"The Man Who Loved His Own Kind" (1944, 5 pages)
The Reading Life Virginia Woolf Project
One of the Reading Life projects I am working on is the complete fiction of Virginia Woolf (1882 to 1941-England). In addition to the major novels, Woolf published around 25 shorter works of fiction. Both of these stories are included in her anthology (1944) The Haunted House and other Stories. I have previously posted on nine of her short stories.
"The Legacy" is a very powerful work about love, marriage, vanity and legacies. As the story opens Angela Clandon, wife of a very prominent politician, has just passed away and her husband, Gilbert, is reading a list of legacies she has left to the people that were important to her. One of the first legacies is to her secretary, Sissy Miller. Gilbert thinks to himself that his wife was so considerate she has left a legacy to everyone that mattered to her. All of their married life of many years (they never had any children) his wife kept a diary. Whenever he tried to look at the diary, she hid it from him. There was one diary notebook for each of the fifteen years of their marriage. Angela obviously knew she was dying and left legacies for everyone.
"To him, of course, she had left nothing in particular, unless it were her diary. Fifteen little volumes, bound in green leather, stood behind him on her writing table. Ever since they were married, she had kept a diary. Some of their very few — he could not call them quarrels, say tiffs — had been about that diary. When he came in and found her writing, she always shut it or put her hand over it. “No, no, no,” he could hear her say, “After I’m dead — perhaps.” So she had left it him, as her legacy."
Gilbert begins to slowly read these diaries. As the diaries begin in the first year she mentions often how handsome he is and how she loves him. As the years go by she mentions him less and less. His vanity is offended by this. He begins to find an increasing number of references to "B.M.". He soon knows he is a man but he is puzzled by what role she played in Angela's life and is troubled by the fact that he has never heard of him. Then in one shocking entry he finds out that B.M. was in their house while he was on a business trip. He discovers that B.M. is introducing her to political ideas that the very conservative Gilbert finds shocking. B.M. seems to be a radical Marxist of some kind. As the years of the diary goes by Gilbert is hardly mentioned at all. "The Legacy" is another beautifully written work by Woolf. I know you think you know the meaning of the legacy now but there is a surprise that deepens our understanding of the blindness of Gilbert.
"The Man Who Loved His Own Kind" is about two old friends who run into each other after a 20 year hiatus. Mr Dalloway (the husband of Mrs Dalloway) invites Prickett Ellis to a party. Both men practice law. Ellis accepts the invitation knowing he finds parties a bore and is inept at small talk. This is a very subtle story about class differences. The class difference between the two men is not a huge gap, just a small one and that make the story much more interesting. At the party Ellis is not really able to comfortably converse and Dalloway sees this and bring over to him a woman he feels he will get along well with. I will leave the rest of the plot untold.
Frank O'Connor in The Lonely Voice-A Study of the Short Story says that short stories (or at least the best of them) are typically about members of "submerged groups", people that need someone to speak for them because of their marginal social status. The short stories of Woolf i have read so far do not all answer to this description. Her central characters are normally well educated, well off people. Of course, O'Connor could simply say the stories of Woolf are below the quality of the writers he covers in his book.
Both stories can be read HERE
Woolf's short stories are a very important part of her own legacy to the world.
Do you think if it were not for the novels, that we would still be reading the short stories of Woolf?