry ...'. This is asserting unity over time, continuity of life. The light, we are told, is in the heart, this remains.
Virginia Woolf's contribution to the English country house tradition is one that emphasises the ways in which people's lives and actions are themselves part of the houses in which they have taken place; are imprinted on the houses, have become vestiges of the history of the houses and of England itself. Supernatural trace elements enable her and us to ask questions about what exists alongside the everyday real, what lasts of our endeavours, ourselves. The novelist's own writing tricks, the creation of a narrative voice creating presence even in the absence of the human, linking, commenting, recreating over time suggest and enact continuities. But Woolf also writes her own version of the contemporary woman's ghost and horror story. She answers the question of 'what lasts' by registering in the minds of her characters, and in the very fabric and air, the atmosphere, the rooms, gardens, furniture of her houses; the continuities of Jacob, of Mrs Ramsay, the haunted house couple. In this she suggests the lasting nature of human endeavours, and the artwork itself.
(1) Virginia Woolf, The Essays of Virginia Woolf, ed. Andrew McNeilie, 6 vols, London: Hogarth, Vol 3, 2009, 491. Woolf's short stories provide an opportunity for exploration of narrative experiments and states of being. Here, particularly in 'A Haunted House', we see hauntings, ghostly presences in an upper middle class version of the English country house tradition.
(2) Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, 1925, London: Granada 1983, 135-36.
(3) Malcolm Kelsall, The Great Good Place, New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
(4) Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001.
(5) Lucie Armitt, Contemporary Women's Fiction and the Fantastic, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000; China Mieville, 'The Conspiracy of Architecture: Notes on a Modern Anxiety,' Historical Materialism 1 (2000): 25.
(6) Anna Snaith, Public and Private Negotiations, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000.
(7) Armitt, 2.
(8) Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas, Boston: Beacon Press, 1994, 53.
(9) Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, vol.3: 1935-1938, ed. Michael Jennings et al., Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1999, 557-58.
(10) Mieville, 25.
(11) Julia Briggs, Night Visitors: The Rise and Fall of the English Ghost Story, London: Faber, 1977.
(12) Woolf, A Writer's Diary, Tuesday September 18th, 1927.
(13) Richard Gill, Happy Rural Seat: The English Country House and the Literary Imagination, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 281.
(14) Woolf, The Captain's Deathbed and Other Essays, London: Hogarth, 1950, 156.
(15) The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf, ed. Susan Dick, London: Triad Grafton, 1989, 92.
(16) Essays 3, 324.
(17) Essays 3, 322.
(18) Essays 3, 320.
(19) Essays 3, 324.
(20) George M. Johnson, 'A Haunted House: Ghostly Presences in Woolf's Essays and Early Fiction,' in Virginia Woolf and the Essay, ed. Beth Carole Rosenberg and Jeanne Dubino, Basingstoke: Palgrave McMillan, 1997, 238.
(21) Johnson, 239.
(22) Essays 2, 218.
(23) Essays 2, 219.
(25) Essays 3, 436.
(26) Sigmund Freud, 'The Uncanny,' in The Pelican Freud Library, vol. 19, London: Penguin, 1919, 273.
(27) Lyn Pykett, The Improper Feminine, London: Routledge, 1992, 2.
(28) Pykett, 26.
(29) Pykett, 26.
(30) Annette Kuhn, Women and Film, London: Virago, 1987, 347-47.
(31) Jennifer Uglow, introduction, Virago Book of Ghost Stories, London: Virago, 1987, xii.
(32) Sara Maitland, Ghost Stories by Women, vol. 11, London: Virago, 1991, xiii.
(33) Maitland, xv.
(34) Maitland, xi.
(35) A Writer's Diary: Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolf, ed. Leonard Woolf, London: Hogarth, 1953, May 14, 1925.
(36) A Writer's Diary, June 27, 1925.
(37) A Writer's Diary September 30, 1926.
(38) To the Lighthouse, 1927, New York: Harcourt, 1955, 60-61.
(39) A Writer's Diary, April 30, 1926.
(40) Notes on constructing Between the Acts, London: Hogarth, 1941.
(41) To the Lighthouse, 185.
(42) To the Lighthouse, 165.
(43) Complete Shorter Fiction, 166.
(44) Complete Shorter Fiction, 167.
(45) Complete Shorter Fiction, 165.
(46) Complete Shorter Fiction, 165.
(47) Complete Shorter Fiction, 16.
(48) Complete Shorter Fiction, 165.
(49) Complete Shorter Fiction, 16.
(50) Complete Shorter Fiction, 166.
(51) Complete Shorter Fiction, 167.
