Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Virginia Woolf - The Legacy (Overview)

When a wife dies and leaves her husband her diary, all is possible. In Gilbert Clandon's case, the legacy his wife leaves him is much more than he could ever have imagined. 

Virginia Woolf signs an exceptional short story which questions the foundations of marriage, people's need for communication by any means possible and their inclusion in a mutually beneficial partnership. When one reneges on that contract, the other will seek new outlets to grow, as personal development in any marriage is inevitable. If that development is undertaken without any consideration for one's spouse, then problems will unavoidably ensue.

The Legacy is a straightforward tale of love, loneliness, secrets, independence and sorrow that should make readers wonder about the state of their intimate relationships. Interspersed with clues that lead to the overwhelming conclusion, this story places readers in almost the same shoes as its main character, Gilbert Clandon, and like voyeurs, they peek over his shoulder as he's reading his wife's fifteen volumes of private scribblings to see what this successful politician's wife has to say about her life and death.

Before making use of the following notes for assignments, discussions or simply to check my take of Woolf's story, read the story here.

Virginia Woolf (picture by George Charles Beresford, Wikipedia)

Virginia Woolf – The Legacy
  • 1882-1941, English
  • one of the most influential Modernist writers
  • one of the first to experiment with stream-of-consciousness technique
  • her works are hailed as feminist works
  • suffered from depression, mental breakdowns, psychotic episodes (now experts say she suffered from bipolar disorder), attempting suicide a number of times before succeeding in 1941 (she placed stones in the pockets of her overcoat and drowned in a river near her Sussex home)
  • most famous for To the Lighthouse, Mrs Dalloway, Orlando, The Waves, and the non-fiction book on the disempowerment of women over time A Room of One’s Own
  • 6 weeks after Angela’s death
  • in Angela’s drawing room
  • London (reference to Whitechapel, Piccadilly, Tower of London, the East End)
  • modern age (reference to cars)
  • setting inside the setting: diary places a story inside the story, creating a flashback (place = same; time changes)
  • Angela Clandon stepped off the curb in Piccadilly and was killed by a car 6 weeks prior to the beginning of the story
  • her husband, Gilbert Clandon, is waiting for Angela’s secretary, Sissy Miller, to give her a pearl brooch Angela left for her (among other things she left to various people)
  • to him, she has left what he calls “nothing in particular”, her green leather-bound diary (15 volumes)
  • Sissy arrives and after giving her the brooch he asks if there’s any way he can help her in future
  • she offers her help if he needs it at any time with a meaningful look in her eyes which he takes to mean she has a secret passion for him
  • Gilbert reads his wife’s diary 
    • volume 1:
a) she’s proud to be his wife
b) 1st year he was running for Parliament: she’d toured his constituency with him, was overcome by the applause he received
c) trip to Venice: went on holiday after his election; ate ices at Florians; she was eager to learn because according to Gilbert she was “still such a child” and according to Angela “terribly ignorant”, which Gilbert says was one of her charms
    • volume 2 
      •  back in London: she was anxious to make a good impression on important men 
        •  Gilbert remembers her “making a conquest” of his chief, Sir Edward
        •  dinner at the House of Commons
        •  evening party at the Lovegroves: Lady Lovegrove asks her if she realizes the responsibility she has as Gilbert’s wife
    •  later volumes:
      • Gilbert = more absorbed in his work, has a minor post in government
      •   she = more alone, no children, is sure Gilbert will become Prime Minister one day
      •  she begins to work in the East End after plucking up the courage to ask for Gilbert’s permission
          • he can’t understand why she would want to work there since she has her hands full taking care of him and the house
          • she wants to help there because she feels useless, idle 
          • he hated clothes she wore to Whitechapel every Wednesday
      •  appearance of the letters B.M.
          • Gilbert first supposes it’s a woman; then doesn’t feel threatened even when he sees initials refer to a man
          • Angela tries to convince B.M. he’s wrong about the upper class; calls him narrow-minded
          • she invites him to dinner; he shakes hands with Minnie the parlormaid (Gilbert scoffs at this)
          • they both go on outings together (Tower of London) + discuss politics, society, etc.
          • B.M. talks badly of Gilbert (Angela has scratched the name out of her diary): this is the point where the relationship changes from platonic to more personal; he tells her about his childhood
          • gives her Marx to read 
          • comes to dinner at the Clandon’s: “Luckily, I was alone.” (that night, Gilbert was giving a speech at the Mansion House dinner)
    •  volume 15 (last volume)
      • at dinner B.M. presses her to make a decision: “He threatened that if I did not …”, rest of diary page covered with “Egypt” (we assume he asked her to elope)
      • Angela writes him a letter, which goes unanswered
      • “He has done what he threatened.”
      • “Have I the courage to do it too?”
      •  Gilbert understands she killed herself (“He could see her in front of him.”)
      •  Gilbert calls Sissy Miller: she tells him B.M. was her brother, asks if she can explain anything
  • Angela Clandon
    • thinks of everyone and everything (left her affairs in order before committing suicide, marked what she wanted people to have)
    • she was “a genius for sympathy”
    • loved beautiful things that came with status + living in luxury: had rings, necklaces, brooches
    • had a passion for little boxes: could imply she was a person who kept secrets
    • enjoyed having a distinguished husband
    • adored Gilbert at first 
    • naïve according to Gilbert
    • innocent, shy, docile, submissive: blushes to ask her husband’s permission to volunteer to help others
    • trapped in an upper class milieu that hides the real world from her: she despises herself for living in such luxury when she hears how B.M.”s mother worked as a charwoman
    • changes as a character
      • becomes resolute, mistress of her own fate
      • draws away from Gilbert’s ‘education’ and learns about the world from B.M. 
      • from devoted wife to assumed adulteress
    • her suicide is for her an act of bravery and resolve

