Orlando: A Biography

By Virginia Woolf

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Readers` Reviews

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
angela filion
No lover in the world ever wrote a valentine more exquisite than Virginia Woolf's tribute to her lover Vita Sackville-West.

That tribute was "Orlando: A Biography," a magical-realism tale about a perpetually youthful, charming hero/ine who traverses three centuries and both genders -- and Woolf's writing reaches a new peak as she explores the hauntingly sensuous world of Orlando. It's one of those rare novels that transcends the time in which it was written, even as its hero/ine transcends gender.

Orlando was born a young aristocratic man in the time of Queen Elizabeth I. When the dying monarch visited his home, the charming young lord became her new court favorite (and briefly lover). His passionate, curious personality attracted many other women over the years -- until he fell in love with Sasha, a mercurial but faithless Russian princess (supposedly based on Sackville-West's ex-girlfriend Violet Trefusis). Bereft of true love, he devoted himself to poetry and entertainment.

But then he's assigned to be an ambassador to Constantinople, and something strange and inexplicable happens. While a bloody revolution rages all around Orlando, he sleeps for a full week... and wakes newly metamorphosed into a woman, who cannot be expected to fight. With the same mind and soul but a female body, Orlando sets out on a new life -- and discovers that women aren't quite as different from men as she once thought.

"Orlando: A Biography" is a very weird book, and was even more so when it was written since "magical realism" didn't exist as a literary style in 1928. Virginia Woolf makes no explanations about Orlando's immortality or unexpected gender switch. It's simply accepted that once he was a man, and then she became a woman, and that s/he has lived from the Elizabethan era until at least the 1920s (and who knows, maybe Orlando still wanders among us?). That mystery, ironically, saves it from seeming trite -- it's just a mystery of the inexplicable universe.

And Woolf's writing is at its peak here. Her prose is soaked in luxurious descriptions that constantly tease the senses -- silver and gold, frozen flowers, crystalline ice, starlight and the exquisite expanses of nature's beauty. At times the sensual writing seems almost feverish, and Woolf adds an almost mythic quality by inserting spirits of feminine virtues (Modesty, Purity and Chastity appear to try to hide Orlando's feminine body), and by having her hero/ine encounter great poets, queens and men of the sea.

And Orlando him/herself is a truly fascinating character -- s/he can be sweet, passionate, romantic, wild and melancholy, and s/he has an almost magnetic charisma. He starts off the story as an elusive romantic teenager, suffers a heartbreak that matures him as an artist, and post-metamorphosis she becomes a woman of the modern world. Both in mind and body, Orlando is a very different woman at the end than the boy s/he began as.

"Orlando: A Biography" is a truly spellbinding book -- Virginia Woolf's prose enthralls the senses while her main character explores the boundaries of gender. A must-read, for everyone.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
korkodus
I first encountered Orlando in a college course I was taking called The Elizabethan World Picture. It was like nothing I'd ever read before. The professor called it stream of consciousness, poetry disguised as prose and vivid moment of 16th, 17th, and 18th Century British history. But amazingly Woolf's descriptions of ice on the Thames, skating at breakneck speeds at dusk and dark, huge bonfires that lit the night, extravagant costumes and a potpourri of languages -- Great Britain was already a capital of world culture, young as it was -- the taste of spiced ale, the smell of the swamp and woods -- all of this resonated with me, but not so much many of the others in the class. They wanted facts and they did not feel they were getting them. With that memory in mind, I re-read Orlando the other day to see if it captured the eras Woolf described, and it did. I loved reading it as a third year English major in 1968 and even more so as an old timer in 2015. The Brits were explosively creative, both wealthy and impoverished, and their use of language was fantastical as everyone knows. What I didn't know was the sights, sounds and smells as well as the touch of unfamiliar things like unusual woolens and silks. Woolf, I now fully understand, was at her best magnifying the human senses, the values of light and shadow, the scents of oak smoke and the flavors of throat-tickling ales. A wonderful read for anyone who loves time travel, for that is what this novel is all about. It might well be called science fiction fantasy, except it is historical, too. And there is the additional beauty of the main character being a man in the first part of the novel and a woman in the second part. Same person, different gender. How about that to suit our times?
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
beth klint
The first brief introduction to Woolf's novel that I found only informed me that …

”Orlando tells the story of an individual named Orlando, born as a biological male in England during the reign of Elizabeth I. Orlando lives for more than 300 years and, at around 30 years of age, mysteriously changes biological sex to female.”

At the same time though, it was also described as being

“a semi-biographical novel based in part on the life of Woolf's presumed lover Vita Sackville-West”

Together, this sounded rather strange to me… But when I started reading, I soon found myself hooked. Actually Orlando's journey through the time and shifting cultures of three centuries, and even the transition from one sex to another, turns out to make a lot more 'sense' (in a way) than one might think from that very brief summary. While the plot does have some strange time twists, I found those to be written with a twinkle in the eye; and I did not have much difficulty picking up the subtext as the experience of a Reader and a Writer, as well as growing from Child to Woman (with some confusion perhaps in the middle) - and at the same time conveying quite a clever analysis of the shifting position of women (and not least women writers) in the context of society during those three centuries (from the Elizabethan age until 1928); and also the general explosion of literature during the same period:

QUOTE "While she had been sitting in Hyde Park the bookseller had delivered her order, and the house was crammed – there were parcels slipping down the staircase – with the whole of Victorian literature done up in grey paper and neatly tied with string. She carried as many of these packets as she could to her room, ordered footmen to bring the others, and, rapidly cutting innumerable strings, was soon surrounded by innumerable volumes. Accustomed to the little litteratures of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, Orlando was appalled by the consequences of her order. --- Orlando’s reverence for print had a tough job set before it … "

All in all I really enjoyed this book, and feel that I also learned quite a lot from it.

PS. I did not read it in the particular Kindle edition where I'm adding this review; but as part of one of the editions of her Complete Works.
Three Guineas (Oxford World's Classics) - A Room of One's Own; And :: Mrs. Dalloway :: Mrs Dalloway Virginia Woolf (Wordsworth Classics) (Wordsworth Collection) :: Night and Day (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics) :: To the Lighthouse (Wordsworth Classics)
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
lina suarez
Orlando; or, The World's Most Interesting Premise Wasted

Virginia Woolf has a wild premise for Orlando: a boy living in Elizabethan England does not die and somewhere near the middle of his life turns into a woman!

What a spectacular starting point for an author not only wanting to provide a good story but also wanting to describe the effects of time and gender on a person. Maybe Virginia Woolf did that. Other readers certainly think she did. I do not, however. Orlando is the huge waste of a premise.

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to take from this reading experience. Its most salient point was the immutability of the human spirit regardless of sex. For although Orlando must change her outward behavior to align with societal attitudes concerning gender, he/she remains steady throughout the text, mainly through his/her devotion to writing. I suppose I don't find this point really profound. It's been said before and it's been said better.

My main problem, though, is the writing. I've read some of Woolf's essays and short stories before and was impressed by her prose. In Orlando her writing choices confused me. Her prose lacks any emotion. I read this entire book utterly dispassionate to what was unfolding on the pages before me. For me, it read cold and surgical. It lacked any life. This detachment is exacerbated by the character of Orlando who is very aloof. Who is Orlando? Why should I care about her? Even when events upset Orlando--when the Russian princess leaves, when the critic insults his poem, when her lands and title are stripped from her--he/she continues on like before. Woolf might say, "Orlando was devastated," but not once did I feel any of Orlando's feelings.

It reminded me of reading a lab report. "Observe closely as our specimen, Orlando, male and aged 16, sits beneath the oak tree. [Six paragraphs of description about his surrounding environment] Now watch as he goes to the Queen's Court [Nine paragraphs of description about his surrounding environment]...Now observe as he transforms into a woman [Sixty two paragraphs about 17th Century London]" And on and on.

Obviously I'm an outlier here. Most people are moved by Woolf's writing and challenged by Orlando's metamorphosis. My favorite books are those that 1. make me think 2. feature a gripping story. Usually but not always in that order.

If I finish a book that accomplishes none of the above, I will be very unhappy. I just finished Orlando and I'm feeling very unhappy.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ishwadeep
No lover in the world ever wrote a valentine more exquisite than Virginia Woolf's tribute to her lover Vita Sackville-West.

That tribute was "Orlando: A Biography," a magical-realism tale about a perpetually youthful, charming hero/ine who traverses three centuries and both genders -- and Woolf's writing reaches a new peak as she explores the hauntingly sensuous world of Orlando. It's one of those rare novels that transcends the time in which it was written, even as its hero/ine transcends gender.

Orlando was born a young aristocratic man in the time of Queen Elizabeth I. When the dying monarch visited his home, the charming young lord became her new court favorite (and briefly lover). His passionate, curious personality attracted many other women over the years -- until he fell in love with Sasha, a mercurial but faithless Russian princess (supposedly based on Sackville-West's ex-girlfriend Violet Trefusis). Bereft of true love, he devoted himself to poetry and entertainment.

But then he's assigned to be an ambassador to Constantinople, and something strange and inexplicable happens. While a bloody revolution rages all around Orlando, he sleeps for a full week... and wakes newly metamorphosed into a woman, who cannot be expected to fight. With the same mind and soul but a female body, Orlando sets out on a new life -- and discovers that women aren't quite as different from men as she once thought.

"Orlando: A Biography" is a very weird book, and was even more so when it was written since "magical realism" didn't exist as a literary style in 1928. Virginia Woolf makes no explanations about Orlando's immortality or unexpected gender switch. It's simply accepted that once he was a man, and then she became a woman, and that s/he has lived from the Elizabethan era until at least the 1920s (and who knows, maybe Orlando still wanders among us?). That mystery, ironically, saves it from seeming trite -- it's just a mystery of the inexplicable universe.

And Woolf's writing is at its peak here. Her prose is soaked in luxurious descriptions that constantly tease the senses -- silver and gold, frozen flowers, crystalline ice, starlight and the exquisite expanses of nature's beauty. At times the sensual writing seems almost feverish, and Woolf adds an almost mythic quality by inserting spirits of feminine virtues (Modesty, Purity and Chastity appear to try to hide Orlando's feminine body), and by having her hero/ine encounter great poets, queens and men of the sea.