House property was the common ground from which the Edwardians found it easy to proceed to intimacy. (1) It ended in a transcendental theory which with her horror of death, allowed her to believe, or say she believed (for all her scepticism), that since our apparitions, the part of us which appears, are so momentary compared with the other, the unseen part of us, which is so wide, the unseen might survive, be rediscovered somehow attached to this person or that, or even haunting certain places, after death. Perhaps--perhaps. (2)
On the one hand the house is a repository of meaning. The house is the locus and embodiment of social values, and that function is increased dramatically on reflection , when we retrospectively or artistically use architecture as a mode in which to articulate our relationship with society. (10)
'He can't take houses, Poor Philip' I thought. And then the usual procession of images went through my mind. Also, I think for the first time, this death leaves me an elderly luggard; makes me feel I have no right to go on ... So the two feelings--about buying the house and his death--fought each other; and sometimes the house won and sometimes death won. (12)
If these spaces won from the encroaching barbarity had not persisted till the foothold was firm and the swamp withheld, how would delicate spirits have fared--our writers, musicians artists--without a wall to shelter under, or flowers upon which to sun themselves. (14)
A small electric battery and a piece of rubber to insulate the wire--isolate?--insulate?--well we'll skip the details, no good going into details that would not be understood--and in short the little machine stands in any convenient position by the head of the bed, we will say, on a neat mahogany stand. All arrangements being properly fixed by workmen under my direction, the widow applies her ear and summons the spirit by signing as agreed. Women! Widows! Women in black. (15)
The stories in which Henry James uses the supernatural effectively are, then, those where some quality in a character can only be given its fullest meaning by being cut free from facts. Its progress in the unseen world must be related to what goes on in this. We must be made to feel that the apparition fits the crises of passion or of consciousness which sent it forth that the ghost story, besides its virtues as a ghost story, has the additional charm of being also symbolical. (19)
Far from despising ourselves for being frightened by a ghost story we are proud of this proof of sensibility, and perhaps unconsciously it becomes the chance for the licit gratification of certain instincts which we are wont to treat as outlaws. (22)
It is not external rejections of ghosts we are afraid of ... but states of mind and projections from our own psyche of a state of mind which is profoundly mysterious and terrifying. (23)
Culturally dominant codes inscribe the masculine, while the feminine bespeaks a 'return of the repressed' in the form of codes which may well transgress culturally dominant subject positions. (30)
Again and again, with almost shocking repetitiveness, the stories attack the symbolic and actual domination of the father, the husband, the lover, the doctor, the cruel emperor--the men of power. At times there is no escaping the role of victim, but at others the tables are turned. A different energy which burns in women's ghost stories is that of female desire and its more 'feminine' but equally consuming counterpart the hunger for love. Its desperate force is often perceived as a threat by men and feared by women themselves, but its strength can be conveyed by the lightest touch. (31)
Women come to the ghostly task of writing ghost stories as ghosts (even, for much of literary culture, as dangerous spectres). Our tradition is a tradition in the shadows; our past is lost and misty; our identity as writers and as objects of men's writing, is both owned and denied. (32)
This is going to be fairly short; to father's character done complete in it; and mother's; and St Ives; and childhood; and all the usual things I try to put in--life, death, etc. But the centre is father's character sitting in a boat, reciting 'We perish each alone', while he crushes a dry mackerel. (35)
I wished to add some remarks to this, on the mystical side of this solicitude; how it is not oneself but something in the universe that one's left with. It is this that is frightening and exciting in the midst of my profound gloom, depression, boredom, whatever it is. One sees a fin passing far out. What image can I reach to convey what I mean? Really there is none, I think. The interesting thing is that ... Life is, soberly and accurately, the oddest affair; it has in it the essence of reality. (37)
To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others ... our apparitions, the things you know us by, are simply childish. Beneath it is all dark, it is all spreading, it is unfathomably deep; but now and again we rise to the surface and that is what you see us by ... Losing personality, one lost the fret, the hurry, the stir; and there rose to her lips, always some exclamation of triumph over life when things came together in this peace, this rest, this eternity. (38)
I cannot make it out--here is the most difficult abstract piece of writing--I have to give an empty house, no people's characters, the passage of time, all eyeless and featureless with nothing to cling to ... is it nonsense? Is it brilliance? (39)
The problem might be solved after all. Ah, but what had happened? Some wave of white went over the window pane. The air must have stirred some flounce in the room. Her heart leapt at her and seized her and tortured her. 'Mrs Ramsay! Mrs Ramsay!' she cried, feeling the old horror come back--to want and not to have. Could she inflict that still? And then, quietly, as if she refrained, that too became part of ordinary experience, was on a level with the chair, with the table. Mrs Ramsay--it was part of her perfect goodness to Lily--sat there quite simply, in the chair, flicked her needles to and fro, knitted her reddish-brown stocking, cast her shadow on the step. There she sat. And as if she had something she must share, yet could hardly leave her easel, so full her mind was of what she was thinking, of what she was seeing. (41)
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 couple. (42)
What did I come in here for? What did I want to find? My hands were empty. 'Perhaps it is inside then?' The apples were in the loft. And so down again, the garden still as ever, only the book had slipped into the grass. (47)
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 faces that search the sleepers and seek their hidden joy.
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