The Legacy by Virginia Woolf is a short story about a woman and her diaries which she leaves behind for her husband before she commits suicide. Angela was a good wife and a helpful person. Being married to a person who was more interested in his work than she led to her penning down her feelings into a set of 15 volumes of a diary. Trapped in a lonely marriage, she became unhappy and low and ultimately embraces death. This single scene story is based on the aftermath of her death when her husband finds the diaries, starts to read them, and discovers something that shakes him up.
One fine day, Gilbert waits for his wife’s secretary, Sissy Miller when he finds a brooch marked to her name in his wife’s belongings, after her death. He is fascinated by the fact that Angela had planned so much; it seemed she knew of her impending death. She had left a token of affection for all of her friends, and him – her diaries. He remembers having trivial tiffs over them, she was unwilling to show them to him while she lived. Now, after her death, she left them with his name on it, as her legacy. While he waits for Sissy, he flips through the pages of the diaries. Angela mostly wrote about her day-to-day doings, little of this, and that mentioning Gilbert’s name regularly, his achievements, their dates, and travels. He reads them with little interest, although his head up high on giving her a good life until he realizes his name has vanished altogether. At this point, Sissy arrives and he hands over her the gift from Angela inquiring if she needs any help financially. Sissy refutes and instead asks him if she could be of any help to him for the sake of his lovely wife. He muses over the fact that Sissy’s offer of help might be driven by the fact that she is enamored by him and prides in himself. After she leaves, he continues with the reading and finds initials of B.M., who appears constantly in Angela’s entries after his own name was obliterated. This B.M. seems to have a highly dramatic effect on Angela, his thoughts and methods force her to question herself. Inquisitively he probes further but is unable to uncover the identity of B.M. with whom Angela seems to have an intimate relationship. She even invited him to their home when Gilbert was out giving a speech somewhere! His ego hurt, Gilbert makes a call to Sissy to inquire about this man. She informs him that he was his brother and had died in an accident two weeks ago. Realizing that Angela had an affair with B.M. and had committed suicide to unite with her lover and escape Gilbert in a loveless marriage (it was believed to be an accident until then), he disconnects the call and tries to come to face with The Legacy he had received.
The narrative is quite simple and forward, there are no back and forth and is easy to understand. Turning the pages does not seem difficult when the story binds you with itself even when there is just one living character from beginning to the end (except the Sissy Miller interjection). It is compactly written, sketching the character of the dead protagonist via memories of her husband, secretary, and most importantly, her diaries. The author touches upon multiple themes in this short story – marriage, love, infidelity, loneliness, neglect, gender roles, ego, and change.
It may be possible that this story was written to highlight the situation of married women, where they are seen as a wife or a mother and not as a person with her own singular personality. Being trapped in a lifeless marriage with a husband gives her no option but to take a drastic step that would let her escape forever.