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Virginia Woolf's Orlando 'The longest and most charming love letter in literature', playfully constructs the figure of Orlando as the fictional embodiment of Woolf's close friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West. Spanning three centuries, the novel opens as Orlando, a young nobleman in Elizabeth's England, awaits a visit from the Queen and traces his experience with first love as England under James I lies locked in the embrace of the Great Frost. At the midpoint of the novel, Orlando, now an ambassador in Constantinople, awakes to find that he is now a woman, and the novel indulges in farce and irony to consider the roles of women in the 18th and 19th centuries. As the novel ends in 1928, a year consonant with full suffrage for women. Orlando, now a wife and mother, stands poised at the brink of a future that holds new hope and promise for women.

336 pages, Paperback

First published October 11, 1928

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About the author

Virginia Woolf

1,655 books22.2k followers
(Adeline) Virginia Woolf was an English novelist and essayist regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century.

During the interwar period, Woolf was a significant figure in London literary society and a member of the Bloomsbury Group. Her most famous works include the novels Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), and Orlando (1928), and the book-length essay A Room of One's Own (1929) with its famous dictum, "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."

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Profile Image for Kelly.
878 reviews4,024 followers
September 10, 2016
My mom made me clean my room this weekend. No, not a teenage pain-in-the-ass cleaning of the room, this was THE cleaning of the room. As in, it was finally time to take apart the room I’d had in that house since we moved there somewhere around my thirteenth birthday.

Look you guys, I get it. I’m twenty-four. That’s another one of those Facts of Life that just happens to you, and most people would say I was far past time for this. And you know what? I was doing okay with it. It went slowly, but it wasn’t as bad as I had thought it would be- I went through old clothes, trophies from various sporting events (yeah, I spent sometime laughing about the fact that I used to do sports, too), old pictures of friends and even boyfriends, and the major breakdown I was waiting for happily stayed away. Yessir, I was a-okay.

Then I got to The Wall. It was the last thing to be done, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do more than look at it and then utterly lose my shit. Why that, when nothing else managed to get to me? Well, here’s why: I started building that wall when I was thirteen years old. It’s full of every person I was, thought I was, or hoped that I would become. It started on the back of the door which was plastered all over with quotes in ridiculous fonts from my favorite books (I can tell you the exactly the path I followed putting things up on that door by where the quotes are from) and three pages of plastered quotes describing my personality at sixteen that a friend gave me for Christmas. There’s the label from my junior year birthday present from my friends that says “The flamboyant actress’ box of stuff,” which is right next to two posters of illustrated Shakespearean quotes I got in Stratford and over Glinda the Good Witch sitting on top of the lightswitch saying, “You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas” (I didn’t put that there, and to this day I have no idea who did). This gives way to black and white posters showing scenes of Paris, cutouts from about a bazillion travel magazines, pictures I took in Ireland and England (including a prominently placed one on top of Glastonbury Tor), a speculative geneology chart out of the Arthurian legends, a painting by Magritte, a huge section of black and white glamour shots of old Hollywood stars (Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Errol Flynn, a photo of Bogey looking down a totally unaware Marilyn Monroe’s dress, a drunk Orson Welles bombasting to Tony Curtis), my headshots and professional photos from the various productions I was in, cast photos, and a picture of the voice teacher who was my second mother for many years.

In other words, it’s the most fucking ridiculous part of the room! You’d think I’d be glad to get rid of the the embarrassing evidence of my bad taste, failed dreams, and terrible role models. And yet, that part was the only thing I gave a shit about. I really felt like crap about it, until I read Orlando and saw this:

“For she had a great variety of selves to call upon, far more than we have been able to find room for, since a biography is considered complete if it merely accounts for six or seven selves, whereas a person may have many thousand…and these selves of which we are built up, one on top of the other, as plates are piled on a waiter’s hand, have attachments elsewhere, sympathies, little constitutions and rights of their own… so that one will only come if it is raining, another in a room with green cutrains, another when Mrs. Jones is not there… and some are too wildly ridiculous to be mentioned in print at all.”

and this:

“nature…has further complicated her task and added to our confusion by providing a perfect rag-bag of odds and ends within us-a piece of a policeman’s trousers lying cheek by jowl with Queen Alexandra’s wedding veil….Instead of being a single, downright, bluff piece of work of which no man need feel ashamed, our commonest deeds are set about with a fluttering and flickering of wings, a rising and falling of lights.”

I wrote in an earlier Vita review about my envy of coherence and life stories that make sense, and how frustrated I was that I couldn’t make my own follow a similar pattern. Woolf understands this frustration (“a single downright piece of work of which no man need feel ashamed”), and tells me why it isn’t ever going to happen- the thousands of selves, and Queen Alexandra’s wedding veil and the policeman’s trousers- what sort of goddess thinks of that?- and then, gift of all gifts, she seems both to understand it and even sympathize with it (in her way)! And this isn’t some poet off the street we’re talking about, this is Virginia Woolf! She’s okay with inconsistencies? Someone that smart is fascinated with absurdities, flights of fancy, illogical trains of thought, even slowness in someone that she loves this deeply? She’s willing to write 300 pages celebrating it, even?

Screw bodice rippers, that thought is the best porn that literary devising could give me. She gave me back Glinda and Bogey, and made me feel proud to take them. Orlando is many things, but it is above all a story that tries to make a dozen fantasies seem possible, or even the inevitable result of a life that is lived with all those thousand selves really getting in their say. While Woolf’s tone in this book is often light, mocking, wry, or even cutting, I don’t think that this detracted from the sublime quality of the story that she’s telling. If anything, her wry asides made the telling of Orlando that much more meaningful. By engaging with prosaic reality every so often- reminding us about the Nick Greenes of the world, the merchants, the couples walking two by Victorian two- she shows us why Orlando should be celebrated, if only for making it through the day, never mind the years on top of years, intact. There’s nobody like Virginia Woolf for getting the most out of the heroic efforts of every last moment, and just why it tortures us so much: “The present participle is the Devil,” she says here, and speaks lovingly of the past and future that shield us from the terrifying fact that we are here and now and we’re supposed to be someone doing something.

Time is the enabler of the novel, the vehicle through which all this exploration takes place, the administrative assistant that dispenses elfish magic when needed and sends out stern reminders of the rules when they are being ignored, but it’s one of Time’s children that’s both the demon and the anti-hero of the whole thing: Memory. Memory is the both the cocoon that protects Orlando from the ravages of ‘growing up’ too much, and the beast that tries to tear her fragile defenses into shreds the second he isn’t looking (don’t get me for pronoun confusion, I know what I did there). It’s a dangerous drug to pull out regularly. Because no, actually, you can’t stop whenever you want to:

“… it has contrived that the whole assortment shall be stitched together by a single thread. Memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus the most ordinary movment in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one, may agitate a thousand odd, disconnected fragments, now bright, now dim, hanging and bobbing and dipping and flaunting, like the underlinen of a family of fourteen on a line in a gale of wind…”

And no, there’s no way of safely taking it, either:

“Every single thing, once he tried to dislodge it from its place in his mind, he found thus cumbered with other matter like the lump of glass which, after a year at the bottom of the sea, is grown about with bones and dragon-flies and coins and the tresses of drowned women.”

There was a period in my life after a particularly traumatic experience that I would stop in the street sometimes, muttering, “Shut up, shut up, shut up!” My terrible therapist called me “weird”, my mother decided I was talking to her, my friends made a nervous joke out of it. But Woolf understands the freakish intersection of memory and the present moment your body is in. It’s guerilla warfare out there- the even scarier modern kind where there are even less decent barriers as to when and where it is okay for the enemy to try and fuck you up. It’s not just running into an old friend, hearing a song with certain associations that’ll do it. And don’t think you can go searching the banks for something useful to you without paying compounded interest- there’s no such thing as a free lunch, especially not in the Memory banks. One memory is part of another memory, and unless you are far better at compartmentalizing than me, even reaching for a good memory is going to involve pushing through the muck to get to it.

It’s sad to think that Woolf probably understood this due to her own troubles with the state of her sanity. She uses words like “assault,” when talking about time, imagery of rushing waves when showing Orlando’s memories intruding upon her again and again- you don’t do that unless you know what the hell you’re talking about. I can see why she went on to write a book called The Waves right after this.

It’s actually a pretty funny book, though. I feel like I’m giving you the wrong idea of it. It’s lighthearted most of the time, there are excellent jokes in the style of Wodehouse in an archly amused tone that I just loved. It comments on gender, women in society, the industry of writing, writers themselves, historians, the Victorian age, Romantic sensibilities, and does it in a style that’s the most accessible I’ve ever seen her write. She openly invites you to be in on the joke and comment all you like as the Vanity Fair passes you by. I felt quite worldly observing things from her perch. It feels like her contribution to all the genres of literature that happened to be popular at the time- making use of all of them, getting trapped by the conventions of none. Parts of it just happened to give me some words I’ve been desperately searching for, so I did the fall on my knees and worship thing instead of attending the tea party afterwards. But don’t worry, she still found time to help Bertie Wooster out of his latest engagement.
Profile Image for Lisa.
977 reviews3,327 followers
February 24, 2020
"I'm sick to death of this particular self. I want another."

Orlando to me is a dream come true in literature. Being able to move in time and space and to change my gender with my moods is a deeply satisfying idea. It is the quintessence of what reading means in my life - the opportunity to leave my own life behind and step into the body and soul of other people, only to move on again when I feel like it. I can be intensely engaged for a week, and then put the adventure safely into my memory and try something different.

