Moments of Reading: A Virginia Woolf Reading Group discussion

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message 1: by Wouter (last edited Dec 30, 2012 08:34AM) (new)

Wouter (_drakenvlieg) | 36 comments Mod
This will be the first book by Virginia Woolf read by the group.

My suggestion would be to start not on the first of January, but get a discussion first.

Maybe we could start reading on the 11th of January (depending on our discussion).

My first question would be, why Orlando?

I think Orlando didn't really interest me at university because I was much more into the poetic language of "The Waves" and "To the Lighthouse". But now, 8 years later, I'm curious how I find the novel. I will mostly be interested in how Virginia Woolf created a convincing novel with such fantastic elements.


"Yesterday morning I was in despair...I couldn't screw a word from me; and at last dropped my head un my hands: dipped my pen in the ink, and wrote these words, as if automatically, on a clean sheet: Orlando: A Biography. No sooner had I done this than my body was flooded with rapture and my brain with ideas. I wrote rapidly till 12...But listen; suppose Orlando turns out to be Vita..."
(Letter to Vita Sackville-West, 9 Oct. 1927, Letters, III, pp. 428-29)

One of the main themes of Orlando is transsexualism, bisexualism and transvestism. How much this involves Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, I leave open for discussion, but the topic constantly re-appears in Woolf's novels. I would dislike focusing on the comparison between the characters of Orlando with Woolf and Sackville-West, but wouldn't mind a more general discussion on that theme.


message 2: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 10 comments How are people to answer this if they haven't read it yet? I have read it but I am unfamiliar with Woolf's other works (never having read anything else) or Vita Sackville-West. I actually love the direction you are taking the group; however, before I can write anything on this topic is there some other book that I should refer to? Perhaps, you could suggest something involving Sackville-West?


message 3: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 10 comments I am sorry you did just that. My mistake I failed to see the citing. I will refer to that. Thank you.


message 4: by Wouter (new)

Wouter (_drakenvlieg) | 36 comments Mod
I don't want to put the discussion towards cross-reference between different literary works, but we could get into that after we enjoyed the novel and see how far we want to go. Brings me back to the original question, why Orlando?


message 5: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy (jimmylorunning) | 4 comments I've never read Orlando, and I just started yesterday! It's completely different than her other work, and I'm not exactly digging it yet. It seems to be a kind of comedy, but the sense of humor is not really working for me, at least not yet. There are sentences here or there that are amusing, but mostly I just find myself wishing it were more like Mrs. Dalloway haha


message 6: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy (jimmylorunning) | 4 comments Also, the Brain Pain group will be reading To the Lighthouse starting January 7.


message 7: by Wouter (new)

Wouter (_drakenvlieg) | 36 comments Mod
Virginia Woolf once said that Orlando was a "writer's holiday". The novel is meant to be comical but more high brow than slapstick. It is really different from To the Lighthouse or Mrs Dalloway but it contains Woolfian elements like time, moment of being, patriarchal/matriarchal family and bisexualism.


message 8: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 10 comments In answer to your question, "Why Orlando?"

I read the book a few years ago and loved it. I was mesmerized and just really wanted to learn more about VW and this story. I have never read anything else of VW.


message 9: by Amber (new)

Amber Cox (amberkc) Hi everyone!

I am interested in reading Orlando mostly because it has been sitting on my bookshelf for years, and I have always wanted to read it. Woolf is one of my favorite authors. I loved, loved, loved Mrs. Dalloway, of course, but I've also always liked The Voyage Out, which is very different from her other works. Jacob's Room blew my mind. I'm ready to tackle some of her humor in Orlando. She's brilliant so I am confident that Orlando will be too!


message 10: by Wouter (new)

Wouter (_drakenvlieg) | 36 comments Mod
It's now the 8th of January so in three days time I would like to officially start the reading. I have never participated in a reading group before so I have no idea how this normally goes. Would you like a short discussion when we are half-way through the novel, a chat or conversation on Skype or a final thought discussion on the novel?


message 11: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy (jimmylorunning) | 4 comments I finished Orlando a couple of days ago. It was not really my thing. I understand that it started as a joke, but (even though I sorta know what she's making fun of) it just wasn't funny to me. I'm sure Virginia Woolf had a hoot writing it, though, so I'm happy for her.

