Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Reviewed by Connie

Published: 1928

It's about: Orlando is a mock-biography of a nobleman in the Elizabethan age who is overwhelmed with the desire to achieve immortality through creation.  He lives an unusual life that spans 400 years until the very day that Virginia Woolf finished writing the novel in 1928, but on his 30th birthday, he wakes up to discover he is a woman.  This novel is in part an exploration of the biographer's role, a story-teller's role, and a reader's role, and in part a tribute to Virginia Woolf's close friend and once-lover, Vita Sackville-West.  It explores the questions of what defines a gender -- is it our biology or is it merely socially constructed?

I thought:This book has become one of my favorite novels of all time.  Though I realize that many people disagree with me, I personally think that Virginia Woolf was the most ingenious writer who has ever lived.  She writes an intelligent story, weaving her story skillfully and seamlessly down to the level of every sentence.  She deals with serious issues, but in such a sardonic and sarcastic tone that I laughed out loud on many, many occasions.  Her deep understanding of the human heart is evident in everything she writes.  She has mastered the art of writing, especially her signature style of psychological realism.  I read this book slowly and deliberately, because I enjoyed every page so much I did not want to rush by anything.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf!!!

Reading Recommendations: Like I mentioned before, I read this book very slowly so as to really enjoy every moment of it.

Warnings: This book makes some people uncomfortable for a couple of reasons; one, that it is considered by many to be a sort of love letter to Virginia Woolf's female lover, and two, that the book indirectly addresses same sex attraction (but only sort of, because Orlando changes genders, remember?)  Whereas I did not take issue with these subtle themes, I know people that do, so be warned of that.  Otherwise, this novel is very much clean, with merely vague references to the fact that the characters have had sex at some point.

Other interesting information: Orlando was adapted into a movie in 1993, starring Tilda Swinton as Orlando.  I haven't seen it, but it got good reviews and was nominated for two academy awards. (It is rated PG-13 despite the suggestive cover)

Favorite excerpts:

In one hilarious scene in which the now female Orlando must rid herself of a suitor but must learn to use the proper female methods, and so she drops a toad down his shirt:
In justice to Orlando, it must be said that she would infinitely have desired a rapier...But if rapiers are forbidden, one must have recourse to toads.

A woman knows very well that, though a wit sends her his poems, praises her judgment, solicits her criticism, and drinks her tea, this by no means signifies that he respects her opinions, admires her understanding, or will refuse, thought the rapier is denied him, to run through the body with his pen.

Was not writing poetry a secret transaction, a voice answering a voice?

Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world's view of us.

And oh, so much more!

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