And Orlando him/herself is a truly fascinating character -- s/he can be sweet, passionate, romantic, wild and melancholy, and s/he has an almost magnetic charisma. He starts off the story as an elusive romantic teenager, suffers a heartbreak that matures him as an artist, and post-metamorphosis she becomes a woman of the modern world. Both in mind and body, Orlando is a very different woman at the end than the boy s/he began as.

"Orlando: A Biography" is a truly spellbinding book -- Virginia Woolf's prose enthralls the senses while her main character explores the boundaries of gender. A must-read, for everyone.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
fanny
No lover in the world ever wrote a valentine more exquisite than Virginia Woolf's tribute to her lover Vita Sackville-West.

That tribute was "Orlando: A Biography," a magical-realism tale about a perpetually youthful, charming hero/ine who traverses three centuries and both genders -- and Woolf's writing reaches a new peak as she explores the hauntingly sensuous world of Orlando. It's one of those rare novels that transcends the time in which it was written, even as its hero/ine transcends gender.

Orlando was born a young aristocratic man in the time of Queen Elizabeth I. When the dying monarch visited his home, the charming young lord became her new court favorite (and briefly lover). His passionate, curious personality attracted many other women over the years -- until he fell in love with Sasha, a mercurial but faithless Russian princess (supposedly based on Sackville-West's ex-girlfriend Violet Trefusis). Bereft of true love, he devoted himself to poetry and entertainment.

But then he's assigned to be an ambassador to Constantinople, and something strange and inexplicable happens. While a bloody revolution rages all around Orlando, he sleeps for a full week... and wakes newly metamorphosed into a woman, who cannot be expected to fight. With the same mind and soul but a female body, Orlando sets out on a new life -- and discovers that women aren't quite as different from men as she once thought.

"Orlando: A Biography" is a very weird book, and was even more so when it was written since "magical realism" didn't exist as a literary style in 1928. Virginia Woolf makes no explanations about Orlando's immortality or unexpected gender switch. It's simply accepted that once he was a man, and then she became a woman, and that s/he has lived from the Elizabethan era until at least the 1920s (and who knows, maybe Orlando still wanders among us?). That mystery, ironically, saves it from seeming trite -- it's just a mystery of the inexplicable universe.

And Woolf's writing is at its peak here. Her prose is soaked in luxurious descriptions that constantly tease the senses -- silver and gold, frozen flowers, crystalline ice, starlight and the exquisite expanses of nature's beauty. At times the sensual writing seems almost feverish, and Woolf adds an almost mythic quality by inserting spirits of feminine virtues (Modesty, Purity and Chastity appear to try to hide Orlando's feminine body), and by having her hero/ine encounter great poets, queens and men of the sea.

And Orlando him/herself is a truly fascinating character -- s/he can be sweet, passionate, romantic, wild and melancholy, and s/he has an almost magnetic charisma. He starts off the story as an elusive romantic teenager, suffers a heartbreak that matures him as an artist, and post-metamorphosis she becomes a woman of the modern world. Both in mind and body, Orlando is a very different woman at the end than the boy s/he began as.

"Orlando: A Biography" is a truly spellbinding book -- Virginia Woolf's prose enthralls the senses while her main character explores the boundaries of gender. A must-read, for everyone.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
andrea levine
No lover in the world ever wrote a valentine more exquisite than Virginia Woolf's tribute to her lover Vita Sackville-West.

That tribute was "Orlando: A Biography," a magical-realism tale about a perpetually youthful, charming hero/ine who traverses three centuries and both genders -- and Woolf's writing reaches a new peak as she explores the hauntingly sensuous world of Orlando. It's one of those rare novels that transcends the time in which it was written, even as its hero/ine transcends gender.

Orlando was born a young aristocratic man in the time of Queen Elizabeth I. When the dying monarch visited his home, the charming young lord became her new court favorite (and briefly lover). His passionate, curious personality attracted many other women over the years -- until he fell in love with Sasha, a mercurial but faithless Russian princess (supposedly based on Sackville-West's ex-girlfriend Violet Trefusis). Bereft of true love, he devoted himself to poetry and entertainment.

But then he's assigned to be an ambassador to Constantinople, and something strange and inexplicable happens. While a bloody revolution rages all around Orlando, he sleeps for a full week... and wakes newly metamorphosed into a woman, who cannot be expected to fight. With the same mind and soul but a female body, Orlando sets out on a new life -- and discovers that women aren't quite as different from men as she once thought.

"Orlando: A Biography" is a very weird book, and was even more so when it was written since "magical realism" didn't exist as a literary style in 1928. Virginia Woolf makes no explanations about Orlando's immortality or unexpected gender switch. It's simply accepted that once he was a man, and then she became a woman, and that s/he has lived from the Elizabethan era until at least the 1920s (and who knows, maybe Orlando still wanders among us?). That mystery, ironically, saves it from seeming trite -- it's just a mystery of the inexplicable universe.

And Woolf's writing is at its peak here. Her prose is soaked in luxurious descriptions that constantly tease the senses -- silver and gold, frozen flowers, crystalline ice, starlight and the exquisite expanses of nature's beauty. At times the sensual writing seems almost feverish, and Woolf adds an almost mythic quality by inserting spirits of feminine virtues (Modesty, Purity and Chastity appear to try to hide Orlando's feminine body), and by having her hero/ine encounter great poets, queens and men of the sea.

And Orlando him/herself is a truly fascinating character -- s/he can be sweet, passionate, romantic, wild and melancholy, and s/he has an almost magnetic charisma. He starts off the story as an elusive romantic teenager, suffers a heartbreak that matures him as an artist, and post-metamorphosis she becomes a woman of the modern world. Both in mind and body, Orlando is a very different woman at the end than the boy s/he began as.

"Orlando: A Biography" is a truly spellbinding book -- Virginia Woolf's prose enthralls the senses while her main character explores the boundaries of gender. A must-read, for everyone.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kate chandler
This experimental and unusual novel by Virgina Woolf spotlights the rhythm of her prose as no other work of hers can do. The flights of fancy, the descriptions, the tongue-in-cheek humor flow like poetry from the pages--and it's possible that this book is absolutely at its best when read aloud. My favorite Woolf novel is not this one; it's "To the Lighthouse" which has an incredible sadness and beauty that is difficult to imagine being put down in words. But for sheer fanciful imagery, this novel is quite amazing--let alone the amusing twist of the main character turning from male to female in the first third of the book. Other than that unusual event, the book rather reminds me of Voltaire in the way it fails to take anything seriously, except, perhaps, poetry.

The narrator conveys the subtle, arch sense of humor well, and makes the most of the rhythm within the paragraphs. Other than the film that was adapted from the novel (with wonderful Cate Blanchett, who was about the best person imaginable to play Orlando) this audio book really displays Woolf's talent to the max. For lovers of literature, it's like enjoying a box of Turkish Delight and it melts away on the mind with the same soft and liquid sweetness.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
danae
"He -- for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it..."

Late-Elizabeth fashions were so flamboyant that you couldn't sometimes tell who was male and who was female. And that time frame sets the perfect tone for this witty and strange gender-bender. Orlando was sixteen at the time, and his boyish good looks made him quite popular at Queen Elizabeth's court. But his poetic sensibilities cannot handle heartbreak very well. A deceitful Russian princess has left quite an impression on him, and he broods over the fickleness and faithlessness in women. So time goes by, Elizabeth is followed by King James, and as generations pass Orlando becomes not only a nobleman of high rank, but he's also courtier, then an ambassador -- until he leaves it all behind when he becomes a woman. The new gender brings confusion. All of the things Orlando once took for granted -- his freedom, his power, his lands and rank -- are all jeopardized. But at the same time, she -- for now it is she -- discovers other pleasures and joys, and sometimes boredom, in the eighteenth century parties with celebrated noblemen and writers, and in Victorian times, when she experiences her first night with a man. After many centuries, it is in 1928, when this immortal being realizes that she is essentially the same person she has always been.

It is impossible to summarize this novel. Written in the form of a biography, Orlando covers quite a number of themes and discussions, and you'd have to read the book in order to appreciate it. You'll have to read it not only once, but several times. I think I will have to reread this in the near future in order to completely get it. This is a unique gender-bender, with feminist undertones, and a voice full of satire and magic realism for great measure. There are some wonderful passages here, full of humor. Take this one, for example:

"All of her estates are put in Chancery and her titles pronounced in abeyance while the suits were under litigation. Thus it was in a highly ambiguous condition, uncertain whether she was alive or dead, man or woman, Duke or nonentity, that she posted down to her country seat, where, pending the legal judgment, she had the Law's condition to reside in a state of incognito or incognita as the case might turn out to be."

The "incognito or incognita" is what made me laugh. Virginia Woolf was a great writer. I had once read To the Lighthouse and was indifferent about it. However, Orlando has compelled me to read other books by Woolf. Her wit, combined with the passage of time and historical references, made this an absolute delight to read. The one thing I do find confusing is the passage of time. For example, Orlando opens her window and stares out into the courtyard and beyond in the year 1712. After a series of descriptions and whatnot, the chapter ends with, "The Eighteenth century was over; the Nineteenth century had begun." And that is more or less how it occurs every time. In one sentence, it is still Victorian times, then it's Edwardian the next. Also, the whole gender change is too complicated to describe. As said earlier, you will have to read and reread the book in order to understand it. Some people don't get this book at all and hate it; others might enjoy Woolf's take on society norms and love it. I'm the latter. Orlando is a must-read if you're into some rather thought provoking and somewhat complicated literature.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
cindi
Virginia Woolf caught a break in the publishing world, which is comparable to a 365-bedroom estate. But like Orlando, Woolf needed more than that. As a member of the working class, I found myself thinking 'nice that you have so much time to pontificate on life'. Is Orlando one of the rich and bored? One who dishes out but can't take it?

Take Sasha for instance. He calls her faithless when he's bedded every wench in town and is engaged to marry someone else when he meets her. Hard to sympathize with the guy. It's only a tragedy when he's the one hurting. Throughout Orlando's lives, he/she strikes me as a spoiled rich kid who wants to be useful and good but can't help being a punk sometimes. Very true to real life.

