Sunday, June 14, 2009

102. Orlando – Virginia Wolfe

History: First published on 11 October 1928. A semi-biographical novel based in part on the life of Woolf's intimate friend Vita Sackville-West, with whom she had an affair with during her marriage.
Plot: Orlando tells the story of a young man named Orlando, born in England during the reign of Elizabeth I, who decides not to grow old. He is briefly a lover to the decrepit queen, but after her death has a brief, intense love affair with Sasha, a princess in the entourage of the Russian embassy. Following Sasha's return to Russia, the desolate, lonely Orlando returns to writing The Oak Tree, a poem started and abandoned in his youth. This period of contemplating love and life leads him to appreciate the value of his ancestral stately home, which he proceeds to furnish lavishly and then plays host to the populace. Ennui sets in and a persistent suitor's harrassment leads to Orlando's appointment by King Charles II as British ambassador to Constantinople. Orlando performs his duties well, until a night of civil unrest and murderous riots. He falls asleep for a lengthy period, resisting all efforts to rouse him. Upon awakening he finds that he has metamorphosed into a woman -- the same person, with the same personality and intellect, but in a woman's body. For this reason, the now Lady Orlando covertly escapes Constantinople in the company of a Gypsy clan, adopting their way of life until its essential conflict with her upbringing leads her to head home. Only on the ship back to England, with her constraining female clothes and an incident in which a flash of her ankle nearly results in a sailor's falling to his death, does she realise the magnitude of becoming a woman; yet she concludes the overall advantages, declaring 'Praise God I'm a woman!'
Orlando becomes caught up in the life of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, holding court with the great poets (notably Alexander Pope, winning a lawsuit and marrying a sea captain. In 1928, she publishes The Oak Tree centuries after starting it, winning a prize.
Review: The text asks us to reconsider the very notions of literature and sexuality that it itself seems so invested in. This book is itself a complicated text to read. It deals with themes like homosexuality, feminism, biographical style, satire, aristocracy, war, and tries to convey that a person is both male and female at a basic level with some aspects dominating others at a given time.
Opening Line: He, for there could be do doubt of his sex though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it, was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters
Closing Line: The twelfth stroke of midnight, Thursday the eleventh of October nineteen hundred and twenty eight.
Quotes: “ Different though the sexes are, they inter-mix. 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, while underneath the sex is very opposite of what it is above....Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.
Rating: okay

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