Orlando is a hymn to reading and imagination and love. It is a break from conventions, and a story heavy as a heart and light as a feather.

Love it!
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,113 reviews44.4k followers
December 4, 2017
Woolf did not write this book for her readers; she specifically wrote it for her close “friend” and fellow writer Vita Sackville-West. As such Woolf does things she would not normally do in her writing; it is not at all serious but instead takes on the form of a literary homage, homage to reading and writing. My case in point:

“For it would seem - her case proved it - that we write, not with the fingers, but with the whole person. The nerve which controls the pen winds itself about every fibre of our being, threads the heart, pierces the liver.”

“The taste for books was an early one. As a child he was sometimes found at midnight by a page still reading. They took his taper away, and he bred glow-worms to serve his purpose. They took the glow-worms away and he almost burnt the house down with a tinder.”

-Tilda Swinton as Orlando in the 1992 film adaptation

More significantly, it was also homage to someone she loved quite dearly. I do wonder if originally she intended for this to be published; it is clearly a piece of writing that is very personal and addressed to one person. There are just so many emotions in this novel. The story begins with Orlando, a young man living in the Elizabethan age who is about to be transformed. The story also ends with Orlando, a woman writer living in the 20th century. The entire novel is a fictionalised history of Vita Sackville-West, of an imagined past life she lived under the guise of Orlando several centuries before she met Woolf.

Orlando had his heart broken at a very young age; it is shattered beyond repair as he is abandoned and left in ruins. Life must go on. He finds solace in reading and writing, tools he uses to escape from the horrors of reality. He begins with poetry; thus, finding an appropriate channel for his self-pity and woe begotten thoughts. He strives for fame, for literary acknowledgment, by perfecting his craft. If he fails, if the idealised writer fails, the thoughts of suicide and inferiority begin to dog his steps. I need not mention how Woolf met her own end, but this read like an early foreshadowing. It was haunting.

“By the truth we are undone. Life is a dream. 'Tis the waking that kills us. He who robs us of our dreams robs us of our life.”

And as such he attempts to push forward. Indeed, that much so he goes into womanhood. On a plot level it didn’t really make sense; it just kind of happened, though it did give Woolf a perfect opportunity to critique the nuances of gender roles within society. And it was described so beautifully. I can’t fault her for it. I can’t really fault the novel, only to say it lost a considerable amount of passion, energy and momentum once Orlando had changed his sex.


This is the weirdest, most imaginative, novel I’ve read in months. Despite the bizarreness of the plot, the wackiest thing about it is the fact that Virginia Woolf wrote it. I hated Mrs Dalloway. I count it among my least favourite novels in existence. I hate the way Woolf wrote it, why she wrote it and the literary style she tried to produce. Orlando made me rethink my opinion of Woolf entirely. I’ve read a lot of her non-fictional essays along with her literary criticisms of other 20th century writers. This, oddly, goes against much of what she advocated. She was a staunch supporter of realism within her writing, that much so she took efforts to make her plots less constructed so they mirrored real life: this is something else entirely.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that I didn’t really understand Woolf (perhaps I still don’t.) The pathway forward remains an obvious one: I simply must read everything she ever wrote in order to understand her better. Time to get busy.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.7k followers
September 7, 2021
(Book 675 From 1001 Books) - Orlando = Orlando: A Biography, Virginia Woolf

Orlando: A Biography is a novel by Virginia Woolf, first published on 11 October 1928. A high-spirited romp inspired by the tumultuous family history of Woolf's lover and close friend, the aristocratic poet and novelist Vita Sackville-West, it is arguably one of Woolf's most popular novels: a history of English literature.

The book describes the adventures of a poet who changes sex from man to woman and lives for centuries, meeting the key figures of English literary history.

Considered a feminist classic, the book has been written about extensively by scholars of women's writing and gender and transgender studies.

It is useless to tell the story of "Orlando", in this novel one story is mixed with another.

It is as if we are caught in a labyrinth of stories, the main character, born in the time of "Queen Elizabeth", never dies, but in every period, and in every century, the skin changes; Someone else becomes, to reach the age of the reader.

The novel shows the transformation in every moment of life, "Orlando", face to face, makes a different face, sometimes a man, and the ambassador, sometimes a woman, and with a gypsy, shepherds a sheep, sometimes a "lord", And his house is a gathering of elders, and statesmen, and at other times a poet and a recluse.

But what he always seeks: is life, and is always fascinated by writing, continues to write at the height of despair, and at the pinnacle of happiness.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز دوازدهم ماه می سال 2009میلادی

عنوان: ارلاندو (اورلاندو): حقیقت چهار قرن زندگی - اثری ادبی عرفانی انتقادی؛ نویسنده: ویرجینیا وولف؛ مترجم: محمد نادری؛ تهران، امیرکبیر، 1370، در 279ص، چاپ بعدی 1381؛ چاپ چهارم: 1388؛ شابک 9789640007709؛ چاپ دیگر 1395؛ در 343ص؛ شابک9789640018897؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان بریتانیا - سده 20م

عنوان: ارلاندو؛ نویسنده: ویرجینیا وولف؛ مترجم: فریده مهدوی دامغانی؛ تهران، تیر، 1379؛ در 250ص؛ شابک 9646581382؛

عنوان: ارلاندو؛ نویسنده: ویرجینیا وولف؛ مترجم: فرزانه قوجلو؛ تهران، نشر قطره، 1386؛ در 310ص؛ چاپ دوم 1388؛ چاپ سوم 1395؛ شابک9789643416782؛

بیهوده است که بخواهم داستان «ارلاندو» را بازگو کنم، در این رمان داستانی به داستان دیگر میآمیزد؛ گویی در هزارتویی از قصه، گرفتار آمده باشیم، شخصیت اصلی، در زمان «ملکه الیزابت» به دنیا میآید، هرگز نمیمیرد، بلکه در هر دوره، و در هر سده، پوست عوض میکند؛ کس دیگر میشود، تا به عصر خوانشگر برسد؛ رمان، دگرگونی در هر لحظه زیستن را، به نمایش میگذارد، «ارلاندو»، دم به دم، چهره دیگر میکند، زمانی مرد است، و سفیر، گاه دیگر زن است، و همراه کولیان، گوسفند میچراند، زمانی «لرد» است، و سرای او محفل بزرگان، و دولتمردان، و زمانی دیگر شاعر و گوشه نشین است؛ اما آنچه او همیشه میجوید: زندگی است، و همیشه شیفته ی نوشتن است، در اوج ناامیدی، و در قله های شادی، همچنان مینویسد

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 08/09/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 15/06/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,119 reviews3,982 followers
January 2, 2023
Orlando. or-LAN-do. Wrap your tongue around it, and whisper it. There’s a luscious, syrupy, sensual, mysterious feel. Much like the eponymous hero(ine), and the sumptuously described natural and man-made world Orlando inhabits.

The name conjures cross-dressing disguises in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, a Marmalade Cat, maybe Tilda Swinton or Legolas, and, for Google, theme parks in Florida. If you know the novel’s USP and Greek mythology, you may also think of Tiresias and Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Image: Tilda Swinton as Orlando, leaning against an oak tree, the title of Orlando’s lifelong poem (Source.)

My first encounters with Woolf were not positive. I didn’t “get” To the Lighthouse in 2008. Orlando fared a little better shortly after. Last year, I read Night and Day (see my review HERE) and gained confidence to read more Woolf.

The Sex Thing - is not the only thing

I reread Orlando because in recent years, I’ve been dabbling in books that explore gender (see my shelf HERE). That reflects shifts in society as well as my own family.

But despite the famous and definite opening line, “He - for there could be no doubt about his sex”, readers shouldn’t obsess about it. One aspect I love about Orlando, and also Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, is that the switch of sex, though vital, is just one of many facets. In Middlesex, there are a dozen other types of transition (listed in my review HERE).

Orlando’s diversity comes from genre and content. It is a pre-postmodern magical-realist mashup that slips effortlessly between fictionalised biography (with the biographer reporting their frustrations to the reader); pontifciations on high society; homage to, quotes from, and satire of famous writers and critics; queer feminist tract; numerous parallels with the detailed history of Vita Sackville-West's family and home (Knole); the pains of love sought and lost; streams of consciousness; comical wooing; the inspiration, methods, and frustrations of writing, especially for women; the emptiness of wealth (shades of Gatsby, which I reviewed HERE); sensuous descriptions of nature, clothes, and furnishings; and it’s all wrapped up with an almost trippy ending.

The Plot

Time passed… and nothing whatever happened.

This is not primarily a plot-driven novel, and for Orlando, time is as flexible as sex/gender.

"He would go out after breakfast a man of thirty and come home to dinner a man of fifty five at least. Some weeks added a century to his age, others no more than three seconds."

Orlando is a teenage nobleman in the court of Elizabeth I. He communes with nature and writes prolifically. He has lovers of both/ambiguous sexes, and adventures with Russians, Turks, and gypsies. Decades later, but only around 30 years old, Orlando awakes as a woman. This is barely mentioned by her or others, nor the fact she lives for another 300 years without aging noticeably. No explanation is sought or suggested. Its relevance is limited to observing the differing constraints on women through the ages, and offstage legal battles to inherit what only a man can inherit.

She need neither fight her age, nor submit to it. She was of it, yet remained herself.
(Here, “age” refers to historical period, rather than number of birthdays.)

If it’s not about Orlando’s sex or the plot, what IS it about?

Orlando’s core character and interests are consistent: nature, literature, and later, a quest for “life and a lover”.

