Jamie's Reviews > Orlando

Orlando by Virginia Woolf
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's review
Mar 26, 11

bookshelves: 1001-books, lgbt, read-in-2011
Recommended for: Woolf lovers
Read in March, 2011 — I own a copy, read count: 3

UPDATE 2011: On a third reading, I've finally come to love this novel in all of its ostentatious, fantastical, quirky bizarreness. Vita Sackville-West's son evidently thought it the most beautiful 'love letter' in the history of literature; Woolf's biting satire nevertheless shines through. Just stunning, and a particularly engaging, almost picaresque read for the uninitiated.


This is a book I'll have to come back to on my own one day. I remember trying to read it in high school, becoming both bored and frustrated, throwing it down and claiming I'd never understand Woolf's reputation. Freshman year of college, I did the same with Mrs. Dalloway. Last semester, I took a seminar on Woolf and she quickly became one of my favorite authors of all time. Mrs. D, To the Lighthouse, Jacob's Room, Voyage Out...all among my favorites now.

Likewise, I loved Orlando, but it's mid-semester, my final semester in undergrad, and I'm so busy and anxious I barely have time to inhale (exhaling is tough, too). The one issue I've ever had with being an English major is that often I have to sprint through books without having the luxury of reveling in the language or dreaming of the characters. It's always "gotta get through this much today before reading these other three books before writing my thesis before blahblahblah." And so I know when I come back to Orlando sometime, it'll hit me the way it tried at a few moments this time around.

Nonetheless, I love Woolf's toying with language here, and despite preconceptions of her as humorless and bleak, Orlando is an incredibly funny book. I laughed at loud more times than I can count, often irritating the people around me in the coffeeshop. I'd argue much of her work on sex and gender here is really post-modern/queer--it's something worth exploring on my next reading. Obviously, the sex change isn't the central thing to the novel, but the way in which Woolf deals with it and with sexual desire in the text is so fascinatingly radical, as much as she would likely have denied as much. Very interesting to read this just after finishing Radclyffe Hall's "Well of Loneliness" and thinking about the politics of representation and subversion--Hall hopes to pander to the mainstream, to claim that she 'can't help' portraying *inverts* as they are...Woolf, on the other hand, finds the fringes of existence sumptuous in Orlando, and she luxuriates in this strangely liminal position. Her 'revolution' of the biography, too, plays on some interesting narrative tropes of acceptability and the role of the 'objective' document. All in all, stacks up against the best of her work. Incredible, and perfect for Woolf fans or those interested in LGBTIQ(QQQQRSTUV) issues.
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02/16/2009 page 30
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Ally The brand new group - Bright Young Things - is nominating books to read in January & Orlando is among them. Its the perfect place to discuss your favourite books and authors from the early 20th Century, why not take a look...


Moira Russell What does "1001 books" mean - is it that big list?

Orlando is intricate, for all its brevity; it took me several rereadings before I was able to penetrate its bright surface.

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