Originally published in 1928 by Hogarth Press
My edition: the Penguin Modern Classics paperback
WHEN I Discovered This Classic
In my final year of university I took a module on Virginia Woolf, based solely on the fact that I found her life and inclusion in the Bloomsbury Group fascinating. I’d never read a single word of hers until then.
WHY I Chose to Read It
This is one of the books that I never managed to finish while studying her so I’d like to change that. It’s also Woolf’s longest novel and she can be really, really tough to read so I think it might be better read outside of that pressured environment!
WHAT Makes It a Classic
Woolf’s exploration of gender and identity was far beyond her time and done in her trademark whimsical style.
WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I have a very complicated relationship with Virginia Woolf. I think she was an amazing women and a tour de force of literature, and though I love her essays, letters and A Room of One’s Own, I really struggle to enjoy her fiction. I appreciate what she's doing, the beauty of her writing and gel with the themes she’s portraying, but there’s no enjoyment in it for me. That sadly continued into Orlando.
My first Woolf novel was actually the highly experimental Jacob’s Room, and then The Waves and Mrs Dalloway, so Orlando felt like a much easier Woolf novel than the ones I’d read previously. Though Orlando transforms from man to woman and lives through four centuries while only reaching the age of 36, everything felt straightforward and easy to understand. Until the last chapter, of course, where the novel went whimsical and experimental and further into the realm of magical realism.
Orlando is a mock biography of Orlando and the biographer has a really strong narrative voice. I love the way the reader was addressed directly with little asides and small explanations of what was going on in Orlando’s mind or how she spoke at certain times. It made the novel feel punchy and fun in a way that I’d never experienced with Woolf before.
It was really interesting coming back to Woolf after so long and realising how much of what I learned about her and what she believed in and experienced had stayed with me. Woolf is famous for her feminism, but also for her theories on gender; but Orlando also latches onto Woolf’s resentment towards the Victorian sensibilities and restrictions that she was born into. I loved seeing the biographer’s/Woolf’s observations on the position and roles of both men and women throughout the centuries.
While I’m definitely glad I read Orlando and I’m still in awe of Virginia Woolf, I didn’t really enjoy the reading process. I’m not sure if I’m going to continue reading Woolf’s novels; I may just dig deeper into her non-fiction.
WILL It Stay a Classic
It’s Virginia Woolf – Orlando isn’t going anywhere.
WHO I’d Recommend it To
- Those wanting a relatively easy introduction to Woolf’s work (also Mrs Dalloway!).
- People interested in gender theory.