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Past Group Reads > Orlando by Virginia Woolf

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Jamie  (jaymers8413) | 738 comments Mod
This is for the March/April group read discussion of Orlando by Virginia Woolf.

Orlando: A Biography

I am putting this up early because A Room with a View was pretty short.

Jamie  (jaymers8413) | 738 comments Mod
I'm not sure if I am going to be able to start reading this early but if you feel like starting the discussion feel free! What do you think about the start of the book?

Gitte - Bookworm's Closet (gittetofte) I just finished the first chapter. I find the writing beautiful, almost poetic. But it is a bit difficult from time to time - I have to concentrate more than I usually do when reading. But that's OK, I think it's worth it.

Has anyone else started reading it? What do you think?

Gitte - Bookworm's Closet (gittetofte) This novel is called 'a biography'. I've read somewhere that Woolf is mocking the biography genre - and thereby her father. What are your thoughts on that?

Jamie  (jaymers8413) | 738 comments Mod
I am going to start this today! Gitte, I will have to read up on that. So are you saying Orlando as a whole is mocking the biography? If so that would change the way you read it. Interesting!

message 7: by Jamie (last edited Mar 11, 2011 02:44AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jamie  (jaymers8413) | 738 comments Mod

Based on when James I of England was King (1603-1625) there where two times the Thames froze and possibly two frost fairs. Once in 1608 (the first recorded fair) and once in 1621. I would guess the one mentioned in Orlando would be in 1608 due to him still being young and having served Elizabeth I.

Jamie  (jaymers8413) | 738 comments Mod
I finished Ch. 2! I love Woolf's writing style and can't wait to read more of her works! I get now how she is mocking biographies, showing it is hard to have an impartial view. Also, I have noticed how the descriptions of people tend to be a mix of a male and female features which plays a large part in the book. I can't wait to get back to reading! Has anyone seen the movie?

Gitte - Bookworm's Closet (gittetofte) I'm glad you're enjoying it, Jamie!

And yes, I saw the movie years ago. I remember liking it very much!

Jamie  (jaymers8413) | 738 comments Mod
I finished Ch.4 last night. Orlando is now a female and has decided to go home. I wonder how this will work? Everyone would expect her to be a man. And who is the lady that was at the party?

Gitte - Bookworm's Closet (gittetofte) I was quite surprised by people's reaction to Orlando being suddenly female - and that's all I'm saying ;-)

Gitte - Bookworm's Closet (gittetofte) I was wondering: Do you guys find Woolf easy or difficukt to read? Do you enjoy her writing?

Jamie  (jaymers8413) | 738 comments Mod
I found her easy to read compared to what I have heard her writing was like and have enjoyed her writing style. Whenever I write I tend to write long sentences so maybe that's why I enjoy her style. While reading Orlando I have had to be somewhere quiet so I could really focus.

Gitte - Bookworm's Closet (gittetofte) I think her writing is very beautiful (esp. in Mrs. Dalloway!!), but I also find her difficult to read. I have to be very concentrated and in the "right mood" to read Woolf. And even though I enjoy her books, I often feel that I'm missing out of something, that I don't REALLY get all her points. That's one of the reasons why I think Woolf is ideal for a group read.

Jamie  (jaymers8413) | 738 comments Mod
I totally agree. This is my first Woolf. I have a book with five books including Mrs. Dalloway! I feel like to be a great writer you have to have some things in your work that not everyone is going to get and create a reason for discussion. It is what keeps it alive. I think some things Woolf wrote would be more understandable to people who she knew. Something I read was saying how she wrote with her friends in mind and they would be able to pick up on things that we wouldn't. She was friends with many great people!

Gitte - Bookworm's Closet (gittetofte) I must admit that I prefer it when things can be understood in various different ways as opposed to not getting it at all - that always makes me feel so stupid ;-)

Jamie  (jaymers8413) | 738 comments Mod
True. Sometimes I think living in a different time makes it harder to read the classics but that is why I like them. It's like another world. Although Woolf would still have been difficult.

Jamie  (jaymers8413) | 738 comments Mod
Ch.4 for me was harder to read. During this chapter I felt more lost then in the parts before. Also, the excitement seems less. Along with all that is the confusion of why everyone seems ok with her all a a sudden being a woman and the unbelievable and unexplainable time changes. Although Orlando seems to be living a normal life and not being immortal, time quickly goes by. I don't know if there is an explanation for this (the seven days of sleep)? Also, some things seem to relate with biblical things. The seven days for one, the man in the tree, and a few others.

Gitte - Bookworm's Closet (gittetofte) Yes, it's very strange and confusing. But I still find this part of the novel fascinating. Perhaps Woolf tries to describe a character, or the notion of a character/soul and his / her development without the interference of external elements, such as history and gender... or something like that :-Z

Jamie  (jaymers8413) | 738 comments Mod
That is a good point. I liked gender not having a great affect on Orlando. Being a woman, I do not want to feel limited to things because I am not a man. I don't like stereotypes. But I do think it is ok to enjoy being who you are. Orlando gets to see the good and bad in each. If everyone could do this the world would be a different place. Having time not interfer with the story is also interesting. Although many technology and social standards have changed throughout time humans have to deal with most of the same basic things.

Gitte - Bookworm's Closet (gittetofte) I found it very funny when Orlando became a woman and felt the limitations of gender and dress code, and I liked how she despised her former male attitude towards women.

Gitte - Bookworm's Closet (gittetofte) There was a particular scene where Woolf mocks literary critics, which I found very amusing. Do you know which scene I'm talking about?

Jamie  (jaymers8413) | 738 comments Mod
I can't think of the scene now but if you can describe a bit it my refresh my memory.

