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Orlando

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  49,904 ratings  ·  3,135 reviews
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 of boisterous, fantastic adventure, the novel opens as Orlando, a young nobleman in Elizabeth's England, awaits a visit from the Queen and traces ...more
Paperback, Complete And Unabridged, 192 pages
Published February 5th 1995 by Wordsworth Editions (first published October 11th 1928)
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Matthew Williams I thought that Mrs. Dalloway was a little experimental compared to Orlando. Luis is correct, there is some elevated language in Orlando, however the…moreI thought that Mrs. Dalloway was a little experimental compared to Orlando. Luis is correct, there is some elevated language in Orlando, however the structure of Orlando is much more traditional, and as such, I found it to be a more casual read. Orlando at least has chapter breaks, something Mrs. Dalloway lacks. (less)
Matthew Williams Orlando is not exactly representative of her body of work. I would actually call Orlando a wild card. I would start with To The Lighthouse or Mrs.…moreOrlando is not exactly representative of her body of work. I would actually call Orlando a wild card. I would start with To The Lighthouse or Mrs. Dalloway if you want to have a general feel for her work. I have an excellent time reading Woolf. Don't let others scare you off. Virginia Woolf is reader-friendly!(less)

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Kelly
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 i
...more
Lisa
"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 memo
...more
Sean Barrs the Bookdragon
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 o
...more
Renato Magalhães Rocha
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 e
...more
Violet wells
Aug 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Ahmad Sharabiani
675. 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 in satiric form. The book describes the adventures of a poet who changes sex from man to woman and lives for centuries,
...more
Steven Godin
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 p ...more
Cecily
Totally new review (replacing ancient, short, less favourable one).
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.

Totally new review (replacing ancient, short, less favourable one).
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 mentioend 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.

Quotes

“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 discolored 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.
...more
Dolors
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Dolors by: My Woolfish hunger
Shelves: read-in-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 w
...more
Samadrita
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
...more
Michael
Jul 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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 rel ...more
Paul
Dec 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 l
...more
Rowena
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 th
...more
Paul Bryant
Sep 27, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
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 ...more
Fionnuala
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 sa
...more
Mir
Jul 27, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 h ...more
Edward
Apr 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Introduction, by Peter Ackroyd
Introduction, by Margaret Reynolds
List of Illustrations
Preface, by Virginia Woolf


--Orlando

Index
Darwin8u
Jun 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british, fiction, 2018
"The change of sex, though it altered their future, did nothing whatever to alter their identity."
- Virginia Woolf, Orlando

description

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 cont
...more
Rakhi Dalal
Nov 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As always, Woolf has stunned me with the magic of her prose here. Telling this isn’t important, neither that it is a biography; that it informs us about the affair of Vita and Violet. I guess much has been said about that. When I started reading, I had no idea about the references to people, places, their characters or their lives as are known to be mentioned in this work. In fact, as the novel proceeded from Orlando’s gender change for the first time, I had a notion about the invisible layer of ...more
Madeline
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
...more
Sarah
Jun 27, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 u
...more
Praveen
Oct 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My second Virginia Woolf book.
This further improved my understanding of her work.
I loved this one too !
AfterTo the Lighthouseand this one, I have decided to read Mrs. Dalloway in line to reach to a conclusion of my opinion about her books.
Only after completing this third book of her, I'll write detailed reviews on her all three books !
James
Jan 26, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Sidharth Vardhan
You know how people say that some books are ahead of their time. I think Woolf's Orlando is a book which probably won't be understood for another decade or so.

The sudden change of Orlando's sex and his several centuries old existence along with/her very easy acceptance of those things rings of magical realism. The fantastic bit that of Orlando's living through several centuries is used to develop the book into what looked like a poem on the spirit of Time. Through different ages, Orl
...more
Piyangie
May 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own-library, brit-lit
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 300 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 addresses gender difference or in her view "gender neutrality". Virginia believed in gender neutrality affirming that there is a
...more
Aubrey
Let it be known that, despite seeming evidence to the contrary in the form of my reviews, I do indeed have a sense of humor. True, it is a small and desiccated thing, unusual in its feathering and tending towards the qualities of the morbid and the sadistic. However, it delights in incongruity to the extreme, and what makes it laugh will win its love forevermore.

This book could have simply tickled my fancies to the bone and nothing else and would still have won me over in a complete
...more
MihaElla
Aug 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Maybe not the very first but still my very first seriously engaged meeting with Woolf V. is undoubtedly successful. I picked Orlando after dropping - temporarily and until I get a more senseful sense of her works - its Essays. I was charmed by the language and its expressions but, in parallel, I was aware that nothing of the content sticks with me, because whatever she was saying as for arguments, debating facts, extensive monologues, was really foreign language to me, although I was reading it ...more
Ben
But what is the present moment?! What does it involve? More than we know, of course. It involves the self, we know. Is that all we know? Me here, writing on my couch, and you, you there. But there is more! Here in this room there is more! A table, its wood, the details, labored, toiled upon for many hours, furnished from carpenters in years past in the great state of Maryland, land of our Great Queen Mary!; a beer sitting on the table, on a book on the table, sweltering, a Mexican beer!; it sits ...more
BrokenTune
Mar 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
"Are we so made that we have to take death in small doses daily or we could not go on with the business of living? And then what strange powers are these that penetrate our most secret ways and change our most treasured possessions without our willing it ? Had Orlando, worn out by the extremity of his suffering, died for a week, and then come to life again? And if so, of what nature is death and of what nature life? Having waited well over half an hour for an answer to these questions, and none ...more
Lynne King
UPDATE - The origins of “Orlando” can be seen in the entry in Virginia Woolf’s diary of Tuesday, 20 September 1927:

“One of these days, though, I shall sketch here, like a grand historical picture, the outlines of all my friends. I was thinking of this in bed last night, & for some reason I thought I would begin with a sketch of Gerald Brenan. There may be something in this idea. It might be a way of writing the memoirs of one’s own times during people’s lifetimes. It might be a m
...more
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The Blender Book ...: June 2019 - Orlando 15 12 Jun 20, 2019 12:18AM  

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13,739 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 o
...more
“As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.” 1895 likes
“Nothing thicker than a knife's blade separates happiness from melancholy.” 1349 likes
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