Woolf takes the reader through history fantastically; every scent and sense is unique to the years. Her observation on clothes being related to the person within is great. And even though people put a homosexual spin on the subject, I felt it was more about what a person is capable of and why a 'man' or 'woman' label is slapped on certain traits and abilities. If a woman is mechanically inclined, does she have to give up being feminine? If a man has a fashion sense, must he forfeit his masculinity?

In the end, I found myself wondering how Orlando would have turned out if he/she weren't so rich. Maybe it's my working-class distaste for pampered complainers that made we want to smack Orlando. But as a non-traditional woman, I also heard my thoughts echoed in Orlando's, especially when she 'yielded to the spirit of the age' and got married. That entire description of the pressure to marry was brilliant because it comes from without and within.

All in all, there are perks and drawbacks to being male or female. But Orlando shows we're not the only one who finds our talents stretch beyond what is considered a man's job or a woman's. Did Orlando have to become a woman to know love? Did his maleness make him a better ambassador? Nowadays we say 'of course not'. But Orlando personifies those questions, makes the reader aware of the chains of tradition. And just like Orlando's ancestry, are they anchors or dead weight? Or both?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
juli
Orlando, quivering in his soul, thus struggles to describe the Russian Princess, and describes himself as much as he does her: a man half in love with a woman and wholly in love with words, his thoughts leaping, dancing, unrestrained across the widest and wildest of images.

WHAT, READERS MAY ASK, IS "ORLANDO" ABOUT?

--"Orlando" is fantasy about an Elizabethean artistocrat who, deserted by the Princess and pursued by a six foot tall, hare-faced Roumanian Archduchess, becomes an Ambassador in Constantinople during the reign of Charles II. Caught in a revolution, Orlando sleeps for a week, then awakes as a woman, flees with a gypsy, living with them in the Caucasus. Later Orlando yearns for her estates with the snow slithering off the countless roofs, returns to England, is sequestered while his/her gender and rights are debated in the courts, spends much of the Georgian period serving tea to the likes of Pope & Addison, and much of the Victorian years writing a long poem, "The Oak." Orlando---who has aged about 36 years since we meet him as a 16 year-old, falls in love with Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine who is a sea-captain, receives a prize for "The Oak"---a writer at last!---and gives birth to a son. She negotiates the early 20th century with panache, and we see her at the last, standing in October 1928, beneath the great oak at her estate,with her ever-present dogs

--But wait! "Orlando" is not exactly about the action. It is about gender, that evanescent inner fire, about accepting and exploring and playing with not only Orlando's transformations but those of others who form her worlds, including Arch Duke Harry. As such, "Orlando" was among the first books to understand what it can be like to be born one sex yet be a different gender and all the variations thereon--and to celebrate this.

--Actually, "Orlando" is about "Downton Abbey." Orlando's ancestral home is a village, a town, ancient and enormous with 365 bedrooms and 52 staircases. This was her center, her true passion, the overwhelming love of her lives. In "Orlando," the great house endures through three centuries, and we feel the wind moving the arras, see the deer in its park, and stride through the halls and corridors and experience the people and the history it represents.

--Not quite. "Orlando" is, at its beating heart, most of all about writers and writing. Orlando is at 16 when we meet him, an ink-stained and prolific wretch penning his 28th play (all of them bad). In all the centuries, places, and times, he/she is drawn like moth to flame to writers and immerses herself/himself in writing. If you would know Orlando/Vita---or know Virginia Woolf--read, she said, what she has written and it often is about the inner work of writing.

"Orlando" is all these and more.

I cherish the book as a love-gift from Virginia Woolf, the narrator, to Vita Sackville-West, whom she dearly loved and here has caught in her net of words as Orlando. Vita had a passionate affair with the girl-woman Violet Trefussis, called in "Orlando" the Russian Princess, she did continually write a poem ("The Land") which did indeed win a distinguished prize, and in 1928 when the book ends precisely on its publication date, Vita was married to an adventurous diplomat, and had two sons. She lost Knole, the great home, however, because a woman could not inherit but created the exquisite gardens of Sissinghurst in Kent, situated near Knole. "Orlando" is a gift of laughter and wild fantasy, and through it, Virginia Woolf gave Vita, forever and ever, Knole.

But I love "Orlando" as well for the "and more." The soaring, magical, splendid poetry of her words, and the lightning of her insights on the lacrimae rerum, on the human condition, and on words, words, words & writers, writers, writers.

Here, on Jonathan Swift:

"Nothing can be plainer than this violent man. He is so coarse and yet so clean; so brutal and yet so kind; scorns the whole world, yet talks baby language to a girl; and will die, can we doubt it, in a madhouse."

And my favorite, "A million candles burned in him and he at the labor of lighting not a single one."

OVERALL: "Orlando" may not be for every reader at every season for her/his life or maybe never: not their thing. In my view, though, fortunate the readers who in at least one season of their lives, hear the magic. And thrice-lucky, the reader who comes to "Orlando" as a youth and is companioned by it for more than 300 years. For me, five stars.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
summerd
"Orlando" is a fictional biography whose subject in the beginning is a sixteen-year-old boy in the Elizabethan era and in the end -- three hundred years later -- is a thirty-six-year-old woman. This is not a novel about transsexuality, as such a premise would indicate, but it is a statement about sexual identity and gender roles in English society as only an author like Virginia Woolf could make, territory not even the brazen D.H. Lawrence could traverse with much confidence. It is a lyrical tour de force in which Woolf displays her considerable talent for subtly describing moods and scenery, but most surprisingly, it demonstrates her sly sense of humor and satire.
Orlando's gender alteration is naturally the central event of his preternaturally long life, but his aging only twenty years over a course of three centuries is certainly no less bizarre. To describe the circumstances under which he becomes a woman or explain the logic by which he ages so slowly would be giving away too much in this review, nor would it really help to recommend the novel to one who is not yet persuaded to read it, so I will be silent on that account, saying only that these outrageous devices fully succeed as vehicles to explore Woolf's theme of femininity with respect to English cultural and historical frames of reference.
The novel examines the effect of gender alteration on Orlando's amorous and professional capacities. As a young nobleman in the Elizabethan court whose interests are swordsmanship and poetry, he is engaged to an aristocratic Irish girl, has a torrid affair with a Russian princess, and meets a silly woman who, resembling nothing so much as a hare, calls herself the Archduchess Harriet. After serving as an ambassador in Turkey, Orlando becomes a woman, joins a band of gypsies, and returns to England where he (she) must handle the legalities regarding his dukeship because of his new gender. As a woman, he manages to gain the romantic attentions of famous writers like Pope, Dryden, and Swift before eventually marrying and having a son. Some surprises ensue, but let it suffice to say that Orlando is not the only androgynous character in the novel.
An underlying, and highly controversial, implication is that every human being harbors aspects of both genders, mainly psychological, but Woolf goes so far as to make them physical in order to press the point. Although the idea may seem tame now, "Orlando" may have set a precedent for cross-gender role-playing when it was first published in 1928. The novel is very much ahead of its time; it has a sort of nonchalant sophistication that characterizes the type of magical realism that was to become a large part of European-influenced literature throughout the rest of the twentieth century. My admiration for Virginia Woolf only increases with each novel of hers that I read, and "Orlando" is in my opinion the best yet.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mary haar
In her most playful and exuberant novel, Virginia Woolf writes the "historical biography" of Orlando, a young boy of nobility during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. A wild ride through four centuries, the novel shows Orlando aging, magically, only thirty-six years between 1588 and 1928. Even more magically, he also changes from a man to a woman. As she explores Orlando's life, Woolf also explores the differing roles of men and women in society during various periods, ultimately concluding that one's role as a man or woman is determined by society, rather than by birth.

From the Elizabethan period, during which Orlando works as a steward for the queen and also serves as her lover, he progresses to the reign of James I, experiencing a profound love for a Russian princess, Sasha, who is herself exploring the role of a man. When the relationship ends, he retreats, devastated, to his estate, with its 365 rooms and 52 staircases, which he redecorates over the next few years. An interlude in which he is wooed by the Archduchess Harriet/Archduke Harry leads to his ambassadorship to Constantinople, a period spent with the gypsies, and his eventual return to England--as a woman. New experiences and observations await her there.

Throughout the novel, Woolf matches her prose style to the literary style of the period in which Orlando lives, creating always-changing moods and sheer delight for the reader. Some constants continue throughout the four centuries of Orlando's life. Orlando is always a writer, always recording his thoughts, and always adding to a poem he has begun as a child entitled "The Oak Tree." He is always returning to his 365-room house whenever he needs to recuperate from his experiences, and some characters repeat through time. (Orlando is betrayed by Nick Greene during the reign of James I, but he is encouraged by Nicholas Greene in the Victorian period.)

Literary historians make much of the fact that Woolf modeled Orlando on Vita Sackville-West, Woolf's lover, and that this study of gender roles was an early exploration of lesbianism, bisexuality, cross-dressing, and transgender identities. The novel is pure fun to read, however, and though it raises serious and thoughtful questions about sexuality and the ways that it controls our lives, there is no sense that Woolf wrote the novel specifically to make a public statement or prove a point. Her themes of gender and its relation to social expectations, of imagination and its relation to reality, of the importance of history in our lives, and of the unlimited potential of all humans, regardless of their sex, transcend the specific circumstances under which Woolf may have written the book. A playful and delightful novel, which broke new ground with its publication. Mary Whipple

Mrs. Dalloway
To The Lighthouse
A Room of One's Own (Annotated)
Jacob's Room
Flush: A Biography
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
easwar chandran
Written in 1928, this book clearly sought to shock the reading public. For every repression delivered by Victorian authorities which surely hampered Woolf's freedoms, this book delivers a defiant rebuke to the same.

Orlando - it states in the beginning - is a man for whom "there can be no doubt of his sex." He is rich, handsome and lives a life even Hugh Hefner may be jealous of. But, scandals lead him to isolation, to public ridicule or upbraiding, which led him to sequester himself to his 200-bedroom hermitage-castle. In his hermit's existence, he does not pass time philandering, but instead pulls books off the library's shelves and romanticizes with fiction.

Eventually tedium compels Orlando to ask his friendly king to deliver him overseas where he can perform the duties of ambassador. He ends up in then Constantinople, now Istanbul, Turkey. While living there, he ends one exhaustingly long night of debauchery and partying with a seven day sleep - and awakes a woman.