In terms of sex, Orlando is the essence of fluidity, embracing all aspects of both (Woolf takes a binary view) in herself and her lovers: the differences are simultaneously profound and unremarked. When Orlando first realises he is now she, “she showed no surprise”.

His form combined in one the strength of a man and a woman’s grace… Orlando had become a woman… But in every other respect, Orlando remained precisely as he had been. The change of sex, though it altered their future, did nothing whatever to alter their identity.

Image: One from the series "Human Metamorphosis" by Taylor James (Source.)

For me, that’s the essential message of Orlando: be true to yourself, regardless of externally defined labels. That applies as much to the genre-defying book, as to Orlando the person. Labels can be useful, but they should only ever be descriptive, not prescriptive.

Different though the sexes are, they intermix. In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the male or female likeness.

Orlando changes outwardly, but before and after, over the centuries, Orlando is always a colourful, fluid mix.

Image: A violet marbled end paper from a Folio Society book. (Short video of it being made here.)

He had eyes like drenched violets.

This book is famously a love-letter to Vita, but it’s suffused with violets: Orlando’s eyes; flowers, obviously; but also clouds of autumn; shades; shadows, and (unstated) Trefusis - Vita’s previous lover.


“Illusions are to the soul what atmosphere is to the earth.”

“Russia where the sunsets are longer, the dawns less sudden, and sentences often left unfinished.”

“Memory is a seamstress, and a capricious one at that.”

“Society is everything and society is nothing.” (Sounds like Wilde.)

Quotes about Literature
• “Now all young writers were in the pay of the booksellers and poured out any trash that would sell.” In the 16th/17th century.

• “While fame impedes and constricts, obscurity wraps about a man like a mist.”

• "Material luxury evaporated like so much sea mist under the miasma. So it was, and Orlando would sit by himself, reading, a naked man."

• “Surely, since she is a woman, and a beautiful woman, and a woman in the prime of life, she will soon give over this pretence of writing and thinking and begin at least to think of a gamekeeper.”

Quotes about Love
• “As he looked the thickness in his blood melted; the ice turned to wine in his veins; he heard the waters flowing and birds singing.” Suddenly lovestruck. Then bathos: he merely asks her to pass the salt.

• “Orlando heard… far off the beating of Love’s wings. The distant stir of that soft plumage roused in him a thousand memories of rushing waters, of loveliness in the snow and faithlessness in the flood.”

• “Love… has two faces; one white, the other black; two bodies; one smooth, the other hairy… each one is the exact opposite of the other. Yet, so strictly are they joined together that you cannot separate them.”

• “Nothing... is more heavenly than to resist and to yield; to yield and to resist.”

• “She was married, true; but if one's husband was always sailing round Cape Horn, was it marriage? If one liked him, was it marriage? If one liked other people, was it marriage? And finally, if one still wished, more than anything in the whole world, to write poetry, was it marriage?

• “But love - as the male novelists define it - and who, after all, speak with greater authority? - has nothing whatever to do with kindness, fidelity, generosity, or poetry. Love is slipping off one's petticoat and - But we all know what love is.”

Quotes about Weather/Seasons
Significant changes are marked by dramatic weather:

• “Everything was different. The weather itself... of another temper altogether. The brilliant amorous day was divided as sheerly from the night as land from water. Sunsets were redder and more intense; dawns were whiter and more auroral. Of our crepuscular half-lights lingering twilights they knew nothing. The rain fell vehemently, or not at all.”

• “The equable but confused light of a summer’s morning in which everything is seen but nothing is seen distinctly.”

• “The sun… was so girt about with clouds and the air was so saturated with water, that its beams were discoloured and purples, oranges, and reds of a dull sort took the place of the more positive landscapes… Under this bruised and sullen canopy the green of the cabbages was less intense, and the white of the snow was muddied.”

Quotes about Clothes
• “She fell to thinking what an odd pass we have come to when all a woman’s beauty has to be kept covered lest a sailor may fall from a mast-head.” Relevant today for debates about burqas, victim-blaming, and rape culture.

• “Clothes… change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.”

• “It is clothes that wear us and not we them.”

• “Clothes are but a symbol of something hid deep beneath.” The very definition of a sacrament.

See also

• Jeanette Winterson's preface to the Folio edition, HERE.

• Jeanette Winterson's own spin on this story in The Powerbook, which I reviewed HERE.

Profile Image for Renato.
36 reviews142 followers
November 26, 2015
This was my first time reading Orlando. It was also my second time.

I like to think that everything happens for a reason - not that I believe it was planned or decided by a powerful creature for me - but because the idea that everything effects what surrounds it sounds about right to me. So I see a purpose in this reading experience that Virginia Woolf provided me and take it as an important lesson to carry with me from now on - and how appropriate that it came just at the beginning of a new and exciting year.

I’ve always liked to plan things to the last detail in my life. With reading, unfortunately - and I say that because sometimes it becomes too much to follow-up on - it is the same. I had a strict schedule to read Orlando and I wanted to finish it by January 9th. The day arrived and I only had twenty pages or so left to finish the book, so great, another thing was on the right track. And then I realized nothing was on the right track. I had been racing through the book to comply with a deadline that I stipulated - for no authentic reason, really - in my head and I wasn’t enjoying it at all. Yes, I saw glimpses of brilliance here and there, and I loved the idea of the book since the beginning, plus the fact that I’ve always admired both Woolf and her writing style, so it surprised (and bothered) me that I wasn’t actually having a great time with it. I put it down and analyzed the situation for two minutes - it was a no brainer, I know, but when you’re caught up in it, it may take a while to realize things - and then decided to start over. To read everything once again, including the Introduction that I skipped the first time. Oh my! What about my schedule? It would have to give in. So I went back to the beginning, with hopes of a better read this time and without a deadline. After thirty pages or so, I realized the blur I had read for racing through the words felt really different and so much better now, as if I had just put on my reading glasses.

Forget mostly everything you know from Woolf and expect to find here based on previous works - it’s a departure from them, almost completely. Mrs. Dalloway became famous for being an account of a single day of a person’s life; to counter that, we read in this book more than three hundred years of Orlando’s life. To the Lighthouse is known for its stream of consciousness style that is intertwined with the plot and characters' lines and actions, making it a complex read; this novel is straightforward and presented in the format of a biography of the character Orlando - one would say the novel is actually semi-biographical as it’s been widely known that the protagonist is based on Vita Sackville-West, an English writer who’s been romantically involved with Woolf; because of that, the novel is seen as a love-letter to Vita. More than that, it is a love letter to literature, to the exercise of writing and to writers. It takes us on a grand literary journey throughout the centuries - kind of an expanded Oxen of the Sun from Ulysses - where Virginia emulates some styles and eras in her writing - although still making her book easily accessible as opposed to what Joyce did in the specified episode.

This biography tells us the story of Orlando, an individual born as a biological male who lives for more than three hundred years. Seems interesting enough, right? There’s more: at around thirty years of age, he wakes up to find out a change has occurred: he’s mysteriously been transformed into a woman; he (she) is now biologically female. This is the basic frame of the novel.

But truly, what I most admired and enjoyed in this work was Woolf. I love how she comprehended and created her protagonist as someone constituted of dissimilarities and paradoxes all throughout the times. If we, inside of one year, change our minds so often, imagine someone living for three centuries. Not only did this gave a touch of realism to this distinct story, but it also kept Orlando’s character as being fresh, not determined from beginning to end and, above all, unpredictable.

What I mostly got from Orlando’s character was the sense of solitude and constant search. Despite being surrounded by people throughout centuries, Orlando was really in search of herself, of who he was, of what she was - really, in search of a meaning, of a purpose, of her individuality. It didn’t help, of course, that on the times he opened up and trusted people, she ended up being betrayed by them, only renewing his sense of loneliness. Notwithstanding, she still seemed to worry so much about people’s opinions and conceptions about him, for she was longing to fit somewhere.

Orlando’s freedom - for so to speak - came from an epiphany he had while struggling about his writings, when she realized that in need to be true to himself, she needed to write first and foremost for herself, leaving all glory aside that for a moment she considered seeking for herself - again proving his need to fit, to be accepted. Following this moment, Orlando found the necessity of taking care of his house, which I interpreted as a clear metaphor that she, from that moment on, wanted to value himself, his story, her lineage, the foundation: he was, for once, proud of being who she was.

"He stretched himself. He rose. He stood upright in complete nakedness before us, and while the trumpets pealed Truth! Truth! Truth! we have no choice left but confess — he was a woman."

Although Virginia made a decision to not explain or address too much the sex change - and I applaud her for that, for it was treated naturally (despite the amazing scene, one of the best in the novel, where the three sisters Chastity, Purity and Modesty tried to cover the beautiful transformation) as all gender issues should be, for they’re not, in my opinion, much more than a simple detail that constitutes us such as our height and weight -, I wanted to at least acknowledge here on my humble review how brilliant she was for writing so bravely - and yet with a much admirable lightness - on a subject that still, in 2015, is such a taboo to our society. Virginia wrote as if the sexually defined roles were no more than fantasies that could easily be stripped off for the benefit of another that better suited the individual.

Still on Woolf’s levity in addressing the change, the reflections made by Orlando right after becoming a woman were really fun and interesting to read. His comparisons between the genders and her efforts in learning how to act, be and think had a subtle but undeniable touch of sarcasm. Orlando trying to readjust her behavior after becoming a woman, to comply to what was expected of her - and this was a constant for him because, outside the gender issue, the character goes through a lot of different eras and times, each one with silly defined roles by society - , felt like someone who needed to learn to walk again, or rather someone who’s been through a short period of blindness and regains sight, only to find out, this time, that the world is under different lights and colors, as if the sun had been changed to blue, or pink.

"Memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus, the most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one, may agitate a thousand odd, disconnected fragments, now bright, now dim, hanging and bobbing and dipping and flaunting, like the underlinen of a family of fourteen on a line in a gale of wind."

Other aspect that was surely to please me was Woolf’s addressing to memory, time and consciousness - topics I’ve been reading about for quite some time. Still, she was able to add her own twist to those and seemingly inverted Proust’s approach: instead of showing the moment that the past resurfaces through an involuntary memory, she shows us the present fighting back to regain the mind’s control, mostly through sounds that awake Orlando again, as if the present was actually screaming for attention.

Back to the first time I attempted to read this book, and also one of the changes I made that contributed to my new-found enjoyment of it was about reading the notes included in my edition. I seem to have a love/hate relationship with notes; while they’re completely essential in some books, practically part of the narrative and elucidative to the comprehension of the work, in others they are simply too distracting without adding much to the experience. My edition has 262 notes (for a book that has about 240 pages.) Most were about the parallels between Vita’s life and Orlando’s, and those I found to be unnecessary. After I stopped reading all of them and only payed attention to the ones that promised to add to my understanding, my reading flow also improved.

Film adaptation: although it hasn’t been acclaimed either by critics nor the public, I was very much curious to watch the film from 1992, directed by Sally Potter, to see how Woolf’s narrative would de adapted into the screen. While it had some nice moments, and most of them provided by Tilda Swinton’s talents who plays Orlando greatly, others were a great disappointment: to justify Orlando’s longer than usual life by making it a gift from the Queen is completely unnecessary; after that, I was scared they would also try to justify the sex change - gladly, that wasn’t the case. Having Orlando constantly looking at the camera in attempts to connect to the viewer felt forced and became very predictable and - what I think must have been the sole reason the director decided on using those - also didn’t match the wit that Woolf achieved by having the biographer addressing the reader in several occasions. It was a fun time watching the film, but it doesn’t stand on its own like the novel gracefully does.

Rating: for a book that, under 300 pages, packed not only a great story, with wonderful wit and humor, written brilliantly, but also taught me an important lesson: 5 stars.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,057 followers
August 6, 2017
My second reading of Orlando bore out my overriding impression the first time I read it – that this is a brilliant comic performance until Woolf, before finishing, runs out of steam. Towards the end it becomes apparent she’s no longer in the same spirit with which she began the book. What begins as pure parody ends up a serious attempt to understand her subject. The delicious light skip of her lyrical irony no longer seems at the beck and call of her wit towards the end. You can sense, even see that she’s already beginning to formulate both A Room of one’s Own and The Waves. Her lightly handled mischievous mockery of the conventional historian and biographer is replaced by a more heavy handed feminist polemic and awkward, overly lyrical philosophical musings on the nature of fame and multiple incarnations of self. She’s lost the original spirit. It’s as if a children’s play about pirates and mermaids ends with a religious sermon. As Shakespeare demonstrated, if you start off silly, you should probably end silly. Imagine if at the end of As You Like It all the characters held forth on the psychological and philosophical connotations of why they changed sex during the play. Basically, Virginia tries to force a resolution on this novel that is completely at odds with its spirit. And for that reason all the tension goes out of it in the last fifty pages.

The first half of Orlando pastiches the traditional historian/biographer as mischievously and hilariously as Nabokov’s brilliant Pale Fire pastiches establishment’s literary critic. It’s the work of a writer inspired, on a roll and thank heavens we have this evidence of Woolf’s comic genius. Anyone who thinks of Woolf as a rather pretentious humourless prig clearly hasn’t read Orlando. Of all her books it’s the one which most gives you an idea of what she was like at a dinner table. Thus, ironically, the most biographical in terms of giving us some essence of the social Virginia – offhand, witty, versatile, self-deprecating, a show off, intellectual, silly, indignant, giggling. Orlando is like a guided tour through VW’s likes and dislikes. We learn what pleases her and what angers her - and of course she writes beautifully of her love of England, its countryside, its history and its capital. There’s also a sense that she’s sometimes showing off with certain friends in mind – you realise while reading this book that there’s a subtle but hugely significant difference between genius in full stride and showing off: even though genius in full stride can seem like showing off it never quite does. You don’t see the performance. Here you sometimes can see the performance. You can see the anatomy of the dance steps rather than one continuous fluid motion. So who was she showing off to? I don’t think it was Vita at all. It might have started as a bit of fun with Vita in mind but to my mind it’s Lytton Strachey she’s often thinking about while writing this. He was the writer who sought to revolutionise biography as a form and probably the male intellect among her brother’s formally educated friends she was most intimidated by. It’s like she’s now found the confidence to feel herself his equal, which she didn’t feel as a young woman. While he was receiving his Cambridge education she was compelled to read many of the countless biographies in her father’s library. No wonder she hates conventional biography so much. Orlando was her revenge on all those dull male minds who believed identity was constructed from dates, battles, rank and official documents. The same kind of men who believed women were better seen and not heard. What does all this have to do with Vita? For me far too much has been made of her relationship with Vita. Nearly all my female friends have had lesbian crushes at some point in their lives. It’s something we laugh about; not something that history should use to define who we are. The idea that had Woolf lived in more tolerant times she would have lived happily in a lesbian relationship to my mind is just daft, as daft in its way as the convictions held by the historians and biographers she mocks in this book.

In relation to VW's other books I'd give this four stars but because it's clearly better than 99% of the books on Goodreads it has to get five.
Profile Image for Henk.
851 reviews
January 10, 2023
Fun, vibrant, modern and rich with live
Green in nature is one thing, green in literature another. Nature and letters seem to have a natural antipathy; bring them together and they tear each other to pieces.

The sheer fun and vibrancy that Virginia Woolf brings in this book is tremendous.
I can only compare it to the typical English humor found while reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the first few whimsical pages of The Once and Future King, while the lyrical nature of the work made me think of Jeanette Winterson. Finally Girl, Woman, Other popped up in my mind while reading this classic, due to the same approach of large strides through time, caught in flowing prose.

Orlando compelled me to read on, through lush and flowy sentences, putting thoughts of disbelief and historical accuracy far behind me. Nowhere did the book feel like an almost 100 year old piece.

The Elizabethan age reimagined
The omniscient narrator (that I take to be Woolf) spices up the book. The first chapter starts off with how Orlando gets in Queen Elizabeth her favor, has him overlooking around 30 counties (very Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus like in my mind) and the armada from his house. We also have a hilarious story on how an almshouse was only founded to appease the guilty conscience of a Duke, accidently glancing Orlando and a conquest.
During the little ice age, with the Thames frozen over, we meet Russian beauty Marusha Stanislovska Dagmar Natasja Iliana Romanovitsj aka Sasja (with a delightfully build up romantic inner monologue ending with the majestic first words: “Could you please pass me the salt?”).
And then we have scandal materializing when Orlando tries to get rid of the engagement with Lady Margaret O’Brien O’Dare O’Reilly Tyrconnell aka Euphrosyne. We have beautiful iceskating scenes in the cold, where Woolf asserts that birds dropped frozen from the sky, people just crumbled from a gale of icy wind and everyday was a feast held outside on the frozen river in front of the palace.
It’s like a medieval knights tale, Lazarillo De Tormes medieval work or Candide, but than more successful in satirizing the day and age in a mischievous, tongue in the cheek manner.

The continuation of the narrative
Instead of being a single, downright, bluff piece of work of which no man need feel ashamed, our commonest deeds are set about with a fluttering and flickering of wings, a rising and falling of lights.

Chapter two starts of with our main character sleeping for an unexplained, mysterious (“religion founding” mysterious) full seven days. After this Orlando is kind of regenerated in a Doctor Who style and our narrator moves on with the tale since no answer on his strange condition is forthcoming in half an hour’s time. En passant we learn his house is like that in the Adam’s family, leading people to their untimely deaths, with the staff occasionally finding twisted remains and bones during cleaning.
Our main character falls victim to two plagues: reading and writing (For once the disease of reading has laid upon the system it weakens so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the ink pot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing.).
We have a poet/critic who embodies a yearning for citylife, that made me think of how Woolf herself was portrayed in The Hours.
But in the end Orlando turns away from fame and thinking of critique, decides to write just for pleasure and use anonymity to leave a mark on the world: ( Better was it to go unknown and leave behind you an arch, then to burn like a meteor and leave no dust.).

He then goes about homedecorating in the most extravagant way, until a the ugly head of love aka Romanian archduchess Harriet Griselda of Finster-Aarhorn and Scand-upon-Tree, turns up.

In chapter three Orlando flees to Constantinople as ambassador for Charles the second and gives the greatest party ever (I just saw The Great Gatsby pool scenes during this segment) before collapsing to another 7 days of sleep, and now a sex change. Contrary to what might be expected Orlando’s womanhood brings him much joy, ending with a simple life in Thessaly as a gypsy.
Butan old passion stirs (No passion is stronger in the breast of a man than the desire to make others believe as he believes. Nothing so cuts at the root of his happiness and fills him with rage as the sense that another rates low what he prizes high.) and she returns to England.

