‘Orlando’ by Virginia Woolf

It’s funny it has taken me this long to pick up another book by Virginia Woolf. In 12th grade we had to do a project in a subject of our choosing on a topic we could elect. I went for English because I knew it would be easy for me and when I suggested writing about ‘A Room of One’s Own’ and the women’s movement in the 1920s and 1930s in Britain, I instantly became my teachers favourite pupil. He didn’t expect any of this from a pupil in a basic English course where some kids hadn’t even mastered the pronunciation of a proper TH yet. That was my first experience with Ms. Woolf’s writing. I later tried reading ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ but it wasn’t the right time for me to read it then.

Moving on to ‘Orlando’. This is a rather odd novel, which is also characterised as a biography and a love letter to Virginia Woolf’s lover Vita Sackville-West. It’s the story of a boy being born into the Elizabethan time in England which isn’t so odd only he morphs into a woman at some point during the story and also travels through time ending in the then present of the 1920s. I’m going ahead and calling Virginia Woolf very fluid in her sexuality (she was married to Leonard Woolf while also being romantically involved with Ms. Sackville-West) which is evident in her writing. Orlando was published in 1928 and is so different from ‘The Well of Loneliness‘ which was published in the same year. Both novels deal with sexual identity but in very different ways.

In Orlando, going through different sexes, having relationships with all sides of the gender spectrum is not a big deal, it happens like the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening. Men dress as women, women dress as men and then there are also people who live forever and can change their sex. No biggie! On the other hand there is The Well of Loneliness which paints such a different picture of being a homosexual in England at that time, the character had to move to the more liberal France in order to be herself, always seeing herself as an invert. Not that Orlando is portrayed as a homosexual per se but gender and sexual orientation is such a non issue which actually fits into Virginia Woolf’s opinions about writing. She believed that the author should be completely oblivious of their own sex and write regardless of it. This novel is a continuation of said thought.

“But let other pens treat of sex and sexuality; we quit such odious subjects as soon as we can.”

While reading Orlando I was reminded what a foreword thinker Virginia Woolf was and how she really was born way ahead of her times, even our time yet is not enough and she has been dead for 72 years now. I am truly impressed by her work. She may not be the most accessible writer but she does ring true to me on so many issues, it’s magical. I highlighted a whole bunch of lines in the book which I am not going to share with your because they’re way too many.

I remember saying in 12th grade that she was maybe not a role model for the women’s movement in the 1920s but fitted way better into the 1930s where a lot of stuff had already happened and fighting was happening differently. She was also more of an observer, a journalist of her time so to say, writing and commenting on social issues which are still issues 70 years later instead of standing on the streets fighting. If I could have dinner with one dead writer, it would be Virginia Woolf because I find her completely fascinating and would love to get to know her at least a little bit.

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