This was a "good thing." As a man, he could not appreciate Tennyson, Shakespeare, Byron and the like. As a woman, their written word touched her greatly. She could be red eyed, she could be lachrymose. As a man, he never loved. Wollf says, ". . . love - as the male novelists define it . . . has nothing whatever to do with kindness, fidelity, generosity or poetry. . ." Orlando the man had no love? Maybe, with Sasha (a Russian seductress) - but maybe Sasha ruined him so that he could never love again.

As a woman, Orlando knows love. Wolff explains, "Love is slipping off one's petticoat and - "
Can you imagine the Victorians reading that?!

Orlando's life continues not for decades, but centuries. And, some other characters do as well. "The true length of a person's life . . . is always a matter of dispute. Indeed, it is a difficult business - this time-keeping thing. . . " Indeed, it was for Wolff who quite intentionally delivers this novel as a time-challenged writer.

More obscurities arise - androgynous lovers, angels' visits, children born from or for Orlando - and splendor with these very biologically-defying events.

This is not written in the weaving masterful language which Woolf delivers in "To the Lighthouse" or "Mrs.Dalloway." Instead, here the schizophrenia lies with the main character, not the writing style. Probably, a better story than "Lighthouse" or "Dalloway", but I am partial to the writing style of those masterpieces.

In any event, anyone wondering just how throttled Woolf felt in the stifling moral norms of her country, read this book. If anyone wants a bizarre tale about a bizarre man/woman, this is a must read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ayman
In her most playful and exuberant novel, Virginia Woolf writes the "historical biography" of Orlando, a young boy of nobility during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. A wild ride through four centuries, the novel shows Orlando aging, magically, only thirty-six years between 1588 and 1928. Even more magically, he also changes from a man to a woman. As she explores Orlando's life, Woolf also explores the differing roles of men and women in society during various periods, ultimately concluding that one's role as a man or woman is determined by society, rather than by birth.

From the Elizabethan period, during which Orlando works as a steward for the queen and also serves as her lover, he progresses to the reign of James I, experiencing a profound love for a Russian princess, Sasha, who is herself exploring the role of a man. When the relationship ends, he retreats, devastated, to his estate, with its 365 rooms and 52 staircases, which he redecorates over the next few years. An interlude in which he is wooed by the Archduchess Harriet/Archduke Harry leads to his ambassadorship to Constantinople, a period spent with the gypsies, and his eventual return to England--as a woman. New experiences and observations await her there.

Throughout the novel, Woolf matches her prose style to the literary style of the period in which Orlando lives, creating always-changing moods and sheer delight for the reader. Some constants continue throughout the four centuries of Orlando's life. Orlando is always a writer, always recording his thoughts, and always adding to a poem he has begun as a child entitled "The Oak Tree." He is always returning to his 365-room house whenever he needs to recuperate from his experiences, and some characters repeat through time. (Orlando is betrayed by Nick Greene during the reign of James I, but he is encouraged by Nicholas Greene in the Victorian period.)

Literary historians make much of the fact that Woolf modeled Orlando on Vita Sackville-West, Woolf's lover, and that this study of gender roles was an early exploration of lesbianism, bisexuality, cross-dressing, and transgender identities. The novel is pure fun to read, however, and though it raises serious and thoughtful questions about sexuality and the ways that it controls our lives, there is no sense that Woolf wrote the novel specifically to make a public statement or prove a point. Her themes of gender and its relation to social expectations, of imagination and its relation to reality, of the importance of history in our lives, and of the unlimited potential of all humans, regardless of their sex, transcend the specific circumstances under which Woolf may have written the book. A playful and delightful novel, which broke new ground with its publication. Mary Whipple

Mrs. Dalloway
To The Lighthouse
A Room of One's Own (Annotated)
Jacob's Room
Flush: A Biography
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
marjorie
I read Orlando because someone told me that a central theme was Knole, the massive great house of the Sackvilles in Sevenoaks, in Kent south west of London. (I also liked Mrs Dalloway--See my the store review.) When we lived in London my family and I spent a day at Knole. It is supposedly the largest private house in England. Much of it now belongs to the National Trust. Knole beggars description--it is a vast mansion, brooding, and dark, but also eminent; it is a castle, a factory, mills, breweries, a village, and menagerie. I remember the deer as being especially numerous and friendly. Orlando the novel is dedicated to Vita Sackville-West who sadly was unable to inherit Knole although she grew up there. Only males could inherit.

The novel Orlando is a tour through English history from the mid-15 hundreds to 1928 always from odd perspectives. It is also a subtle and searching exploration of gender roles, social roles, and artistic and creative efforts. Themes interweave with lightning speed. It's crazy, funny, satirical, wild, and moody. I found parts to be incoherent, post-modern stream-of-consciousness, but most is entertaining and illuminating.

But this novel always comes back to Knole just as Orlando does. He/she (there is a sex change mid-novel) tours her house, thinks about it, ponders it, worries about it, and is always focused on it. Orlando lives for hundreds of years, but somehow I think he/she is a metaphor for the great house. Knole is not mentioned by name in the novel, but that's it. Knole is also the setting for The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West. Knole is very worth a visit if you get to London or Kent. On the web at the National Trust website.

A visit in person however would help bring the novel Orlando to life. The novel is titled Orlando: A Biography. I think it is the biography of Knole.

One other odd feature: My edition (Signet Classics) has in index. This is the first novel I've read with an index. This suggests to me that Orlando is more than a novel, it is also a history of sorts.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sabda armandio
My first book by Ms. Woolf, and it was an amazing, surreal read. Orlando is a love story, a wonderful mess-up of gender and all the questions about love that gender provokes, and an ode to creativity.

The story begins with Orlando as a romantic youth, lacking in wisdom, but not in appreciation of beauty and lust for life. His vibrancy catches the eye of the elderly Queen Elizabeth, who then, falls in love with his beauty and graces him with a court appointment and takes it upon herself to protect him from the usual pains that would befall someone of his status. [It is at this point, in the movie (with Tilda Swinton), that Queen Elizabeth (Quentin Crisp) cryptically tells him, "Do not fade. Do not wither. Do not grow old." I did not find this quote in the book, but the sentiment is the same. There is a special immortal something about Orlando that others recognize and he is doomed and blessed to tumble through the ages in one guise or another.]

Orlando falls from the queen's grace when she spies him with one of the many girls he courts. Three years after the queen's disapproval, Orlando finds himself madly in love with a Russian princess, who will not marry him. He falls asleep heartbroken, only to awake 50 years later in a different role, as an aristocratic poet. And so go Orlando's series of romances and heartbreaks. After several failed romances and the seeming death of his beloved poetry, Orlando reawakens as a woman, without skipping a beat. We then follow him/her through subsequent decades and see Orlando grow in wisdom and knowledge of love. One could say that perhaps his womanly incarnation is what Fate has thrown at him in order for him to understand what it is to be on the other side of the mirror. Yet in either form he is admired.

It's an odd story and plotwise, difficult to track, which is perhaps besides the point. Certainly full of humor. The only contemporary author to whom I can compare it is Jeannette Winterson and her novel The Passion--she has a similar interest in characters and love, and an equal disregard for rules of space, time, and gender roles. Winterson may be our modern day Woolf.

If you haven't read Orlando, and you are unsure, try the movie first. It is what prompted me to read the book. The production is gorgeous and Tilda Swinton is perfect as Orlando. And when you decide to read the book, there's plenty to be discovered that the movie can't touch on--for instance the writing nuances and styles. I'll be rereading it soon and I'm eager to see what I'll find in my second passing.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
elsie
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? This Guy. I'm probably going to have to turn in my English Lit Major membership card over this, but man. I slogged through this, and didn't enjoy it at all. I'm not sure when I was last so bored by a book whose core concept intrigued me so much. Orlando is virtually immortal, changes gender mid-book, has a group of core household personnel who also seem to be immortal. The story starts in Elizabethan times and moves to the early 1900's. So much of that is fodder for great storytelling, not to mention the ability to comment on societal norms, gender reversals, etc. I won't deny that Woolf manages to pack a lot of social commentary into the book. I won't deny that she experiments with form in a way that makes most students and professors of English literature salivate. But in a book that is over 300 pages long ... nothing happens! Sure, there's the sudden deep freeze and equally sudden thaw of England that provides a momentary rush, but other than that, the protagonist spends pretty much the entire book sitting around depressed over the slights he receives from a woman, a fellow poet, and other varied personalities. I'll say it again: I was bored. And based on my reaction to this, which is supposed to be the most accessible of Woolf's works ... I can honestly say I don't think I'll be trying to read anything else by her.

Also, It is interesting to me that when I looked on the store, BN and Goodreads, none of the product descriptions I read attempt to describe the plot of ORLANDO. These are product descriptions now, not reader reviews. They all talk about how original and influential the book is and what a great movie Tilda Swinton was in a few years back. But none of them even attempt to describe the plot beyond what's quoted in the premise above. Maybe I just looked in the wrong place, or maybe it's just become accepted that ORLANDO is one of those things you read because "it's a classic."
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
milly
A man. A woman. A poet. A noble creature. A writer. Who is Orlando? Does it really matter? Does time flow through Orlando's fingers like a gale on the sea? Does love form on his lips, or on her lips, or on nobody's lips, to be devoured by hours and then years of melancholy, to be suddenly reborn at the sight of an oak tree, and then burn down to cinders again? What is life? What do leaves mean, or the rain, or why does one's chest rise in ecstasy at the sight of a sun ray falling through stained glass? Perhaps it can be explained, it can be written about and expressed, or perhaps one has to struggle though centuries to be able to capture even a shadow of this understanding. Why does sex matter? Why can't it be simply love without boundaries, without any explanations, delicate and passionate, broken and strung together into one piano piece being recited by a child, heard echoing actross time from one of the open windows?

