Anne Levine begins her essay in giving the reader an example of how she taught Virginia Woolf’s short story “The Legacy”; she was a high school teacher. She divided her class up into two sections and told one group to sympathize with Gilbert and argue that Angela was the villain; the other group was to argue the reverse. Levine tells us that she thought Woolf’s writings an excellent example of how there can be different interpretations from readings. She reminds us that Woolf herself stated that “our task as readers is not to look simply for symmetrically arranged gig-lamps” (74). The meaning and significance isn’t all laid out for you the reader; we must search for the meaning. Of course, everyone brings their own identity to interpreting readings; therefore, people will interpret readings to their own perspective.
Levine helps us to realize her interpretation, which I believe is more in line with what Woolf would have intended. Gilbert represents the Victorian, domineering patriarchal husband that Woolf rebelled against. Levine puzzles out the meaning of “The Legacy” by using quotes from A Room of One’s Own. Angela is an excellent mirror for enlarging and reflecting her husband’s humongous ego, but yet his mirror of Angela only reflects a woman whose day exists of little trifles, low intelligence, and childlike behaviour.
Before she died she wouldn’t allow him to read her diary, but after her death, he was free to read them. The part of herself that she kept from him, she allowed him to see after her death. Did she hope to educate him? Levine relates other interpretations by different scholars, and here is one that I found to be very pertinent: “The crux of the tale is the husband’s realization that his wife—the one person he supposedly knows through and through, a woman he thinks belongs to him—is capable of a life . . . that he cannot share” (Kiely 88).
I haven’t read the short story yet, but this article was so straightforward that I believe it will be helpful in assisting me to understand the story. With that said, I must admit that in my head while began I reading this, I was shouting, “Woolf wouldn’t make Angela the demon! I know that one school of thought is that a reader shouldn’t bring the writer into the reading. But how can you not in a Woolf story?” Of course as I continued reading, I saw that Levine was giving this a more feminist reading.
And one last thought, I kept thinking of Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House while I read this.
Kiely, Robert. Beyond Egotism: The Fiction of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and D. H. Lawrence. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980. (her citation)
Levine, Ann. "Virginia Woolf's 'The Legacy.'" The English Journal 75.2 (1986): 74-78. Web. 6 November 2010.