Orlando by Virginia Woolf

It is clear that there are only two ways of coming to a conclusion upon Orlando (1928) by Virginia Woolf – one is to write it out in sixty volumes octavo, the other is to squeeze it into six lines of the length of this one. Of the two courses, economy, since time runs short, leads us to choose the second, and so we proceed. She came to the conclusion that it was interesting that the eponymous protagonist lives over three centuries, and during that time changes sex once, falls in love with a Russian princess, works as Ambassador Extraordinary to Constantinople, marries and has a child, befriends poets and other literary figures, and yet barely ages at all; next, that although Woolf is revered as a modernist writer and literary innovator, Orlando is an accessible text and one that is light-hearted and fun to read; next, that this may be because Woolf conceived of the novel both as a diversion from more ‘serious’ projects and also as a tribute to her friend and lover Vita Sackville-West; next, that the novel explores gender and sexuality, and that although there are no overtly homosexual relationships portrayed, Orlando’s change of gender and relationships with both women and men hint at sexual ambivalence; next, that biography is another theme of the book – to give it its full title, Orlando: A Biography – and that Woolf playfully mocks the traditions of the genre, in particular biographers’ understanding of ‘truth’; next, that literature itself is another theme of the book, in which Orlando engages with, creates, and ponders literature, and that this adds another dimension to the work as a record of Woolf’s own musings on literature (here she paused, careful lest she elide the difference between author and narrator); next, that Woolf’s prose, though occasionally florid, is thoughtfully crafted, unique, poetic, and above all enjoyable; and so at last she reached her final conclusion, which was of the highest importance but which as we have already much overpassed our limit of six lines, we must omit.

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For the trailer of the 1992 film version of Orlando, click here.

To read a less than complementary review of Orlando, click here.

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