I feel like to be able to read Orlando one has to put all literary rules aside and simply dip one's head into Virginia Woolf's subconscious, to be able to notice the flow of the narrative, to feel the torment, the splendor and the doubts and the juxtaposition of a rich inner writer's world and the chaotic confusing outer existence. It's beautiful. It's lyric. It's heart wrenching in its constant questions, as it transcends time and gender and even novel boundaries in this story without a real beginning or a real end, that can be picked up and read from the middle. I can perhaps describe Orlando in one word. Wonder. It's about wonder. Wonder of life, death, love, poetry, and every slanted shadow in between, the silence beating her heavy wings on the passage of time, from 16th century to the 20th. Dotted with exquisite humor that made me laugh out loud. And wisdom. A kind of wondrous wisdom that one gains from doing art. The understanding of life one moment, the complete loss of it the next.

Don't read Orlando. Feel it. And you'll find yourself enthralled.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
erinh
I was in love with Virginia before I fell in love with her books. Her fame in English literature being the first element that attracted me to her, her life and its tragic end has added to my fascination. It took a bit of a courage to pick the first book from her which turned out to be not a very good choice. It might be her most difficult to read book, "The Waves"
"The Waves" is not a novel per se, more of a poem. It is of no use to try to understand all said, but if you leave yourself to the sounds and rhythm of the text, you will like it as much as I did.
With that first sweet taste in my mouth, I tried to enjoy her most popular book Ms Dalloway. I was particularly drawn to that book after watching the wonderful movie "The Hours", which is based on the book with the same name, inspired by Woolf's novel Mrs Dalloway.
It was such a disappointment. I just could not get into the story. The characters were not interesting to me at all and if you can't get into the characters, then you can't fully enjoy the great language either. So I dropped the book
Sometime ago I came across a love letter which Vita has written for Virginia They were close friends and lovers. That letter has struck me so hard that I read all I could find about their friendship and affair on the internet. Hence when I picked up Orlando, I was very happy to be getting into the privacy of these two charming women.
I was worried for sure. After the failure of Mrs Dalloway, I was not sure if I would enjoy the book or not. I loved it to bits. Firstly, her language. How can it be so playful, so witty? She masters it so well. Funnily and strangely nothing much happens throughout the book. We listen to Orlando for a couple of centuries. We see her as a "he" , a young reckless boy deeply in love. We experience his heartbreak and isolation. We take interest in literature, particularly poetry as he does. We travel far away to East. We love the nature as much as "she" does. We come back to England, enter the high elite society, we fall in love again and we marry. This is the story in a nutshell. But deep under, we question everything about love, human nature, nature itself and literature as a means of existence. Maybe it is because I am so much in love with nature and literature that her words feel like mine. Her love becomes mine. Her wise but funny words about men, women, our inner evil and goodness become mine.
There were paragraphs in every 10 pages that I wanted to take a screenshot of and read over and over again over time.
This book would have earned a 5 star rating if only it were not so biographical. I tried to keep up with the footnotes checking the back of the book in every 5 minutes which prevented me enjoy the book more fully.
All in all, I am fascinated with Woolf more than ever. Looking forward to read "To The Lighthouse" and " A Voyage Out" next.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
joell smith borne
By far Virginia Woolf's most lighthearted and appealing book. But it is also by far her most profound meditation on reading and writing, identity and art, history and time.

Strictly speaking "Orlando" is a pseudo literary biography that mocks literary biography (and representation in general). In place of a person Woolf creates a fantastic hybrid and the metamorphoses that occurs simply underlines the unreality, the utterly fabricated nature, of her creation and of all writerly creations. But its also much more than that for Orlando allows Woolf the opportunity to comment on one of her own creations as she is creating it. The writer transforms the world with her words but she is also transformed by the words that she uses. In this way one can view reading and writing as ongoing metamorphoses.

No other book in existence so proudly announces what it is not: real. No other book calls attention to the fact that it is merely literature--a figment of a writers fancy-- in such a graceful way. And yet few books have the imaginative power to so transform the readers who encounter it as this one.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
vishnu
Orlando begins life as a titled and gifted young man in sixteenth century England, but later acquires a much larger perspective through a series of intense and improbable events that take him across barriers of culture, time, and gender.

After enduring a supernaturally cold winter in England and an affair with a Russian Princess that ends badly, Orlando decamps for the Orient, where he becomes a woman. Nonplussed, Orlando decides that it is "better to be quit of martial ambition, the love of power, and all other manly desires if so one can more fully enjoy the most exalted raptures known to the human spirit, which are . . . contemplation, solitude, love."

There follows much discussion of gender and gender confusion. Woolf tells us that:

"The difference between the sexes is, happily, one of great profundity. Clothes are but a symbol of something hid deep beneath. It was a change in Orlando herself that dictated her choice of a woman's dress and of a woman's sex. And perhaps in this she was only expressing rather more openly than usual - openness indeed was the soul of her nature - something that happens to most people without being thus plainly expressed. For here again, we come to a dilemma. Different though the sexes are, they intermix. 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 the very opposite of what it is above."

There are many other themes in this imaginary biography which spans centuries. One is comical examination of English society and culture:

"Thus, stealthily, and imperceptibly, none marking the exact day or hour of the change, the constitution of England was altered and nobody knew it. ... The muffin was invented and the crumpet. Coffee supplanted the after-dinner port, and., as coffee led to a drawing-room in which to drink it, and a drawing-room to glass cases, and glass cases to artificial flowers, and artificial flowers to mantelpieces to pianofortes, and pianofortes to drawing-room ballads, and drawing-room ballads (skipping a stage or two) to innumerable little dogs, mats, and antimacassars, the home - which had become extremely important - was completely altered."

This "biography" is also metafiction, and there are several humorous references to the act of writing. In fact, Orlando herself writes prolifically throughout the novel (carrying with her a poem, "The Oak Tree," that must constantly be revised as she changes).and encounters many literary figures, among them the revered Alexander Pope who makes a big impression: " ... `How noble his brow is,' she thought (mistaking a hump on a cushion for Mr. Pope's forehead in the darkness)."

Sometimes I don't get Virginia Woolf, but I was very entertained by this novel.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jackie delmonico
In her most playful and exuberant novel, Virginia Woolf writes the "historical biography" of Orlando, a young boy of nobility during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. A wild ride through four centuries, the novel shows Orlando aging, magically, only thirty-six years between 1588 and 1928. Even more magically, he also changes from a man to a woman. As she explores Orlando's life, Woolf also explores the differing roles of men and women in society during various periods, ultimately concluding that one's role as a man or woman is determined by society, rather than by birth.

From the Elizabethan period, during which Orlando works as a steward for the queen and also serves as her lover, he progresses to the reign of James I, experiencing a profound love for a Russian princess, Sasha, who is herself exploring the role of a man. When the relationship ends, he retreats, devastated, to his estate, with its 365 rooms and 52 staircases, which he redecorates over the next few years. An interlude in which he is wooed by the Archduchess Harriet/Archduke Harry leads to his ambassadorship to Constantinople, a period spent with the gypsies, and his eventual return to England--as a woman. New experiences and observations await her there.

Throughout the novel, Woolf matches her prose style to the literary style of the period in which Orlando lives, creating always-changing moods and sheer delight for the reader. Some constants continue throughout the four centuries of Orlando's life. Orlando is always a writer, always recording his thoughts, and always adding to a poem he has begun as a child entitled "The Oak Tree." He is always returning to his 365-room house whenever he needs to recuperate from his experiences, and some characters repeat through time. (Orlando is betrayed by Nick Greene during the reign of James I, but he is encouraged by Nicholas Greene in the Victorian period.)

Literary historians make much of the fact that Woolf modeled Orlando on Vita Sackville-West, Woolf's lover, and that this study of gender roles was an early exploration of lesbianism, bisexuality, cross-dressing, and transgender identities. The novel is pure fun to read, however, and though it raises serious and thoughtful questions about sexuality and the ways that it controls our lives, there is no sense that Woolf wrote the novel specifically to make a public statement or prove a point. Her themes of gender and its relation to social expectations, of imagination and its relation to reality, of the importance of history in our lives, and of the unlimited potential of all humans, regardless of their sex, transcend the specific circumstances under which Woolf may have written the book. A playful and delightful novel, which broke new ground with its publication. n Mary Whipple
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jiffy
After that light title for the review, allow me to stress that *Orlando* is one of my favorite, favorite books. I've probably read it 20 times. I'm always astonished again by how much character and life and plot and gorgeous prose that Woolf packed into so few pages.

SUMMARY: Orlando, the title character, begins life as a lad in Elizabethan England in 1588 and ends the book as a woman thirty-six years older in 1928.

Much has been made of the fact that Orlando changes gender and ages magically slowly during the 340 years that the book covers. The effects of the gender switch play beautifully against society and society's changes. Orlando the character is probably based on Vita Sackville-West, Woolf's lesbian lover who cross-dressed, and the gender switch is seen to embody both the masculine and feminine aspects of her. Modernism, the art movement that best characterizes Woolf, is concerned with society and the person's role in it. Woolf managed to play both sides by introducing a character who was both male and female.

All this is true, but I believe that there is another layer to the book beyond mere gender role exploration and modernist games. Orlando is a book about being a reader, about a life spent as a reader. When one reads great literature, one experiences what it is like to be both a man and a woman, to live the span of many lifetimes, to have experiences as varied as traveling to Istanbul by ship and giving birth to a child and hacking at the head of a Moor swinging from the ceiling and being the lover of a queen and being in love with a man. Of course, a writer is a reader moved to emulation, and Orlando is a writer. After centuries of composition (and that's what it feels like sometimes!), *The Oak Tree,* Orlando's epic poem, is finally accepted for publication.