Towards the middle, the "autobiographer's" voice started sounding very much like the "lecturer's" voice in A Room of One's Own, in fact, I was surprised at the similarity in tonality between the two works. It had that same quality of breaking the third wall, of creating a make-believe scenario that was obviously not true, and also of slightly didactic "here's what I want to say on the topic of the sexes" which I didn't mind as much in AROOO since it was basically an essay from the very beginning.


message 12: by Wouter (last edited Jan 08, 2013 11:14AM) (new)

Wouter (_drakenvlieg) | 36 comments Mod
I believe she had A Room of One's Own in her mind while writing Orlando, so that could explain that.


message 13: by Amber (new)

Amber Cox (amberkc) Wouter wrote: "It's now the 8th of January so in three days time I would like to officially start the reading. I have never participated in a reading group before so I have no idea how this normally goes. Would y..."

Maybe we could have a thread going for a chapter per week? Or is that too slow going? Two chapters a week maybe?

Just an idea- I am game for whatever format anyone prefers!


message 14: by Wouter (new)

Wouter (_drakenvlieg) | 36 comments Mod
I would prefer a slow read, but we could also agree to discuss one chapter a week. Which means that people who want to read faster can read ahead. But during the discussion keep in mind that you don't refer to future chapters because that would spoil it for the rest. This would also give new readers the opportunity to join us.

So:
18th January chapter I


message 15: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 10 comments I love that idea of one chapter a week. I can commit to that. I will have chapter I read by 18th.


message 16: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen (k8mcgowan) | 6 comments I'm on board for a chapter per week too. :)


message 17: by Wouter (new)

Wouter (_drakenvlieg) | 36 comments Mod
As you have "the letters" and kirsten is reading them perhaps you could talk about that next Friday (In what way is Orlando Vita and in what way is he not?)


message 18: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen (k8mcgowan) | 6 comments As to "Why Orlando?" I think it gives us certain insights into her creative process that other works don't—drawing from "real life", for example. Orlando is acknowledged as an autobiographical novel, which can make the details different from those readers find in her other books. Of those details we can speculate their basis in reality or unreality, but here we know of the basis in reality and what that basis is (Vita's life).


message 19: by Amber (new)

Amber Cox (amberkc) I really liked the first chapter! I wasn't sure what to expect, as I've heard such mixed reviews about Orlando, and it is definitely very different than her other books. But I like that you can really see her wit and humor in this- and it is actually a quick read...most of her deeper stuff takes a lot more time and multiple reads. At first I thought it was moving a little too fast, but by the end of the chapter I was hooked! I am definitely curious now to read a little more about Vita...


message 20: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 10 comments I agree, the first chapter is fast. VW as the biographer states as such.

"All ends in death," Orlando would say, sitting upright, his face clouded with gloom. (For that was the way his mind worked now, in violet see-saws from life to death stopping at nothing in between, so that the biographer must not stop either, but must fly as fast as he can and so keep pace with the unthinking passionate foolish actions and sudden extravagant words in which, it is impossible to deny, Orlando at this time of his life indulged.)"

There is a restlessness in Orlando and he is easily diverts his attention from one fiancé to another. Even though Vita was married it seemed that her attentions toward lovers were always changing. Also, her relationships romantically were fast and fleeting. They are both fickle and don't settle down. They need the action, the party and the romance.

They both are of noble blood but Orlando enjoys mixing in the company of the common man and in particular the artist. This is obvious in the passage when Orlando and Sasha leave the festivities of the royals and mix with the celebrations of the riffraff. Orlando even questions Sasha's pedigree and imagines her appearance diminished and common. The romantic in him brings him back to her youthful beauty and he longs to be with her. He is so busy in his own mind that he mistakes her affection and companionship to be more than it really is.

Vita on the other hand is just the opposite. She is always in love with all her lovers but never monogamous. She loves them forever but never commits fully to anyone, not even VW, except in friendship. She is a heartbreaker. Orlando actually fell in love and let his guard down it was not reciprocated. I sense that he would have commit fully at that point had Sasha loved him back.

Vita enjoyed her time with celebrated people and I think she was picky about who and where she spent her time. I don't see Vita spending too much time with anyone that won't benefit her in some aspect and certainly not if they bored her. Orlando took it all in and was curious about others. I don't think at this time in his life he felt boredom he lived too much in his head. He romanticized everything. I am not sure Vita did that. I could be wrong. I just don't get that impression from the little I've read about her so far.


message 21: by Wouter (new)

Wouter (_drakenvlieg) | 36 comments Mod
For me the novel read more like a snapshot after snapshot (although Woolfian, it is more present than in To the Lighthouse for example). The novel is different yet has similarities:

"After an hour or so - the sun was rapidly sinking, the white clouds had turned red, the hills were violet, the woods purple, the valleys black - a trumpet sounded. Orlando leapt to his feet. The shrill sound came from the valley. It came from a dark spot down there; a spot compact and mapped out; a maze; a town, yet girt about with walls; it came from the heart of his own great house in the valley, which, dark before, even as he looked and the single trumpet duplicated and reduplicated itself with other shriller sounds, lost its darkness and became pierced with lights."