  • Gilbert Clandon
    •   politician
    •  over 50 yrs old, distinguished-looking
    •   has over-inflated ego / is self-centered:
      • is only interested in reading about himself, skips parts where he’s not mentioned
      • his mind wanders to his future as he’s reading his dead wife’s diary
      • only remembers what he has said and done: can’t remember what the house looked like the night Angela had had B.M. over for dinner, whether she had waited up for him, if the chairs had been drawn close together
      • thinks Sissy is secretly in love with him
    • doesn’t realize what’s gone on around him for years
    • doesn’t regret not having had children: believes his life has been full 
    • still hopes to become important politically (Prime Minister even)
    • demeans his wife (infantilizes her):
      • believes Angela’s life is made up of trifles
      • views her as naïve, a child, ignorant, feeble-minded
      • describes her handwriting as “schoolgirl hand”
    •   controlling: 
      • wants to see what she was writing in her diary; she should ask for permission to volunteer in the East End
      • “If only she had discussed the matter with him, instead of puzzling her poor little head about questions that were much too difficult for her to understand!”
    •  the ultimate snob:
      • tells Sissy he hopes she has “other clothes upon which a pearl brooch would not look quite so incongruous.”
      • “There were thousands of Sissy Millers – drab little women in black carrying attaché cases.”
      • calls B.M. a “specimen”, formulates a tidy opinion of him without even knowing him
      • hated the clothes Angela wore to go to Whitechapel
      • sarcastically notes that B.M. “it seemed, wasn’t used to parlourmaids” 
      • concludes B.M. had “never done an honest day’s work in his life”
      • when he calls Sissy, he notes the “cheap clock ticking on her mantelpiece”
    •  does he change? 
      • the story ends with his epiphany, but will he change his ways because of what he has read?
  • Sissy Miller
    • Angela’s devoted secretary for many years: “Angela had been much more to her than an employer.”
    • shared a special relationship with Angela: she left Sissy a pearl brooch with inscription “For Sissy Miller, with my love.” (see Symbolism section below)
    • she is the “soul of discretion; so silent; so trustworthy, one could tell her anything…”
    • she was in tears over Angela’s death
    • sister to B.M.
  • B.M. 
    • Sissy’s brother
    • Angela’s lover
    • working class radical / Socialist / revolutionary: hates the upper class but is open-minded enough to fall in love with someone belonging to the upper class
    • opens Angela’s eyes to the world + the plight of the working class
    • mother was a charwoman: story of his childhood makes Angela sick of her way of life
    • commits suicide because Angela won’t leave Gilbert to go off with him (we assume he has asked her to flee to Egypt with him)
Point of view
  • third person limited
    • use of “he”
    • we see Gilbert’s thoughts 
    • stream-of-consciousness technique used to divulge emotions and dialogue: 
      • “It was like Angela to have remembered even Sissy Miller …”
      •  “He knew, he said, that she would value it. His wife had often worn it. . .. And she replied, as she took it almost as if she too had prepared a speech, that it would always be a treasured possession. . .. She had, he supposed, other clothes upon which a pearl brooch would not look quite so incongruous. She was wearing the little black coat and skirt that seemed the uniform of her profession. Then he remembered-she was in mourning, of course. She, too, had had her tragedy-a brother, to who m she was devoted, had died only a week or two before Angela. In some accident was it? He could not remember-only Angela telling him.”
      • last part of her diary is all narrated using stream-of-consciousness 
  •   1st person
    • diary presents this narrative mode
      • what we have is first person narration from Angela’s point of view interpolated with comments from Gilbert narrated in third person 
      • it almost seems as if he’s telling the story in 1st person if it hadn’t been for the words “he” and “Gilbert”
  • Woolf lets readers simultaneously see things through his mind + through the diary how different his wife becomes
Angela-Gilbert relationship