Life as a woman
Chapter four has Orlando getting to know her femininity and all the restrictions flowing from that moniker, from no longer showing her beautiful legs to being legally dead and a woman (which is basically the same thing as Woolf wryly notes).
The archduchess Harriet returns and turns out to be a man (archduke Harry) and Orlando can get rid of him not by sword or female wit, but by cheating and a toad conveniently carried around the whole day.
In London she discovers that a lady can’t go to the Mall without being squashed by the common people, given an emerald brooch and getting a marriage proposal. And she discovers the high society (At one and the same time, therefore, society is everything and society is nothing. Society is the most powerful concoction in the world and society has no existence whatsoever.), meets famous poets and writers, who all in the end dissapoint.
More and more she switches between gender expression and male and female lovers as the nineteenth century starts.

However chapter 5 has the winds of Victorian time sweeping into the life of Orlando and nature taking a prominent role. Her great poem The Oak ends up being published without much intrinsic satisfaction for her, but to great critical acclaim.
Societally speaking marriage becomes important; Orlando finds on the moors a fitting companion (who quickly notes she is a man at heart and of which she thinks: he’s just like a woman). This Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine leaves for South Africa at the end of the section.

Chapter six has Orlando alone (or with child, that's not really clear to me) crashing into the twentieth century. The great war is left in lieu for reflections on Orlando getting to the mature age of 36. Everything from this new age reminds her to earlier experiences and brings her memories. This leads her to think I’m sick to death of this particular self.
But she does like the vibrancy and speed of modern city life, while the love for the nature of England also persistently shines through. She remembers her husband and her history while we end the book at midnight Thursday 11 October 1928.

I feel Woolf covers so much topics and reflections on human experience in this book. But above all I found it a very modern, unique, vibrant and fun work, something not many classics can say.
5 stars

Initial response
Loved it, even worked from home this morning just to have some more time to finish this book in lieu of travel time. Full review to come!
Profile Image for Piyangie.
519 reviews420 followers
January 14, 2023
Orlando is a biography written about a fictitious character, Orlando, which was inspired by Virginia's real-life friend and lover Vita Sackville-West. The story spans over 400 years where Orlando's life changes from man to woman, from century to century.

Gender difference is the main focus of the story. Through Orlando's transformation from man to woman, Virginia subtly exposes the gender difference or in her view the "gender neutrality". Virginia believed in gender neutrality, affirming that there is a male and female side in every human being irrespective of sex, and varying in degree. When Orlando wakes up as a woman, she feels no difference or any awkwardness; but, when she finally must confront society as a woman, Orlando understands there is a difference in self, at least outwardly. Thus the author hints that the inward self of man and woman are more or less similar, and it is the society's rules of conduct that make them different and categorize them into different genders.

As a subplot, Virginia dwells on the changes of literature and artists over the span of 400 years. Orlando could not publish his work in the early centuries, but the social changes and the difference of style and forms of literature over the years make once unpublished work to be finally published. Virginia is being satirical here, for she was a devotee of the great poets of the past and their strictly kept quality of writing. She points out how the quality is reduced and rules relaxed as the poets became the victims of publishing houses who wished to publish those that sell fast. She was quite sad over the plight of modern poets, for she firmly believed that poetry should be "a voice answering a voice".

Virginia has adopted a narrative style of writing for the most part of the story, but toward the end, this style is slowly changed into a conscious stream of writing. When I first attempted Virginia Woolf, I shied away immediately, as I couldn't get into the rhythm of her stream of consciousness. But in Orlando, since it was a gradual descent to the conscious stream from the narrative style, I was able to grasp the story and understand it better. And I was surprised to find that I liked her conscious stream of writing.

In this second reading, I found that I've completely missed yet another theme that Virginia has exposed through the story of Orlando. And that is the concept of change. It is one of Virginia's favourite themes and has been used in almost all the books I've read of her. Here, Virginia discloses the change of British society over four centuries, and how the lives of men and women have changed over the span of years. The story runs from the 16th century to the early 20th century, and Virginia describes in detail the change of the role of men and women. She specifically refers to 19th-century British society and its role of women. The dawn of the 19th century is described by her thus: "All was darkness; all was doubt; all was confusion". This is how Virginia saw Victorian society, with its heavy chains of convention, which unmercifully victimized women more than men. In no period of life than in the 19th century that Orlando regrets becoming a woman. But it is inevitable that Orlando cannot escape from what society expects from her; she must submit and adapt as best as she could to the change. And Orlando does this by taking a husband! :)

The whole story was a satirical account, and I had such a fun time rereading it. The word "fun" was something I never imagined attributing to a work of Virginia Woolf. But certainly, Orlando is the most entertaining work written by her.
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,385 reviews2,258 followers
July 18, 2018
I knew for sure I wasn't expecting anything like 'To the Lighthouse' with Orlando, but what I didn't know is just how much sheer pleasure Orlando would end up giving me, as this went right beyond my expectations, the days reading it seemed invigorated somehow. Woolf has broken with tradition and convention and has set out to explore a kind of fourth dimensional approach to writing. Not that she has abandoned the stream of consciousness method which she used with such conspicuous success in her previous novels, but with it she has combined what, for lack of a better term, we might describe as an application to writing of the theory of relativity. In this novel, or biography, however one chooses to see it, she is largely preoccupied with the time element in character and human relationships, and with a statement of the exact complexion of that intangible moment, a combination of past and future, of objective reality and subjective awareness, which we refer to as the present.

Woolf’s hero-heroine, man-woman, he-she, is hundreds of years old, lucky him/her! At the beginning of the book Orlando is an adolescent male, melancholic, indolent, loving solitude and given to writing poetry; the age is the Elizabethan; the book ends on the 11th of October, 1928, and Orlando is a thoroughly modern matron of 36, who has published a successful book of poems and has evolved a hard-earned philosophy of life. Thus, to express her very modern fourth-dimensional concepts, Woolf has fallen back upon one of the most ancient of literary forms, the allegory. In doing so she has left the novel perhaps more confusing than was strictly necessary. However, I personally think nothing should have been any different. Woolf knocked me for six, here, there, and everywhere. Ultimately she written a book of genius.

Starting around the time of The Great Frost of 1608/09 where birds froze whilst flying and hurtled to the ground, Orlando moves on to languorous sunny afternoons spent in the shade of oak trees and the hot sun of Turkey. Even so, this could be classed as a winter read. As Orlando never leaves the ice entirely, since he, and then she, is simply frozen in time. Even hundreds of years later there remains the same person who fell in love on those winter days in the 17th century, and those heady days breathe their cold magic throughout this strange, sometimes bewildering but generally wonderful novel. Plus, Woolf can't resist returning to the cold now and again, most notably in her description of the permanent winter damp and black cloud that hung over the 19th century.

After Orlando’s attempts to adjust herself to the conventions of nineteenth century England. Woolf excels with by far the most stimulating section of the book, describing Orlando at the present moment, and traces with breath-taking delicacy the influence of her past upon her present. It is deep in the book when suddenly Orlando springs startlingly to life, not that there was anything wrong previously, but up to a point it had seemed a pleasant narrative made notable by a number of passages of great beauty, love and attention, and by occasional bits of vivid description, but marred slightly by a rather self-conscious mischievousness on the part of the author. Having said that, even it's worst bits were still seriously good.

In the closing pages she welds compactly what had seemed to be a series of loosely connected episodes. In them she seems to reach down into the rabbit hole for the whole superstructure of life and to lay bare a new, or at least a hitherto unperceived, arrangement of those ephemeral flashes of memory of perception that makes up consciousness. But she has carried the stream of consciousness technique a step further. Not being satisfied to present a succession of thoughts and sensations passing through the mind, she shows what is behind those thoughts and sensations, whence they spring, and how great their relative value. In attempting to describe such subtle and elusive qualities, Woolf has faced squarely one of the most puzzling technical and esthetic problems that plague contemporary novelists. The mere fact that she has stated the problem as succinctly as she does in the course of this book is immensely stimulating, whether or not one feels that she has achieved the final solution to it.

I have to say, I could read all the writings of Virginia Woolf under the sun (which is unlikely, but you never know) and nothing else would be as rousing as this. She clearly put a lot of passion into writing this book, and in the case of the reader, me, I was completely won over. A dizzy and captivating reading experience. Just hope I don't wake up in the morning and find I am now Stephanie.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,180 reviews1,941 followers
December 4, 2013
I first read this many years ago; before I knew very much about Virginia Woolf and her relationship with Vita Sackville-West, to whom this is dedicated. The background is vital because it adds so much and because it helps the reader to reach an understanding of Woolf’s generosity. It is as ever, beautifully written and drifts splendidly through the centuries and the key is Vita and their circle.
As Woolf was writing this her affair with Vita was beginning to wane as Vita was moving on to other lovers. The two women were very different and Vita was much more sexually active and interested in a variety of people. For Vita the thrill of the new was important. Woolf recognised this.
One of the keys to the book is Vita’s ancestral home, Knole. It is faithfully represented as Orlando’s home estate in the book, down to the heraldic leopards and the visit of Queen Elizabeth the First. Vita had lost Knole because a woman could not inherit; here Woolf gives her it back.
Many of the characters represent people both knew. The Russian princess Sasha is Violet Trefusis, Nicholas Greene is Gosse, Archduchess Harriet/Archduke Henry was Lord Lascelles (one of Vita’s many admirers), Shelmerdine is Vita’s husband Harold Nicholson. Orlando’s poetic work The Oak Tree is equivalent to Vita’s poetic work The Land.
There is a great deal of imagery here; some of it in the form of private jokes/codes. The “porpoise in a fishmonger’s shop” is one such (no idea what that one means). The imagery around the goose that crops up a couple of times even confused Vita (Vita was much more literal than Woolf)! It is interesting to consider that originally Woolf had conceived it as an illustrated book with photographs and pictures. Woolf’s portrayal was an accurate one. Harold Nicholson found it difficult to conceive that anyone else could know the private Vita that he knew and thought it was a lucky accident (it wasn’t, Woolf was very perceptive). Mary Campbell (another of Vita’s lovers) was also surprised how accurately the private Vita was portrayed.
On top of this being a love letter to Vita, it is so much more besides. The nature of gender and biography are explored. It is also interesting to note that Woolf was also writing the lectures that became A Room of One’s Own. Orlando is part of the train of thought Woolf had about the revolutionary potential of women’s friendship. A new world opens when like each other and are no longer seen as rival’s for men’s affection/approval.
It is a tender and humorous love story/letter, almost a faitytale, not meant to be taken in the same vein as more serious work (To The Lighthouse), but it captures the imagination and sold much more than anything Woolf had written previously. It is a work of brilliance with a lightness of touch.
Profile Image for Kenny.
495 reviews865 followers
September 30, 2022
Orlando naturally loved solitary places, vast views, and to feel himself for ever and ever and ever alone.
Orlando ~~ Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel Orlando is a romping, time-travelling feminist escapade. The protagonist, Orlando, begins life as a handsome, young, male, seventeenth-century aristocrat who changes gender and moves towards 1928 ~~ pivotal as the year which saw the granting of universal voting to women. Not only does Woolf’s spiritual narrative comment on contemporary questions of traditional gender roles but interrogates assumptions that differences between men and women are innate ~~ natural.