For me this is quintessential Virginia Woolf: the impressions from the senses.

It struck me, like Kristen, that Orlando shifts from the common man to the artist and back. As for the connection with Vita, I only have to do it with the footnotes of the Penguin edition, so I get an inkling of the connection between the two.

New date: 25 January - Chapter 2
(new readers are welcome to join us!)


message 22: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen (k8mcgowan) | 6 comments "It struck me, like Kristen, that Orlando shifts from the common man to the artist and back."

I agree, and would also add that I hear a lot of the same tone and same kind of perspective that James Joyce achieves in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man—that is, the tone and perspective of the artist before he has come into himself, while he is still young and naïve. Orlando sees things in this first chapter as very black-and-white, and the moments of disillusionment are just as stark.


message 23: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 10 comments Are poets snobs or do they know something the rest of us don't?


message 24: by Amber (new)

Amber Cox (amberkc) Probably a little bit of both...


message 25: by Wouter (new)

Wouter (_drakenvlieg) | 36 comments Mod
I think that's all in the eye of the beholder, though madness and genius are also close together. How can you decide what is truth or profound in poetry? When are you dealing with a poet, and when with a charlatan?


message 26: by Wouter (last edited Feb 10, 2013 02:38PM) (new)

Wouter (_drakenvlieg) | 36 comments Mod
I had two very busy weeks, but I have been able to catch up again.

Being in chapter V I can start reflecting on my original question: "How Virginia Woolf created a convincing novel with such fantastic elements." And the answer really seems, because almost nobody cares. Even the staff at her home in England seem to travel through time without explanation.

Two favourite parts reminded me of the part "Time Passes" in To the Lighthouse".

1)"Change was incessant, and change perhaps would never cease. High battlements of thought, habits that had seemed as durable as stone, went down like shadows at the touch of another mind and left a naked sky and fresh stars twinkling in it."
Orlando, chapter IV

2)"But what was worse, damp now began to its way into every house -- damp, which is the most insidious of all enemies, for while the sun can be sht out by blinds, and the frost roasted by a hot fire, damp steals in while we sleep; damp is silent, imperceptible, ubiquitous. Damp swells the wood, furs the kettle, rusts the iron, rots the stone. So gradual is the process, that it is not until we pick up some chest of drawers, coal scuttle, and the whole thing drops to pieces in our hands, that we suspect even that the disease is at work."
Orlando, chapter V

Virginia Woolf uses damp like the darkness in To the Lighthouse as a swallowing sea to represent the passing of time; the crumbling of reality:

"Nothing, it seemed, could survive the flood, the profusion of darkness which, creeping in at keyholes and crevices, stole round window blinds, came into bedrooms, swallowed up here a jar and basin, there a bowl of red and yellow dahlias, there the sharp edges and firm bulk of a chest of drawers. Not only was furniture confounded; there was scarcely anything left of body or mind by which one could say 'This is he' or 'This is she'."
To the Lighthouse, "Time Passes"

And having that in mind, reminds me of my thesis where I noticed Virginia Woolf often uses trees or wood to give her characters solid ground or footing. It appears that "The Oak Tree" is one of the few solid elements throughout the novel. Time is like the swallowing sea (the 'damp'), The Oak Tree is the lifeline, or drift wood in that matter, which Orlando keeps close and travels with him/her through time (maybe even keep him/her sane?).


message 27: by Wouter (new)

Wouter (_drakenvlieg) | 36 comments Mod
We are entering the final week. I have finished the novel, but I will wait with my final comments until upcoming Friday.


message 28: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 10 comments I should be able to finish by Friday. I have had a very busy two weeks and was not able to catch up. I will get back to reading tomorrow and writing my final comments by the following Monday.


message 29: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy (jimmylorunning) | 4 comments Just came across this, thought y'all'd be interested: Shape shifter: The joyous transgressions of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando by Jeanette Winterson


message 30: by Wouter (new)

Wouter (_drakenvlieg) | 36 comments Mod
Interesting link. I'm still very busy, but I hope I'm able to write my final report by the end of next week.

Meanwhile the offical end date for the novel has long past and I will start a new thread which novel we will read next.


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Moments of Reading: A Virginia Woolf Reading Group

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