The Haunted House and other Short Stories by Virginia Woolf 1949

Leonard Woolf began his 1949 introduction to this volume as follows:  “Monday or Tuesday”, the only book of short stories by Virginia Woolf which appeared in her lifetime, was published 23 years ago, in 1921.”  Woolf goes on to describe how the current volume includes six of the eight stories from that volume as well as seven stories from magazines between 1921 and 1941 and five unpublished stories.

In reading these finely wrought gems of stories, I was struck at how little Woolf changed over these 20 years, how her writing was so incredibly beautiful and evocative from the beginning.  While Hemingway wrote almost exclusively about men and their world, Woolf focused largely on women though often in relationship to their less than ideal male partners.  The description of the inner life inhabited by these characters along with the ‘stream of consciousness’ style, are two of Woolf’s great contributions to literature.

In my favorite story, ‘Kew Gardens’, Woolf alternately views the world from the standpoint of the flowers in an oval bed and the couples strolling past.  “Thus one couple after another with much the same irregular and aimless movement passed the flower-bed and were enveloped in layer after layer of blue-green vapour, in which at first their bodies had substance and a dash of colour, but later both substance and colour dissolved in the green-blue atmosphere.” Could anything be further from Hemingway’s style, and yet both of them writing one hundred years ago had a profound impact on literature during the last century.

Read these stories and then read  ‘To the Lighthouse’ for a deeper experience of this writer’s brilliance in portraying the reality of the world through the inner life of her characters.