Most of the time, when I read a great book, I understand the mind and the soul of the writer better when I'm done. Reading a book about being a reader may seem a tautology, but in this case, I feel like Virginia Woolf understood *me,* and my life as a reader, almost eighty years after the publication of *Orlando.*

TK Kenyon
Author of Rabid: A Novel and Callous: A Novel
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
danika
_Orlando_ is Virginia Woolf's mock biography of her friend Vita Sackville-West. It follows the title character through English history from the Elizabethan Age to the 1920s, when the novel was written. The writing is different sections of the book mimics the styles of different periods of English literature. Most of the book is firmly tongue-in-cheek (Woolf can be very funny), but it does brush lightly upon issues of art, gender, and history.
I think _Orlando_ is the most purely entertaining of Woolf's novels. Orlando's various adventures are highly laughable, and Woolf's dry commentary rarely fails to elicit a smile. It is also one of Woolf's less experimental and ambitious novels. She wrote this novel as a lark, for amusement--it is a very different project from, for example, _The Waves_. This is not to say this is in any way a conventional novel--but it is rather different from Woolf's other works of the 1920s.
I would definitely recommend this to most readers--it is more accessible to the general reader than Woolf's other novels. Readers familiar with the history of English literature will find it particularly amusing. If you are a first-time Woolf reader looking to really experience her more important works, however, I would suggest _Mrs. Dalloway_ or _To the Lighthouse_ first.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
shelburne
This fake biography (complete with counterfeit photographs and an index) is not Virginia Woolf's greatest novel by any means--but even the least of her works must rank among the finest of early twentieth-century fiction.
The "plot" seems more appropriate to a Heinlein novel: a boy raised during the Elizabethan period becomes a woman, lives until the 1920s, and ages only 36 years. During the past century, the novel's reception has evolved much like its lead character: while early critics and readers praised the book as a literary parody bordering on farce, later generations have regarded the novel more as a commentary both on sexual roles and on the oppression of women. Some readers will see Orlando as representing, in human form, the evolution of literature (it`s telling that the only other character who lives as long as Orlando is a critic); some will focus on the novel's presentation of gender and sex. Both interpretations (and others) seem to be equally valid--which is why this book is so powerful even today.
One of the most charming (and surprising) qualities of the novel is Woolf's refusal to take herself or her book seriously. At times, the novel is laugh-out-loud funny. She mocks her own style (she interrupts one of her infamous run-on paragraphs with "nature ... has so much to answer for besides the perhaps unwieldy length of this sentence"), and she even makes fun of the book's very concept (when Orlando is not doing much of anything, Woolf exclaims: "If only subjects ... had more consideration for their biographers!"). "Orlando" infuses everyday life with both wit and elegance; or, as Woolf puts it, "when the shrivelled skin of the ordinary is stuffed out with meaning it satisfies the senses amazingly."
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
j c hennington
The odd thing about ‘Orlando’ is that, whilst it’s conceptually daring, narratively it’s far less unconventional than other of Virginia Woolf’s novels that I’ve read. And, perhaps because the book begins with an Elizabethan setting, the ‘story’ that I was constantly anticipating, was never really established, leaving me feeling dissatisfied at some level.

I persevered with ‘Orlando’ because it was well-written and relatively short; had it been a longer book, I think I would almost certainly have abandoned it. Whilst others make more of Orlando’s transformation from man to woman during the course of the book, and the message that Virginia Woolf is sending the reader by virtue of this transition, I have to confess, I never really got it. Perhaps the feminist aspect of this book is just too subtle to really signify. Similarly, I didn’t read too much into the autobiographical angle of it – the idea that the character of Orlando was inspired by Vita Sackville-West – perhaps more interest is to be found in the text for fans of Woolf if you do this.

Overall then, I would say that, if you’ve read and enjoyed other novels by Virginia Woolf, ‘Orlando’ is a worthwhile read to augment your understanding of her work. But, if you’re looking for an introduction to her writing, I would by far recommend reading ‘Mrs Dalloway’ or ‘To the Lighthouse’ before reading this book – I think there is a risk that ‘Orlando’ would just put you off reading her other novels.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sylvester
No lover in the world ever wrote a valentine more exquisite than Virginia Woolf's tribute to her lover Vita Sackville-West. That tribute was "Orlando: A Biography," a magical-realism tale about a perpetually youthful, charming hero/ine who traverses three centuries and both genders -- and Woolf's writing reaches a new peak as she explores the hauntingly sensuous world of Orlando.

Orlando was born a young aristocratic man in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, and when the dying monarch visited his home she became his new court favorite (and briefly lover). His passionate, curious personality attracted many other women over the years -- until he fell in love with Sasha, a mercurial but faithless Russian princess (supposedly based on Sackville-West's ex-girlfriend). Bereft of true love, he devoted himself to poetry and entertainment.

But then he's assigned to be an ambassador to Constantinople, and something strange happens -- while a bloody revolution rages, he sleeps for a full week... and wakes newly metamorphosed into a woman. With the same mind and soul but a female body, Orlando sets out on a new life -- and discovers that women aren't quite as different from men as she once thought.

"Orlando: A Biography" is a very weird book, and was even more so when it was written since "magical realism" didn't exist as a literary style in 1928. Virginia Woolf makes no explanations about Orlando's immortality or unexpected gender switch. It's simply accepted that once he was a man, and then she became a woman, and that s/he has lived from the Elizabethan era until at least the 1920s (and who knows, maybe Orlando still wanders among us?).

And Woolf's writing is at its peak here. Her prose is soaked in luxurious descriptions that constantly tease the senses -- silver and gold, frozen flowers, crystalline ice, starlight and the exquisite expanses of nature's beauty. At times the sensual writing seems almost feverish, and Woolf adds an almost mythic quality by inserting spirits of feminine virtues (Modesty, Purity and Chastity appear to try to hide Orlando's feminine body), and by having her hero/ine encounter great poets, queens and men of the sea.

And Orlando him/herself is a truly fascinating character -- s/he can be sweet, passionate, romantic, wild and melancholy, and s/he has an almost magnetic charisma. He starts off the story as an elusive romantic teenager, suffers a heartbreak that matures him as an artist, and post-metamorphosis she becomes a woman of the modern world. Both in mind and body, Orlando is a very different woman at the end than the boy s/he began as.

"Orlando: A Biography" is a truly spellbinding book -- Virginia Woolf's prose enthralls the senses while her main character explores the boundaries of gender. A must-read, for everyone.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
christina burlison
Orlando is adventure, comedy, gender study and literary commentary all rolled into one. The titular character lived through four centuries. During that time he served the Queen, fell in love with a Russian princess and lost her, entertained annoying guests, spent a century roaming in his estate, sailed out to exotic places where he became a she, and came back to find that her old love had grown fat.

A host of memorable characters populated the story, gifting it with eccentric moments: the pizza was toasted in the fireplace and the rug nearby was burned, the countess sneaked in the garden and "cackled and gaffled", and the sea captain was lured to chivalry by Orlando the lady's legs. The narrative is not as experimental as Woolf's earlier novels, but the prose is still intelligent and evocative. Woolf's laid-back style also makes the novel an easy, comforting read when you simply want some light entertainment.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sam polcer
"Orlando" is the only Woolf novel that engages in fantasy. The main character, Orlando, lives from the Elizabethan era to 1928 and transforms from a man to a woman somewhere along the way. That detail in itself promises an intriguing plot.

Woolf's prose often resembles poetry, and in "Orlando" this is no exception. She cleverly renders Orlando's (and the first-person narrator/biographer) feelings and experiences with a myriad of seemingly useless details. It may take some time to get used to and make sense of how these details fit; yet, that is the beauty and brilliance of Woolf's language that makes this novel (and her other works) such a pleasure to read.

"Orlando" is referred to as Woolf's "holiday" novel and one that Woolf herself said she wrote in preparation for the next (and often considered best) book, The Waves. While "Orlando" does seem more light-hearted and comical than her other work, and this is partly due to the fantasy and her use of satire and parody, it can also be quite political in the issues it addresses, particularly those related to gender, literature, and modernity. Orlando as a character conveys her emotions but does not reflect much on their implications. However, we as readers who witness her transformation and her lifestyle, who are made to read to about Orlando's existence and position in the world, would soon find ourselves thinking about Woolf's recurrent themes and how they relate to humanity.

As a whole, "Orlando" is very thought-provoking. Every time I pick it up, I find something new to marvel at.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
anwesa
Some of the groundbreaking feature of Orlando are now dated, making the work less shocking then upon its original debut, but the work still possesses a private power due to its compelling plot developments and memorable title character. Woolf is full of animated observations on sex, class and beauty. This isn't a long read and it's well worth your time. I read this as an audiobook; the presentation was quality.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
anachav
Orlando is a gender-bending-twisting-conflating biography in which the eponymous hero begins as an Elizabethan nobleman and ends, over 300 years later, as a liberated woman.

There are many reasons to read a classic work of fiction, but to be totally honest, doing so is not always a purely enjoyable experience. Sometimes it is more like work, worth the effort, but not easy or even totally pleasurable.

This book is simply a gas: a high speed, surrealistic excursion through four centuries of the role of women and men in English society, and Woolf's writing is in turn caustic, brilliant, lyrical, funny, transcendent and astonishing.

If you are going to read one great work of 20th century literature, this should be on your short list.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
toni sheehan blake
This book proves that Virginia Woolf could write what she damned well pleased - she had a family publishing house that published all her work (is that the same as self-published these days?) and a literary salon that the who's-who of literature at the time frequented. An enviable position to be in and not have to risk the inevitable rejection letter from a publisher who wanted more of the same that sold. At one point she even celebrates the unpublished or self-published writer by saying "while fame impedes and constricts, obscurity lets the mind take its way unimpeded."

That said, Orlando is, in my mind, Woolf herself, taking a bold romp through history, spanning the centuries from Elizabethan to Edwardian times, free of the limitations of thinking in a particular sex, yet being bound by the conventions of his/her times depending on when Orlando was either a man or a woman - all the while letting us experience life in those particular times through the lenses of Orlando's thougths and through his/her biographer's descriptions and ruminations. Woolf's descriptioons of changing landscapes (London going from a clump of derelict buildings and muddy streets in Elizabethan England to a modern metropolis during the Restoration), political systems, customs (wearing a ring and being married became prominent during Victorian times), food ( crumpets and muffins were invented in the 19th century), women's sizes ("slim was in" in Edwardian London),speech (evasive conversation was espoused in Victorian England) are told in rich flowing prose that does not stint in its use of dashes and semicolons.

Time transitions take place during sleep, while thinking or while on a long voyage at sea, where our hero(ine)remains unaged (albeit, at times sex changed) as the world changes around her.

The pompous biographer that Woolf chooses as her device for rendering the story is also a free spirit, free to comment, jump from place to place, ruminate and sidebar - all needed in order to deliver a story of this vast time sweep.

I wouldn't read this novel for entertainment, but rather as a study of what experimental fiction must have been in Woolf's day.