An epic novel, it follows the journey of one character, Orlando, over the course of about 350 years ~~ 1588 – 1928. Although Orlando is properly titled Orlando A Biography , it is not, however, a biography of Orlando, but of the nature and history of gender, identity, and sexuality through time.


At the start of the novel, readers will encounter Orlando as a young boy of noble birth. His family entertains Queen Elizabeth I, who is the first to notice Orlando’s beauty and potential. As he ages ~~ slowly ~~ Orlando will spend much of his time with “low” people – those well-outside the realm of nobility, though he himself is a member of the court.

Orlando explores and enjoys sexual relations with people of varying types ~~ though each of his three serious ventures into love soon goes sour. Orlando will twice mistake the loves of his life for the wrong gender ~~ which is particularly complex after Orlando himself has become a woman, remembering himself as a man, loving a man who is actually a woman.

Orlando’s story is one of exploration and being open to the many possibilities of life. He is a writer, first, who spends hundreds of years working on one short poem called The Oak Tree , a strong symbol of nature’s presence and dominance throughout the passage of time.

Orlando witnesses the world changing, from the sexual freedom and marriageless years of the Elizabethan period, to the stringent, stuffy, prudish world of the Victorian age.

At a certain point, s/he wakes up to the present and is terrified, realizing that she suddenly exists in the now, and it is a now that she no longer recognizes, where women are property, where love is regulated, and where art and literature exist only in the past.


In approaching questions of gender, Woolf takes a long view ~~ as stated previously, 350 years long. Orlando defies this passing of time, living for hundreds of years and crossing gender boundaries to suggest that male/female binaries are little more than a performance. Woolf fully illuminates her conclusions by exposing how patriarchal gender regulations and restrictive social conservatisms reinforce artificial gender stereotypes.

Orlando, though massive in scale, brilliant in conception, and beautiful in execution, was actually considered by Woolf to be a writer’s holiday, so to speak. She refused to allow gender nor time to constrain her writing, which is shown by the fact that Orlando, who begins the story as a man and ends it as a woman, four centuries later, ages only 36 years in the process.

What is most fascinating for me is the fact that the book was, for Woolf, a game of sorts ~~ a lighter satire and departure from her more serious works; yet, Orlando is incredibly important and speaks seriously, though fantastically, to issues of self-discovery, truth, art, and gender.

Profile Image for Samadrita.
295 reviews4,574 followers
July 9, 2013
The most prudent way to review a Virginia Woolf book, perhaps, would be to write 'THIS IS STUPENDOUS. GENIUS. AMAZING. WHY HAVEN'T YOU READ THIS YET?' and leave it at that. Because not only does this relieve you of the responsibility of casting about for appropriate words to serenade Woolf but also because you know no review in the world does justice to the sheer magic that she is capable of creating with words.
But since I have a thing for self-flagellation(not really), I wish to undertake precisely this mammoth task of writing about Orlando.

After having closed the book and put it aside, the first predominant emotions are that of being overwhelmed by the all-encompassing nature of its inherent themes, then awestruck, then of being very close to tears.
One is compelled to sit quietly in a corner, still under the heady influence of Orlando's poetic prose, and brood over all the discrete human sentiments, actions and events that make up life as we know it, letting precious minutes trickle by.

Our hero-heroine, Orlando, seems not only to be a representation of the human spirit, a union of yin and yang in all its imperfect glory, but also a lasting testament to the perpetual flow of time. His-her pronouncements sound almost like a chorus of voices, echoing all the dichotomies that characterize our existence and the transience of our emotions.
Orlando begins the journey of life as a man of wealth and social standing in Elizabethan era England, comfortable in the skin of his vanity, amorous in his dalliances with women. And the book ends on 11th of October, 1928, in modern England where Orlando is a married woman, a mother, an accomplished writer and finally at peace with life's many ironies and caprices. I will refrain from going into all that takes place between these two distant points in time because for that one can always read the book.

It will suffice to say that Orlando swings back and forth between craving and shunning love, between pursuing his-her literary interests and trivializing the urge to write, between seeking the august company of men of letters like Pope, Addison and Swift and then belittling them. And even though hundreds of years pass by as Orlando goes through the many myriad experiences that life had in store for him-her, it seems like everything has remained essentially the same. The reader is struck by a sense of passivity in motion, of an enduring constancy even though the sights and sounds and scenarios, that Orlando flits through, keep varying.

Thus in a way Orlando is not different from Woolf's other works just because of the noticeable absence of a stream of consciousness(which, again, is not totally absent here) but because here, she attempts to grasp at an amorphous entity like time and enclose it within a few pages. And I am mightily pleased to say that she pulls off this feat with an elan, one associates only with her.
What makes Orlando really stand out among other VW works is the dual gender of its protagonist. Orlando keeps oscillating between his-her manly and womanly bearings and towards the very end, what nullifies the differences between the sexes is his-her humanity, his-her detachment from the material world and a crossover into the realm of the spiritual.

"The whole of her darkened and settled, as when some foil whose addition makes the round and solidity of a surface is added to it, and the shallow becomes deep and the near distant; and all is contained as water is contained by the sides of a well. So she was now darkened, stilled, and become, with the addition of this Orlando, what is called, rightly or wrongly, a single self, a real self."

The narrative does seem a bit disjointed at certain points, especially when Woolf foregoes conventions and goes into intricate detailing of events which seem of little importance in the greater scheme of things or inserts her witty observations on society's prejudices concerning women, chastity and more.

"Orlando, who was a passionate lover of animals, now noticed that her teeth were crooked and the two front turned inward, which, he said, is a sure sign of a perverse and cruel disposition in women, and so broke the engagement that very night for ever."

"I am she that men call Modesty. Virgin I am and ever shall be. Not for me the fruitful fields and the fertile vineyard. Increase is odious to me; and when the apples burgeon or the flocks breed, I run, I run, I let my mantle fall. My hair covers my eyes, I do not see. Spare, O spare!"

"Truth come not out from your horrid den. Hide deeper, fearful Truth. For you flaunt in the brutal gaze of the sun things that were better unknown and undone; you unveil the shameful; the dark you make clear, Hide! Hide! Hide!"

See what I mean? This is probably Woolf at her funniest and wittiest. So not a single sentence or passage can be devalued even though it may appear a little out of place or slow down the progress of the narrative.

In essence, Orlando is a summation of all the irrepressible instincts of both the man and woman - their quest for love and true wisdom, their search for meaning in chaos, their feelings of inferiority aroused by the vastness of the universe and their desire to find an eternity trapped within their brief lifetimes.
Profile Image for Mark André .
112 reviews239 followers
August 15, 2018
My first Woolf novel. Inventive. Entertaining. Page-turner.
Though the plot stagnates in the final two chapters.
So what gender issues does the author present?
Men don't take female thinking seriously.
Marriage, who needs it. Pregnancy, who needs it.
Men, after sex, roll-off, light a cigarette, and turn on the game. Who needs it.
Profile Image for Dolors.
527 reviews2,219 followers
September 7, 2016
Orlando might have been devised as a mere divertimento, as a playful attempt to challenge the established views on sexuality or as a fantastical tale to confront the history of East and West by questioning the boundaries of space and time, but to this reader this novella meant much more. It meant a universe of fluctuating moods, characters and sweeping poetry that gives reason to be through the act of reading.

How to describe the nuanced melody of finely threaded irony prodigiously in tune with the most sophisticated sense of humor that entertains and prickles and urges to see the world without the limiting lenses of gender, class or social convention?
One can evolve unhindered when he suspends judgement and allows the flow of writing to give way to a solid account that sparkles because undeniable reality is better understood through the theatrical fiction of its form.

How to account for centuries expanding and contracting beyond human comprehension, decades that amount to the fall of a rose leaf on the ground, years that disappear in a flash?
The passage of time is of no consequence when love for the written word equals the all-consuming passion for the person who knows us best regardless of clothing or hair style, manners or social rituals that distract us from the true essence of our beings.