  • parallel created between deterioration of their marriage and 
    •   Gilbert’s increasing self-absorption
    •  Angela’s need for companionship + food for thought (since Gilbert doesn’t have time to show her the world, she is receptive to someone else’s guidance)
  • story superposed by diary shows development of both characters
    • Gilbert’s statements of certainty become infinite questions
    • Angela’s openness + candor become secrets (i.e. she gains her independence/own space)
  • Woolf’s criticism: 
    • men & women enter marriage on uneven level (men are required to know more; women are ornaments) which creates tensions when women strive to learn or express their thoughts
    • men & women generally enter marriage not truly knowing each other; marriage = contract/marriage of convenience
  • ironic
    •   situational irony
      • readers are told of Angela’s accidental death they realize she committed suicide
      • readers + Gilbert see Angela’s admiration at the start of her diary entries she died to escape him
    •  dramatic irony
      • readers can see where Angela’s relationship with B.M. is headed, but Gilbert doesn’t: it’s ironic that the man he detests and writes off turns out to be the one Angela died for
  • created by the story inside the story (diary within the story itself)
    • readers experience thrill of 
      • slowly seeing the tale unfold before them (as with any story read for the first time)
      • seeing Gilbert realize the truth about his wife’s affair and death
    • time switch: diary creates a flashback = readers have to wait until the end when the story switches to the present to join the pieces together 
  • quick pace adds to suspense
    • Gilbert jumps from one volume to the next: insignificant details are left out in this way, Woolf cuts to the chase/gets to the juicy bits
  • implied versus explicit details given to increase reader’s anticipation
    • initials “B.M.”
    • bits that have been scratched out or scored over
      • we assume the scratched out name was Gilbert’s
      • Egypt” written on a page leaves readers with yet another implied clue
  • marriage
    • marriage of convenience: political image for Gilbert, better social status for Angela
    • development of spouses means after years you don’t know who the other person is
    • idea of partnership:
      •  at the start of the marriage, Gilbert + Angela were partners who ‘helped’ one another create a good image (each reached their goal Gilbert had a lovely wife he could show off to his constituents and colleagues; Angela had all the fine dresses, jewellery, trips a woman of her social class could want and dazzled Gilbert’s colleagues, e.g. old Sir Edward)
      • Angela withdrew from the partnership once she saw Gilbert do so as well
        •  he reneges on his duty to father children
        •   he goes to dinners on his own
      • Angela therefore turns to social work + partners up with B.M. 
      • conclusion: marriage as a partnership is based on implicit or explicit mutual understanding that both parties share experiences 
        • when Angela can’t share, she has her diary to turn to
  • writing
    • implies loneliness: Angela has no one to share her innermost thoughts with so turns to writing
    • means of escape & companionship
    • means of putting one’s thoughts in order by formulating words to express them
    • means of baring one’s soul to oneself: the importance of the mirror
      • diary acts as a reflection of herself: it’s as if she is reading her mind when she records memories that will be re-read by her (and eventually someone else if she decides to share her diary)
      • diary as a mirror shows a person’s need to see who they are (when you gaze at yourself in the mirror, it’s to see how you look so you can make minor adjustments)
      • the keeping of a diary made Angela turn within herself, see who she was and make adjustments 
  • suicide
    • courageous act in Angela’s eyes: “Have I the courage to do it too?”
    • is suicide a victory or defeat for Angela?
      •  victory = 
        • she escapes Gilbert
        • her suicide is a statement about what she thinks of being a successful man’s wife, living a privileged life, having beautiful dresses, accessories, meals, influential acquaintances
        • has done sth without asking Gilbert about it first
        • the act itself is an affirmation of her independence