Gitte - Bookworm's Closet (gittetofte) Sorry, didn't mean to be all cryptic :-) I'm talking about a scene where Orlando as a woman is in the city and talks to the poet / critic who ridiculed her as a man many years before. Back then he praised certain poets and slandered 'new' poets. When Orlando meats him two centuries later, he praises the poets he used to slander and in turn now slanders the 'new' poets. He blames the poets for only doing it for the money - which it is suggested that he also did himself.

It seems like Woolf is lashing out at Victorian critics (who, according to Woolf, tried to determine what constitutes great art and automatically determined new art as low art), as well as biographers, poets and gender roles.

Jamie  (jaymers8413) | 738 comments Mod
Oh I haven't read that part yet (I think). I have the last chapter left. I had taken a break to read other works. Ch.5 seems to get more confusing but I get the overall message and her link with nature which I enjoy. Sometimes she changes views and you have to catch up. I have to stop and make sure I read things right. Its takes more time to read and understand the last chapters than the first few chapters.

Jamie  (jaymers8413) | 738 comments Mod
I finished last night. I feel like I should reread it and maybe watch the movie to really get it. I liked the first couple chapters and then it got confusing.

message 27: by Jamie (last edited Apr 03, 2011 05:45PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jamie  (jaymers8413) | 738 comments Mod
Gitte wrote: "Sorry, didn't mean to be all cryptic :-) I'm talking about a scene where Orlando as a woman is in the city and talks to the poet / critic who ridiculed her as a man many years before. Back then he ..."

This was in the last chapter. And I did find it humorous. I like reading older books more than new books but not for that reason. I like old books because it's like another world.

Gitte - Bookworm's Closet (gittetofte) Jamie wrote: "I finished last night. I feel like I should reread it and maybe watch the movie to really get it. I liked the first couple chapters and then it got confusing."

I feel the same way! But your links really helped, Jamie!

Jamie  (jaymers8413) | 738 comments Mod
Thanks! I need to look at those again now that I have finished!

Gitte - Bookworm's Closet (gittetofte) By the way, here's my review of the Orlando:

"I don't think I'm smart enough to read Virginia Woolf. I enjoy her beautiful writing, I do get her main points (at least I think I do) and her occasional jokes, but I just don't get the deeper meaning of her works and I don't have the patience to be as attentive to every word as I believe her writing requires.

That being said, this was a fascinating story that made me smile from time to time. But it is difficult, which I think is a shame."

message 31: by Ryan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ryan (rcs9182) | 25 comments Hey guys, sorry I'm late to the party, but I just wanted to toss my two cents in about Orlando.

I think more than anything this is not only Woolf's attempt to mock the biography genre, but to disclose her frustrations about the inabilities of language. Woolf herself often wavered in her sexuality - the novel itself is based partly on the life of her lover, Vita Sackville-West - and was particularly drawn to the varying experiences suffered by women in comparison to their male counterparts. (Def. read "A Room of One's Own" for more emphasis on this)

That being said, I think the ice carnival scene, which I believe is in chapter two, speaks to this theme the most. I really love the moment when Orlando first sees the princess and is quite literally at a loss for words to describe her. What's interesting here is that Orlando is completely ignorant of her gender, but remains completely in awe of this figure anyway.

As the scene continues, the language Woolf uses - or in many cases, can't find - really speaks to the novel's theme: language just falls flat. Orlando is a figure that is caught somewhere between the masculine and feminine and Woolf indicates this by stumbling over her own words or selecting other descriptors to show the arbitrariness of language. Woolf wants to show us that there is an "in between" but it's simply not accessible because of language restrictions.

The ice carnival is a perfect example of this. The carnival, as we are traditionally familiar with, is an event that suspends all rules. Up is down. Wrong is right. Peasant is king. Etc. But what happens in the ends. Language proscription forces everything back into nice neat box.

Later in the novel, Orlando ends up traveling with a group of gypsies. Historically, gypsies are known as wanderers, or travelers, with no definite home, national allegiance, or racial make up. They, like Orlando, are in constant flux.

Woolf was writing at a time when gender and sexuality started to gain attention as a theme for many writers (Stoker and Wilde in the 1890's and then Forster, Woolf, Mann, Lawrence in the early 1900's) and like her contemporaries, she sought to expose how language worked to curb the development of gender in Orlando.

message 32: by Ryan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ryan (rcs9182) | 25 comments Gitte wrote: "By the way, here's my review of the Orlando:

"I don't think I'm smart enough to read Virginia Woolf. I enjoy her beautiful writing, I do get her main points (at least I think I do) and her occasio..."

You're definitely smart enough to get through Woolf. She is tough, there's no doubt about that, I just think with Woolf, you need to understand the context in which she's writing. Meaning, she's writing Post WWI, which a lot of her novels respond to, as well as her critique on the battle of the sexes.

Also, a lot of authors around this time were VERY experimental in their writing. A lot saw the Victorian novel as very formulaic and thought "hey, that's boring. I'm going to try something new."

Just remember that Woolf employs that whole stream of consciousness type of writing. You know how you get in the car to go somewhere, you think about how you need to pick up milk at some point during the day, and SOMEHOW that thought has spiraled into you thinking about your third grade field trip? THAT is similar to how Woolf writes (it's exactly how Joyce writes if you ever read "Ulysses" or "Finnegan's Wake"). So just remember, Woolf was human too and just managed to put her bonkers, erratic writing on paper.

message 33: by Jamie (last edited Sep 29, 2011 10:00AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jamie  (jaymers8413) | 738 comments Mod
Thanks for the insight Ryan!

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