How to explain the ache spanning countless generations, eras and customs that is nestled in the heart of the artist who relishes the young, supple body, pure as driven snow; the fleeting grass under a blanket of blue or the stars reflected in pools of stagnant water both in London and Turkey?
Emily Dickinson says in her poem #466:
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise -

For Occupation – Writing –
Orlando claims a “room of her own” to write her life, a task that will also define her love, and infuse wholeness into the swelling tides that toss her multiple beings, her male and female groundings.
The result, be it an experimental biography, an unorthodox love declaration or a thought-provoking roman à clef to defy categorization at all levels, goes beyond its original purpose and becomes a fluid, ever-changing tapestry of voices answering other voices, speaking the universal language of poetry.
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,864 reviews78 followers
August 10, 2010
Vita Sackville-West's son may have called Orlando “the longest and most charming love-letter in literature”, but let me tell you: if someone wrote me a love letter like this, their ass would be getting dumped shortly thereafter.

This book was like the song that wouldn't end- it just goes on and on (yet it isn't particularly lengthy) without saying very much of interest. Despite the fact that reading it was a serious chore, for whatever reason I couldn't just give up and toss it aside (much like being unable to look away from a flaming car wreck). I pushed through, even though I often couldn't bring myself to read more than a few pages at a time. It took me several weeks to finish.

However odd the movie was (and in spite of the fact I have the distinct impression that Tilda Swinton wanted to eat my soul), I still enjoyed it more than the book (which is not a statement I make lightly- I almost never like a movie more than its source material).

I think part of the problem was the fact that Orlando was a boring, whiny, immature character who took hundreds of years to grow up. Since the book is pretty much entirely about Orlando, if one is not a fan, the book is not exactly fun to read.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,196 reviews9,485 followers
February 3, 2012
What's the connection between Virginia Woolf and the Russian mafia? Easy - in 1991 Sally Potter decided to film Orlando, one of the loveliest, most ravishing novels in the English language. Somewheres in the middle of the story there, you have a truly extraordinary sequence about the remarkable Frost Fair of 1654, which was when the River Thames itself froze over and they erected a fair with stalls and games and rides and greased pigs and whatnot on it, a carnival of the utmost brilliancy right on the river itself, and there was skating and flirting and people built fires, right on the river itself, and Orlando cut a dash amongst the Elizabethans and many curious and longing glances were thrown.

So Sally Potter needed a frozen river. Where do rivers freeze these days, what with global warming?

Kiev. The Dneiper.

So they went to Kiev and got permission to film from the newly elected Ukrainian local government. Signed all the forms in triplicate, paid their taxes. Great.

But then the hotel door banged open and some big guys came in and said to Sally Potter and her pals

We know you have made arrangement with the politicians. Now you must make arrangement with us.


Just the boys who really run Kiev, is who.

So they paid some more taxes. And didn't ask for a receipt.

I remember Sally potter telling this story with great gusto when I saw her introduce this movie at Nottingham's arthouse. In retrospect, she thought it was hilarious. Not while it was happening.

Orlando is a lucent multicoloured gleam of a novel, bending the gending a few decades before we even realised that trannies weren't little radios anymore, before we realised that boys will be girls will be boys and that it's a mixed up muddled up shook up world.

Except for Orlando.

Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews966 followers
August 3, 2018
Published in 1928, toward the end of the most productive stage of Woolf's career as a writer, Orlando doubles as national history and romance: the playful and ironic novel famously centers on the transformation of its protagonist's gender, near the start of the 18th century, but most of the story deals with Orlando's different loves and England's changing social norms over the course of three centuries. The gender change and kaleidoscopic setting afford Woolf the chance to examine themes especially relevant to women in the 1920s, such as bodily autonomy or marriage, from several historical and social vantage points. In contrast to Woolf's other works of fiction, the novel is rather fun to read as well as written in an accessible style, making Orlando the ideal introduction to her later work.
Profile Image for Rowena.
500 reviews2,474 followers
January 11, 2013
I absolutely adored this book. The style is definitely different from the other Woolf books I've read so far. What stood out for me was the beautiful use of the language, maybe more than the story. The novel had an almost fairytale-like feel to it, and I was definitely enchanted from the start.

I don't think the following is a spoiler as it is included in the book's blurb : this book is about a 16 year old boy, Orlando, a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, who one day wakes up to find that he has become a woman! The investigation of gender following Orlando’s metamorphosis is especially amazing as now it is widely accepted that gender is a societal construct. I really feel Woolf was way ahead of her time.

The book was written in an experimental biographical style, and the biographer threw in a lot of humour and wit that caused me to burst out laughing more than once. It is also satirical which I loved, especially the part where Orlando shows her calf to a sailor, who almost falls to his death!Also, the challenges and insight of writing a biography are included, things I had never really considered previously.

The book was so surreal at times especially as it wasn’t restricted by either gender or time. I feel that, as straight-forward as the story is to read, there are so many issues incorporated that I think there are also as many different approaches for reading this book.

Now I'm in the mood for more Woolf and I think a re-read of Mrs. Dalloway is in order.
Profile Image for Madeline.
775 reviews47k followers
August 27, 2010
I finished this book about a week ago, and have been trying ever since to figure out how I'm supposed to review it. I honestly can't think of anything to say except this:

Every single emotion I've ever felt and every thought I've ever had, had already been felt and thought and written down by Virginia Woolf decades before I was even born. There is not a single concept or feeling in any of her books that isn't already intimately familiar to me. Reading her books is like having someone look into my own mind, deeper than I ever looked, and discovering something that is simultaneously unheard of and completely recognizable.
Profile Image for Luís.
1,866 reviews524 followers
April 15, 2022
I was careful not to take this reading to the beach. That would have been entirely inappropriate. So instead, I saved Orlando for the start of the school year, a little more attentive for my first Virginia Woolf. But I had to have a bit sloppy at the end because I had the impression of reading a whole exercise in an impressive and original style, but I could not give it the concentration it deserved.
I drew to the back cover. This writer, who lives centuries, dies to come back to life as a woman but always with the human spirit. I liked the character writer, who was passionate about reading and writing.
It's a bit of a timeless, fantastic, utterly offbeat tale that deserves a lot more focus than I had to give it and struggled to finish correctly.
Even though I liked the author's intrusion to guide the reader, setting the scene and the character.
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
779 reviews
February 25, 2018
I like nothing better than when two books I happen to be reading overlap, even if briefly, so I was really pleased when Virginia Woolf’s fictional character, Orlando, suddenly mentioned Jonathan Swift, whose Journal to Stella I’ve been reading recently. Orlando, who in some sections of Woolf’s book uses the title Lady Orlando, has just been receiving a visit from Joseph Addison, Swift’s one-time bosom pal and fellow political essayist, when there's an interruption:
..and when Mr Addison has had his say, there is a terrific rap at the door, and Mr Swift, who had these arbitrary ways about him, walks in unannounced...Nothing can be plainer than that violent man. He is so coarse and yet so clean; so brutal, yet so kind; scorns the whole world, yet talks baby language to a girl, and will die, can we doubt it? in a mad house.

The 'talks baby language to a girl' remark is a direct reference to the letters Swift wrote to his young friend, Esther Johnson, whom he called Stella. Those letters have been incorporated into his Journal to Stella which I've just been reading. Esther/Stella lived at Swift's house in Ireland with a companion, Mrs Dingley, while Swift spent time in London engaged in politics, pamphleteering, political satire, and visiting Lords and Ladies such as Orlando. Whenever Swift was in Ireland, Esther moved to lodgings nearby for the sake of propriety. There was a rumour that Swift and Esther were secretly married but it is still a rumour, three hundred years later. Esther suffered from ill health, which Swift worried about constantly, and he, though fifteen years older, outlived her by nearly twenty years, suffering from a form of what we now know as Alzheimer's in the end. So not quite, but almost, as Lady Orlando foretold.

Swift addressed the letters in the Journal to both Esther and her companion Mrs Dingley, again for the sake of propriety, although neither Esther not Swift could have envisaged them being published. That Woolf's fictional Lady Orlando knew of the contents of the letters even while Swift was writing them should not surprise us; Orlando is a most exotic creation, the ability to see the future only one more surprising trait.

But to return to that brief conversation which these two books have had: I felt that Swift should have an opportunity to comment in his turn on Lady Orlando, a kind of quid pro quo as it were, so I couldn't resist creating a semi -fictional letter from Swift’s Journal to Stella. And it serves as a review of Woolf’s Orlando at the same time though more in satire than in conventional review form.

London, Dec. 23, 1710
I have sent my 11th letter tonight as usual and begin the dozenth.
I told you I dined at the
Lady Orlando’s, and I will tell you no more at present, guess for why; because I am writing the text of a Proposal I mean to publish, a new theory on the problem of overpopulation and poverty. So sit still a while just by me, while I am writing, and don’t say a word, I charge you, and when I am going to bed, I will take you along, and talk a little while, so there, sit there..........................................................................
Come then, let us see what we have to say to these saucy brats, that will not let us go sleep at past eleven,
and must have news of the famous Lady Orlando. The last letter was so written over and under and sideways and crossways, that there was no room for the Lady, she being exceedingly tall and in need of more space about her than most. I had told you that Addison had made me an introduction to her before our friendship ended, indeed I met him coming out as I was going to call on her t'other day, and he never spake a word as if I was but the under-butler, and all because I've chosen a different political direction. How cross it made me! But enough of that, you know I never write politics to you. Turn over the leaf.