      •   defeat =
        • she dies: she doesn’t gain anything 
        • she took the coward’s way out 
          • she doesn’t stand up to Gilbert and society, but escapes it
          • she doesn’t want to risk staying alone/ doesn’t believe she will eventually meet someone else and fall in love again
          • she might not feel herself worthy of being loved by someone else
    • B.M.’s suicide
      • too melodramatic: a revolutionary like him would keep on fighting, strive to bring about change
      • the courageous thing would be to stick to the plan of convincing Angela to leave her husband
      • how could he leave Angela behind with the weight of his suicide on her conscience?
      • his suicide can only be seen as a defeat for him (based on the character clues we have of him = the fighter gives in)
  • pearl brooch
    • in the 18th – 19th centuries:
      • the Georgians and Victorians were intrigued by the concept of mortality and the after-life
      • mourning brooches were first worn to express bereavement
      • later sweetheart brooches were given to loved ones as keepsakes + symbols of affection
    • the significance of pearls:
      • pearls take many years to form and, like Angela’s “passion for little boxes”, develop in time in a small protective, shelled environment 
      • being difficult to find, they were highly valued 
      • they symbolize wisdom gained from experience, purity, integrity, loyalty
  • diary
    • the printed word when no words are able to be said = it is a legacy
      • has the utmost value since it is bequeathed to someone; shows deceased’s feelings regarding the heir
    • diary = truth = freedom
      • Angela’s only means of expressing her thoughts were through the diary
      • it was the only thing she kept from Gilbert (the only reason they quarrelled, as Gilbert noted) meaning it was the only thing Gilbert couldn’t control
      • what she wrote in the diary was the truth of her existence
      • she was free to write whatever she wanted
  • in the end, by giving the diary to Gilbert she allowed him to see her for what she really was 
  • alternative interpretation: diary is not vindictive
    • it’s a way for Angela to share with Gilbert again she is able to connect with him now, sth impossible when she was alive (see above: theme of marriage)
    • though there is an element of bitterness implied in it, it is Angela’s most prized possession where she kept her innermost thoughts and feelings: the fact that she left it to Gilbert and not Sissy Miller says sth
    • her diary is there to help make Gilbert a better man: Angela is opening Gilbert’s eyes to his narcissism, giving him the chance to see his faults and correct them
  • word “legacy” mentioned twice in the story: paragraph 3 & last paragraph
    • creates a neat connection between beginning and end which reflects Angela’s desire for order (how she labelled all the tokens she had left for those she cared about)
    • the word is directly linked to the diary (focal point of the short story)
      • “To him, of course, she had left nothing in particular, unless it were her diary… So she had left it him, as her legacy.”
      • “He had received his legacy. She had told him the truth. ”
  • what truths are legated to Gilbert?
    • Angela hadn’t shared everything with him as he believed
    • Angela wasn’t so “terribly ignorant”
    • her eagerness to learn was what drew her to B.M. once Gilbert stopped paying attention to her and spent more time worrying about his political career (so the affair was Gilbert’s fault in part)
    • Angela’s “trifles” were an affair (where he came out the cuckold)
    • Angela found the lower-class people of Whitechapel more worthy of attention, care and respect than Gilbert, their marriage, their home (i.e. Gilbert wasn’t the most important thing to her; the lower class managed to get the better of him)
    • what started out as adoration for her husband, ends with her terminating her life for another man
    • a man who seemed so beneath him managed to be so alluring that Angela willingly gave up her life to be with him
    • Angela’s great love was B.M. & she committed suicide to escape from living a life with Gilbert (existence with him was so insufferable, she had to escape)

For more literary analyses, click on the image.


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