My one regret is that with all this going for her ( no rejection slips, write whatever she wanted) our dear Virginia had to load herself up with stones and drown herself in a river. Oh, if she would only know the travails of the writer, let alone the experimental one, of today! Should we strap boulders to our necks and jump off cliffs, or like Orlando, should we just flit back ( or forward) in time to when writers were treated with more respect and given such freedom to experiment?

[...]
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
diego ulanosky
Orlando is perhaps the most entertaining of Woolf's works that I have seen. Clearly, she wanted to explore gender components but chose a wonderfully satirical framework and let go of ordinary boundaries of time and space to create the utter freedom she needed to do so. I'm sure there are many more well thought out discussions of the gender-identity issues in these reviews, but I wanted to let readers know what wonderful satire and what beautiful writing this is and its all wrapped around a literary romp that provides sheer pleasure for fans of English literature.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kalyna
This novel stabs at society's defining roles of the sexes in a way that is humorous, yet thought provoking as Woolf entertains her readers in this biography of herself. The author begins with her birth in the sixteenth century, and ends in the twentieth century. She starts as a young man and ends up a woman at the end of the novel, she most definitely makes appoint of showing how women have been oppressed throughout the centuries which is not something no one knows, but a good reminder. Throughout the novel, Orlando rarely changes in appearance with an eerie androgynous look as she/he sees monarch's come and go, and changes along with every forthcoming style. Orlando is a fantasy like novel that is gutsy and a creative mockery of Woolf, as she characterizes in depth the roles of the sexes with a wit and humor. I highly recommend this book along with the movie.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ad astra
This is a review among many reviews and will leave out the tale of the story assuming it has already been read here. This tremendous novel is one of my two favorites. "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez also luxuriously takes the reader through a lifetime that lasts many lifetimes in length. The reader becomes a traveler through a society, culture and location while watching time fly by at a rate 2-5 times that of the lives we actually live. Both stories give the reader a sense that judgement about experience can extend to generations of experience and not just to one's single, private, say, 80 year period. The benefit of reading these books, to young readers who are trying to stretch their own personal horizons, is beyond belief.

Each story is a gift from it's author on a level seen almost no where else. With all modesty I'll say that they are imaginative, funny and compelling.

Another text that transcends the perspective of one lifetime in one person's viewfinder is "Foundation and it's Trilogy" although that work of science fiction is simply not in the class of literature of the other two.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
kimberlee madison
I am surprised that I liked this as much as I did. I really have never liked Virginia Woolf. But this book was required reading for one of my classes and I found myself enjoying it. It was thought-provoking and Orlando was really an interesting character. While some of there was some very important information left out, if you don't think about it, it won't bother you too much.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
aberwyn
The theorist- Orlando, who wakes up every morning to a new intrest, fear, love or body. From Elizabeth's court, to modern day vehicles, he starts as a young boy in search of a "why" and a "how". Why does love twist life? How does a real Poet think? He finds himself writing, reading, and pondering nonstop in search of real answers. And yet is never satisfied.
On a cold morning Olralndo wakes up a woman. This stirs up even more questions and feelings on the space around her. Time is flying, she goes through over two hundred years of change. Experiencing pregnancy, travel, lost love, two sexes, and marrage, she ends a long emotional book with questions, and color. In my opinon, Orlando lives on
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
24anisha
Virginia Woolf is often a difficult author for students to become familiar with. Her _Orlando_, which strikingly defies placement in a single genre, introduces the reader to Miss Woolf's language, her symbols, and the themes common to her many equisite works. However, _Orlando_ is bereft of the beautiful and detailed stories and ideas which enrich her other works, making the novel on the whole a simple enough read for the beginner.
Compared with the span of her works, _Orlando_ stands out as an original among originals. Nowhere else does Miss Woolf so successfully tell a fabulous tale, and nowhere else does she render concrete locations, times, and events so beautifully.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
rona fernandez
For all dyed-in-the-wool Virginia Woolf fans, my review will be anathema. People who review books often review the ones they love especially, but I review each one, good or bad. I started this novel in high hopes. I had never read the famous British author and I looked forward to a special treat. The background to the rich and handsome Orlando seemed promising, his adventures interesting, but then weirdness grew and became overpowering. I didn't mind that he turned into a woman, but even so, whatever the sex of the protagonist, we need a plot in the novel. The descriptions of his doings seemed less and less relevant, his/her gender fluctuations assumed more and more importance, and I finally decided that I just didn't care. What I really didn't like about ORLANDO is that there is a sub-text, closed to those of us of this day and age, who are not privy to the intimate doings of the Bloomsbury set, who did not sit together with V. Woolf and listen to her read her latest chapters, chuckling knowingly as they recognized the models for the various characters. I felt excluded. And why would I read a novel from which I was excluded ? Well, the answer, dear reader, is that I wouldn't. And I don't recommend that you do either.

People tell me that Woolf's other novels are much better and of a different type. So, I am not condemning the writer, only the book. And, OK, maybe you will like it. But don't say I didn't warn you.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
siladitya chowdhury
Virginia Woolf's "Orlando" is unique in form, being a mock biography of a fictional character. We are introduced to Orlando, a protagonist based partly on Woolf's close friend Vita Sackville-West, as a 16-year-old boy, the son of noble parents, in the latter years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. By the end of the book, more than three hundred years later, he has become a 36-year-old woman living in "modern" times (meaning 1928, the year of publication).

Woolf uses Orlando's sexual transformation and long life as a vehicle for investigating influences on and consequences of gender and sexuality through history. Her commentary is pointed and often right on the mark. But at the same time, the book is infused with Woolf's dry wit, giving everything a humorous overtone. For example, when Orlando returns to England after his transformation, everyone at home assuming him to be dead, she finds herself embroiled in a legal battle to get her property back: "The chief charges against her were (1) that she was dead, and therefore could not hold any property whatsoever; (2) that she was a woman, which amounts to much the same thing" (168). One can tell that, while these issues were obviously important to her, Woolf was having fun when she wrote this.

Now, as far as my personal reaction, I am going to be among the minority of reviewers here in saying that overall I really didn't much care for the book. In talking to others who have read it, I've noticed that "Orlando" seems to be one of those "love it or hate it" works. Perhaps I went into it with the wrong expectaions, this being my first Woolf novel, but it just kind of fell flat for me. I certainly wasn't expecting it to be the kind of book it was. Thinking it was going to be a historical fiction piece with a serious tone, I found it to be much more like a more emotional version of "Candide." Much of it is farcical, and certainly far from being believable.

Though Woolf makes some very insightful and worthwhile social commentary here, her presentation, I felt, detracted from its impact. The fantasy-world feel that permeates much of it makes it seem unreal, and therefore less applicable to our own world. In addition, the narrative tone changes from time period to time period, which makes the book feel disjointed. Just as you get used to one style - BAM! - it changes to a different tone and you're left feeling disoriented all over again. And furthermore, Orlando her/himself doesn't feel like a real person. No matter how much I tried, I couldn't empathize with her/him. All of this, I found, got in the way of the actual story and its intended impact.

In summary, I do commend Woolf's experimentation in style, and as I noted the underlying messages are important, but overall the book just wasn't as strong as it could have been. If you're a fan of Woolf, go ahead and give it a try. You may well find that you like it after all. But if you like more reality-rooted and tonally serious stories, this probably won't leave you very satisfied. Try it, but calibrate your expectations first.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
sybille
This book is magical and absolutely hilarious. Okay, so it takes a certain sense of humor to really enjoy it, but if a satire on writing throughout the ages sounds like fun to you, you'll probably enjoy it. Orlando is more than that though, it really has many levels to it, and it is even more interesting when you read the story behind the story, about Vita and Virginia's love affair. I learned about all that stuff while researching for a 15 page paper on the book. Getting a little to much Orlando due to that paper made me lower my rating from five to four stars. It is fun and liberating. Oh, warning: it has a very odd ending. I'm not sure I'll ever understand it. I read it before I finished the book and thought, oh, It will probably make sense after I've read everything in between. Nope. But it was definitely worth the read.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
yoshi
This `roman à clés' is very original. The hero continues to live in different historical periods and undergoes a sex change.
However, it is written in an emotional, sentimental, superlative style: `society in the reign of Queen Anne was of unparalleled brilliance. The graces were supreme.'
Except for the first period, there are no conflicts, only rather superficial descriptions of the mood and spirits of the times. For V. Woolf, `to give a truthful account of society ... only those who have little need of the truth, and no respect for it - the poets and novelists - can be trusted to do it, for this is one of the causes where the truth does not exist.'
`Orlando' is a perfect flight from reality: `But let other pens treat of sex and sexuality; we quit such odious subjects as soon as we can.' `Whigs and Tories, Liberal party and Labour party ... should be left to the historian.'

This book is a clean, introvert, aristocratic, long ode to pure Beauty.
Only for Virginia Woolf fans.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
armi beatriz
What is perhaps most telling about Virginia Woolf's book Orlando is the way it forces the reader to take stock of what society tells us our lives are supposed to be like. There are certain societal norms, accepted lifestyles and beliefs, and when the individual steps outside of those norms, he or she is treated differently. Based on Orlando's identity, the society she lives in expects specific behaviors from her in the areas of business, society, and love, "that each man and each woman has another allotted to it for life." Her search for meaning amidst those expectations is what ends up being Orlando's pursuit for meaning in life.

