[Short Story Review] The Empty House (Algernon Blackwood, 1906) ★★★★★

ghost stories Algernon Blackwood

The Empty House is a true ghostly haunted house story that is playfully creepy.

The Empty House is a haunted house ghost story that is told in a very entertaining playful manner with two great characters exploring like excited children trying not to be scared. With an old house as its setting, creeping full of ghosts, the focus stays on both characters to transfer their fright to us. And that works really well resulting in a true haunted house story that will make you think twice before entering a house with such a reputation.


When Jim Shorthouse visits his aunt Julia she wants to explore an old house with him. It is supposedly haunted and although it looks perfectly normal and ordinary there’s something about it, that makes her want to take a look. Although Jim doesn’t believe in haunted houses it does have a macabre history. Hundred years ago a stable boy who secretly was in love with a servant girl has supposedly killed her by throwing her off the balcony. It has been rented out for very short periods ever since and now it’s empty. Although maybe not quite that empty.

Why you should read it

The story comes to life through both characters. Although it’s just a short story their personalities and their relationship are very clear and we follow them on a creepy adventure into the house. The story is not so much about scary ghosts, but about the sensations both Jim and Aunt Julia experience while being in the house.

It is written in a playful style, although the tone and vibe is ominous and full of tensed atmosphere. This style reflects both characters. Their emotions, from childlike excitement to real fright is very well written and makes you feel as if you were there with them exploring the big old house. 

But it’s not a typical haunted house. Although it has a somewhat sinister history it’s just a normal house. Sure it’s empty and abandoned and there’s clutter and debris, but there’s nothing sinister about it when you look at it. It’s not an old Victorian house with turrets and gargoyles but a normal terraced house just like its neighbors. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be haunted. 

Especially Aunt Julia is a fine figure. She already has obtained the key to the house so they can look around legally even before she knew if Jim would go with her. She feels like an adventurous older lady who is brave but has a childlike spirit and she is a delight to have as an aunt. 

Jim warns her beforehand that she mustn’t let her emotions of fright overcome her and she has to be rational and try to control her nerves. Well, Jim you’re in for a surprise yourself. 

Once they have set foot in the house, things are starting to get creepier and scarier by the minute till they both are overcome with fear and this buildup is excellently executed. Although Blackwood makes use of the typical haunted house tropes he manages to make them real scary and fun. When we are walking with them through the dark corridors you expect to be scared at every corner. 

It reads like an adventure book with a cool nephew and a brave aunt who together experience all sorts of exiting things. It could be a start of a book series. In short it’s a very entertaining story with delightful characters who steal the show, but the real scary part isn’t looked over and will definitely fright you. 

It might be over a hundred years old, this story feels fresh and original even now. It’s worth a read even more so because it’s a very short story that will entertain you in a delightful way. 

My favorite part

I really liked Aunt Julia. She seems so much fun. She even looks younger at some part of the frightful events, due to her exploring spirit. Although she’s scared, she’s brave too and that even surprises Jim, who gets a bit scared himself. The way they stay in a room, holding each other tight waiting for ghosts to come is a wonderful part of the story and a great example that even a short story can bring characters to life, as if you have known them all your life. 

A favorite quote

‘And yet this house in the square, that seemed precisely similar to its fifty ugly neighbors, was as a matter of fact entirely different – horribly different.’

‘Something was in the wind, and the “something” would doubtless bear fruit, for this elderly spinster aunt, with a mania for psychical research, had brains as well as will power, and by hook or by crook she usually managed to accomplish her ends.’

‘For as he rose from the stooping position of balancing the candle, and before it was actually extinguished, a face thrust itself forward so close to his own that he could almost have touched it with his lips.’ 


Rating: ★★★★★

Scare factor: ★★★☆☆

Entertainment factor: ★★★★★


The Empty House is written by Algernon Blackwood and first published in 1906. It consists of 8 to 10 pages. 

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