To return to the Lady Orlando: 'tis true as you've heard that she is curious company, but still there is in her a happy conjunction of civility, freedom, easiness, and sincerity that I have met but once before; indeed I think that the Lady Orlando and Madam Stella would go on famously together, 'tho perhaps not, and you shall tell me your impressions in your next letter, Stellakins.

What is certain, in any case, is that the Lady can talk on every subject, seemly or otherwise, and the list of her acquaintances is as long as---the last century, and maybe the next one too. ‘Twere as if she breakfasted but yesterday with Old Bess and supped with Shakespeare the same evening. And though she simpers and smiles enough, she has a sharp eye and a sharper tongue. And when she crosses a room, she leaves a wind in her wake. If it weren’t for the simpers and the skirts, I would say I was nekatsim in the xes, and ‘tis a nam. There now, that’s out, enough to shock the saucy sauce boxes for a month of Satiredays.

But thinking about the Lady Orlando has set my mind, nonetheless, on the modest proposal I mentioned above, a proposal that would shew how to keep the population under better control than at present. And the meat of it would be that we breed an entire race of Orlandos as would live forever without need of further propagation. Are you bit, or are you not, sirrahs? These wo-men would be capable of switching from one sex to t’other according as the times required - men for battle, women when we’d no need of soldiers. Nay, I hear Stella’s voice, chiding me, saying there’d be no little children in such a world. But then there’d be no lying-in, and no dying of it, and a pox of other ills besides that are not for little rogues’ ears, sirrahs !

And think on the accumulation of knowledge there would be in such an age, where nothing was forgotten but everything known at the same time by the same minds. For these wo-men’s minds would be all of the same cast, as I’m inclined to think they are already, though ‘tis little acknowledged. They’d all read Latin and Greek and all write verses as a pastime. And there would be no need for governance since they would all be equally educated and wise; what a saving in scribes and sealing wax!
So there you have it, my modest proposal, though some will say 'tis more immodest than any I’ve made before!
Paaast twelve o’clock and so good-night, myownlittledearsaucyinsolentrogues.
Well, but this is a long one?
No, sirrahs, I warrant you: too long for naughty girls.
Go, sauceboxes, good-night.

Swift did write A Modest Proposal: for preventing the children of poor people in Ireland from being a burden on their parents and the country, and for making them beneficial to the publick.
That proposal was much more outrageous than the one I've invented here!
Profile Image for Ilse.
458 reviews2,966 followers
November 16, 2021

For if it is rash to walk into a lion’s den unarmed, rash to navigate the Atlantic in a rowing boat, rash to stand on one foot on top of St. Paul’s, it is still more rash to go home alone with a poet. A poet is Atlantic and lion in one. While one drowns us the other gnaws us. If we survive the teeth, we succumb to the waves. A man who can destroy illusions is both beast and flood. Illusions are to the soul what atmosphere is to the earth. Roll up that tender air and the plant dies, the colour fades. The earth we walk on is a parched cinder. It is marl we tread and fiery cobbles scorch our feet. By the truth we are undone. Life is a dream. ‘Tis waking that kills us. He who robs us of our dreams robs us of our life.

(Illustrations: Helena Perez Garcia)
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,607 reviews24.8k followers
October 5, 2020
A fascinating and engaging reread.
Profile Image for Dream.M.
455 reviews90 followers
October 13, 2020
مختصر عرض شود: این فمنیستی‌ترین کتابیه که تا الان خوندم.
خانم وولف توی این کتاب میخواد بگه اون لنز خراب جنسیت زدگی رو از روی چشمتون بردارید، تا بتونید شفاف و بدون محدودیت به ادبیات، دنیا و عشق نگاه کنید.
صوتیش رو گوش دادم که همگروهی‌های خوش صدای جذابم روخوانیش کرده بو��ن. عالی بود
Profile Image for Mir.
4,862 reviews5,010 followers
July 28, 2010
Orlando was much funnier than I expected, and much less fantastical. Since I was familiar with the plot before beginning the book and had heard much literary criticism concerning the famed transformation, I was expecting the focus to be on gender issues. While these were certainly present, Woolf presents them fairly gently. Orlando is so strongly an individual that his/her sex hardly matters from a readerly standpoint. Indeed, I found it harder to believe that he was a successful ambassador than that he became a woman. But we don't see Orlando being an ambassador, and hardly more do we see her being a literary hostess. Despite the pretense at biography, we are really inside Orlando's head, experiencing a thought process and a personality rather than actions. To be sure, many people probably seem quite different inside their heads than in our workaday experience of them.

My favorite aspect of this novel was the commentary on writing, most of which is simply hilarious. The depictions of Orlando's struggles with creativity showcase Woolf's talent for combining painfully astute mockery with personal sympathy, and the snippets she uses to illustrate the styles of various periods are perfect. The scene where Orlando finds herself helplessly writing missish verse is a side-splitter.
She was so changed, the soft carnation cloud
Once mantling o'er her cheek like that which eve
Hangs o'er the sky, glowing with roseate hue,
Had faded into paleness, broken by
Bright burning blushes, torches of the tomb,

but here, by an abrupt movement she spilt the ink over the page and blotted it from human sight she hoped for ever.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,560 reviews8,690 followers
June 26, 2018
"The change of sex, though it altered their future, did nothing whatever to alter their identity."
- Virginia Woolf, Orlando


A beautiful, poetic look at gender, sex, poetry, time, love, living, etc. This gender-studies masterpiece was inspired by Woolf's reltionship with Vita Sackville-West. According to Vita's son: "The effect of Vita on Virginia is all contained in Orlando, the longest and most charming love letter in literature, in which she explores Vita, weaves her in and out of the centuries, tosses her from one sex to the other, plays with her, dresses her in furs, lace and emeralds, teases her, flirts with her, drops a veil of mist around her."

This is one of the easier Woolf novels to read. Toward the end it gets a bit stream-of-consious (as Modern writers were wont to do), but the narrative of this novel floats and folds through time and gender easily. It was an amazing way of looking at the female experience because Orlando's experience was first fundamentally experienced by Orlando regardless of their gender. So, the novel as biography allowed Woolf to mine the experience from the inside instead of the outside. It also allowed the fluidity of gender to be explored in a way that a less fanciful novel might not have been able to.

It is wild to think this book was published in 1928 AND here we are 90-years-later still working our britches into Puritanical bunches over gender and bathrooms. What a bunch of nonsense. One area of hope does exist. In my lifetime, I have seen a huge increase in the attention paid to the difficulties faced by those who don't fit into the gender norms. Things ARE SLOWLY getting better for my friends and the children of my friends who might not fit easily into the pants or skirts society wants to drop them in. Hopefully, it doesn't take 400 years.
Profile Image for James.
427 reviews
January 27, 2018
Having read and not enjoyed or appreciated Virginia Woolf’s ‘To The Lighthouse’ (1927) it was with expectation, due to it’s literary reputation, although some trepidation, due to my experience with ‘Lighthouse’, that I approached the markedly different ‘Orlando – A Biography’ (1928).

The premise of the life of Orlando was always going to be a highly promising one – beginning as it does with Orlando as a boy at the time of Queen Elizabeth I and following his adventures across different lands, and life of over more than 300 years, during the course of which he awakens one day to find himself now having become a woman and ending in the year of publication 1928 – significantly the year of suffrage for women in the UK. This novel/quasi biography is also seen as Woolf’s long and beautiful love letter to Vita Sackville-West (photographs of whom, as Orlando are included).

‘Orlando’ raises, discusses and alludes to some highly important issues and especially considering the time of publication, has since quite rightly become an iconic feminist and transgender classic. Woolf is concerned here with gender politics, sexual stereotyping, gender identity, the institution of marriage, the subjugation of women, androgyny, sexual ambiguity, the restrictive and controlling nature of women’s clothing as well as the premise of primogeniture and much more.

Woolf writes interestingly about life as very much a journey, the passing of time – the way that time passes in different ways, how each of us individually are different people at different times of our lives and live many lives in one – whilst also talking of having a ‘one true controlling self’. In some ways ‘Orlando’ could also perhaps be interpreted as in some sense a ghost story, a travel through time as well as time travelling perhaps?

As with ‘Lighthouse’ though, ‘Orlando’ is a book that I wanted to and had hoped to like – but sadly that wasn’t quite the case. Despite its relatively short length, it still felt like a long novel, its stream of consciousness style of delivery (paragraphs often running for at least the length of a page). Whilst viewed by many as beautifully written bravura writing, for me that wasn’t so. Whilst it may seem sacrilege to those who appreciate ‘Orlando’ and the writing Woolf to say so – despite its brevity, ‘Orlando’ feels overlong and perhaps would have benefitted from some significant editing.

I found ‘Orlando’ ultimately to be often wilfully obscure, self-indulgent and esoteric – its meaning sometimes shrouded in a mist of overt intellectualism and flights of fancy, rendering it often meaningless and impenetrable.

‘Orlando’ then is a book which is hugely important and influential (politically and culturally) in terms of its story and the issues it raises – ground breaking as it must have been in 1928. Sadly it now also feels very much a novel which is of its time and a product very much of the overt intellectualism of the Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

In summation – an important, ground breaking, worthy, thought provoking, sporadically compelling and influential novel, but paradoxically one which is self-indulgent, esoteric, often impenetrable and ultimately unsatisfying. There's much to like, but not enough.
Profile Image for E. G..
1,112 reviews674 followers
November 17, 2017
Introduction, by Peter Ackroyd
Introduction, by Margaret Reynolds
List of Illustrations
Preface, by Virginia Woolf


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