Reviewed by Jonathan Stephens
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
scott witmer
Orlando, by Virginia Woolf, is an extraordinary book! Because Woolf does not write in her traditional stream-of-consciousness style, this novel is much more accessible than some of her others (like "To The Lighthouse"). The "gender-bending" theme was one that Woolf often made use of in her books, but it is never as clearly exemplified as in "Orlando." In addition to her observations regarding gender, Woolf displays a keen perception of the human condition. Her merciless wit comes through in this book with even greater clarity than in her others, making for a truly oustanding novel! Read it!!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
dareen
"Orlando" is such a playful novel, full of richness of characters and commentaries. Written as a love letters of sorts to Woolf's lover Vita Sackville-West, "Orlando: A Biography" follows Orlando from the years of Queen Elizabeth I's reign to late 1928, from the time he was a man to the time she became a woman. With this book, Woolf tried to give a fantasy life to her lover, where she could be a man and be her own person, instead of subject to society's ways. And by itself, it's such a gorgeous story! Especially with the fascinating asides where Orlando is addressing the reader.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mamaujeni
A fine work of scholarship with a very thorough-going introduction that has much to say about the context and content of the work. The endnotes tend to be very helpful for providing context in even greater detail. I wish they would have been footnotes, but... oh, well...
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mockingbird
This novel is Woolf's literary joke, where she pokes fun at herself and all her literary predecessors. The story follows Orlando, who begins life as a young man in 16th century desperately striving for love and affection. About midway through, however, he becomes a stunning literary embodiment of Woolf's lover, Rita Sackville-West. Woolf's constant references to herself and her constant fun with other others make reading the book a bit like a treasure hunt, but it's certainly a joy to read even if you aren't searching for literary clues and connections. Reading Orlando is like sinking into a warm bathtub up to your neck and just enjoying the sensation and the blissful silence when you put your ears underwater.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
laura smith
Orlando is a charming and endearing book. it is certainly a beautiful love letter. However, it may mean more to the person it is written about than to us. Personally, I found the plot to be a constraint. Virginia Woolf's earlier books are also constrained by plot and she is at her best when she discards it or uses it only loosely enough to allow her sprawling style to make sense. Orlando, for me, is too caught up in the gender and time changes. Perhaps the book can be read while subtly ignoring these aspects and experiencing the book sentence by sentence (like in The Waves say). However, that might not be doing this book justice either. Perhaps I simply did not understand or buy into the premise of the book or some of the plot details. But I would recommend any other Woolf book I have read over this one.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
lauren angeletta
There is very little I could add to the reviews of "Orlando" that have swirled around the cosmos since its publication in October of 1928. The constant repetition of it being "the longest love letter" is lazy scholarship at its finest. I am afraid, while I appreciate her as an actor, Ms. Swinton's introduction is unnecessary as this book has stood on its own two feet for nearly 84 years and hardly needs propping up at this late date - unless its geriatric bones are creaking too loudly for current readers to hear the music of the text. Ms. Swinton's prose is sketchy, and rife with typos (the latter hopefully a function of electronic processing)but I do get why this seemed necessary considering the publisher's estimation of the reading public, which is insulting. I just don't like it. I own a first edition of "Orlando", and never thought it needed an introduction to the text, but what do I know? I rated it with five stars for the book, not for the superfluous introduction.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
shelley wilemon
Orlando is a man attracted to a Russian woman in trousers who looks like a man. A despondent Orlando goes to Turkey as an ambassador and emerges as a woman. Orlando is pursued by a man who is a woman. Orlando falls in love with a man and in a bizarre sequence they confess to each other that they are the other sex. But they remain the sex in which they presented themselves to each other, get married, and Orlando has a baby. Oh, and all this takes over three centuries.

It's easy to see why Virginia Woolf is admired by modernists, litarati and feminists. Woolf transitions seamlessly between gender and centuries in a classic of modernism that can just as easily be labeled postmodern today. Whatever you want to call it, Jaklak sez check it out.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
brian jones
I can't stop thinking about Virginia Woolf's "Orlando" in connection with the shooting in Florida.

"Orlando" was about Vita Sackville-West (whose father followed a Continental/Holy Roman Empire practice, rather than English practice, and disinherited and disenfranchised her in favor of a nephew), and it traces the conflict between the English legal system and the Continental/Holy Roman Empire system on gender issues that became particularly intensified after Elizabeth I's "body of a woman, but heart, stomach and mind of a king" 1500s reign in rebuttal of the Marianist doctrine of the Council of Trent and the Salic Law, the British Navy's defeat of the invading Spanish Armada seeking to impose these things in England, the founding of Philadelphia in a 2x purchase of land from the Lenape and the Crown providing leverage for the documentation of the 1689 Bill of Rights (of "Person" not of "Man") which galvanized the English MIdlands Enlightenment, and its 20th Century discovery of DNA making paternity as provable as maternity.

The current conflict between England and the EU traces from this because of Britain's "rights of the child" law which considers both bio parents baseline responsible for the child, while the EU, by and large, imposes a "virgin birth" legal fiction (which possibly derives from the first Cult of ISIS).
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
susan warner
Oh, what a romp this is! When Virginia Woolf isn't feeling sorry for herself, she can be a delight. Don't read this book as a treatise on sexual identity or societal roles. Woolf describes the book as a biography, and that's what it is. Orlando makes his (then her) way through the world, trying to make sense of it and, from time to time, trying to fit in. It wreaks havoc with your love life when you don't age over the centuries (just ask Anne Rice's vampires). But it does give you perspective, and that is why we read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
patrick o casey
The story begins with Orlando as a passionate young nobleman in Queen Elizabeth's court. By the end, Orlando is a 36-year-old woman three centuries later. Orlando witnesses the making of history from its edge. A close examination of the nature of sexuality and the changing climate of the passing centuries. Very novel and engaging if a bit loose-ended at times.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
h e regis
"Orlando" served as my sweeping introduction to the incredible writing of Virginia Woolf. (For anyone who has seen the movie, do yourself a favor, and read this amazing book!) One is forced to wonder what sort of genius mind Woolf possessed; only a mind of the finest tuning could have produced such a work! "Orlando" is truly representative of superior literature and demonstrates the art of writing at its finest! No review does the novel justice...any topic imaginable is covered..of course, all is reviewed from the standpoint of five passing centuries and multiple backdrops ranging from the exotic to the droll. Woolf's treatment of sexuality, intelligence, consciousness, time, and the human psyche is poignant. "Orlando" is definitely worth the read. No matter the reader, "Orlando" is sure to be an unforgettable novel, its author's genius surely to be admired.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kathy carswell
An adult fairy tale exploring gender roles, role reversals, and the creation of fiction/poetry in Elizabethan to early 20 c England (with a brief stop in Constantinople and a stay among the gypsies along the way). Hilarious and inventive. Marvelous prose. By the way, I saw the movie some years back and was very confused by it - not so with the novel.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
sonali mishra
I like to think myself a very well-rounded reader (I have my degree in English), but I don't know if the genius of Virginia Woolf was just beyond me in Orlando. I enjoyed the story and the various historical characters that made appearances throughout, but something about it went a bit over my head. It was a strange tale of adventure and romance, with Orlando seeking the beauties of life and poetry throughout the centuries.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jon farmelo
Virginia Woolf is the greatest author of the 20th century for me.The perfect language, the capacity of her imagination and the power of her literature impressed me very much. Orlando is not from our world.She/he ýs from the fantastic planet which Virginia Woolf lived in.SHE/HE for just a person, what a fantasy.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
katrina roberts
I wanted to read this book because I saw the movie years ago and it left me confused. I am even more confused now. Confused as to why this piece of crap ever got published in the first place. It is obviously written by a disturbed, maybe even schizophrenic, mind. The one point I took away from the book is that the author believes that being published is the one worthwhile goal in life. That writing the perfect poem is the epitome of success. Which is ironic, because what she ended up writing and having published is vomit.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jadeshadow73
i read the book after watching the film (4 times) and found it just as wonderful as the film. orlando is a character that never grows tiresome and although she is very old, everything seems to be new and fresh in her eyes. also, the reflections on how gender roles affect us and how we are seen were fascinating. i love the way the book is written as well-with woolf commenting as the biographer-because it adds to the plot and helps to organize orlando's crazy life and her many emotions. i think many people do not give this book a fair chance since the subject matter is a bit different than the norm (a 400-year-old who is born a boy and then turns into a girl) but i challenge anyone to read this book and not find at least one thing they can relate to.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
marvi
After exploring the literary genius of Virginia Wolff within her book "Mrs. Dalloway", I was eager to read other books by her. My brother's name is Orlando. My mother had been reading the book while she was pregnant with him and loved the book so much that she named him after the main character. Of course I had to read it. I have never read anything like Virginia Wolf's books before. Orlando is probably the best book I have ever read. Her style is so creative and enjoyable. This is a fantastic read. The movie is also good.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
deb odland
We had to read "To the Lighthouse" in high school, and based on that book, I thought Virginia Woolf was a chore. I still hate "To the Lighthouse." But "Orlando" is fun, carefree, and witty. I recommend it to anyone who thinks that Woolf is impossible.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
shahab
Orlando is broad and wide (time-wise and subject-wise). It's a costume drama, and although the plot is interesting, I felt like I needed to cross-reference English literary history books while reading. Woolf varies her prose style with the time period, and although the idea is novel and she explores gender questions expertly, I am always more interested in small, emotional stories than sprawling epics.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
janet stella
Just saw the movie with Tilda Swinton for the 4th time, for my Gender and Sexuality in Film class. Visually lush, intelligent and thought-provoking, with so much to say about gender roles, it can make us question what we think we know about how men and women are supposed to be. Watch the movie, read the book.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
estefaniasv
That's the second VW book for me to read (the first being the excellent to the light house )

In orlando i must say i found myself feeling the worse thing you can experience with a book : struggling to finish it !

That's not due to the fact that it is poorly written ,no... on the contrary but i didn't like the idea of the book !

I mean ,VW gives me the feeling that she is an angry person and reflecting her anger on unending pages , it left me with the feeling that if she was a Man she would have written that book anyway but this time critsizing her gender
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
jenny hinojosa
.....isn't that someplace in Florida?

It would be interesting to see what old VW would have made of that section of the planet had she decided to incorporate it into her novel. She was, however, a member of a clique which chose to incarcerate itself in the English Cotswolds for the main part. Ah, wait...I feel an analogy coming on.....nope, it's gone!

There's nothing amazing about 'Orlando' it was a vehicle for Heaven knows what hang-up Woolf was pretending to endure at the time. No one in that era wrote for entertainment or pleasure, it was always to make some point or other. Thankfully the 'real' focus of most of these idle rants are lost in the mists of time.

It does, however, contain some cute imagery; the bit where the River Thames suddenly becomes unfrozen is good....I regard the presumed ancestors of Michael Winner hosting the mass banquet condemned to a watery eternity sans iceberg as semi-historic.

All in all, this tome should be read and sneered at .... like all such books.

One shouldn't focus on the overall plot but the few mini-gems sparsely scattered throughout the text.
Please Rate Orlando: A Biography
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