A Biography

Book - 2000
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Once described as the 'longest and most charming love-letter in literature', the Virginia Woolf's Orlando is edited by Brenda Lyons with an introduction and notes by Sandra M. Gilbert in Penguin Classics.

Written for Virginia Woolf's intimate friend, the charismatic writer Vita Sackville-West, Orlando is a playful mock 'biography' of a chameleonic historical figure, immortal and ageless, who changes sex and identity on a whim. First masculine, then feminine, Orlando begins life as a young sixteenth-century nobleman, then gallops through three centuries to end up as a woman writer in Virginia Woolf's own time. A wry commentary on gender roles and modes of history, Orlando is also, in Woolf's own words, a light-hearted 'writer's holiday' which delights in ambiguity and capriciousness.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) is regarded as a major 20th century author and essayist, a key figure in literary history as a feminist and modernist, and the centre of 'The Bloomsbury Group'. This informal collective of artists and writers, which included Lytton Strachey and Roger Fry, exerted a powerful influence over early twentieth-century British culture. Between 1925 and 1931 Virginia Woolf produced what are now regarded as her finest masterpieces, from Mrs Dalloway (1925) to the poetic and highly experimental novel The Waves (1931). She also maintained an astonishing output of literary criticism, short fiction, journalism and biography, including the playfully subversive Orlando (1928) and A Room of One's Own (1929) a passionate feminist essay.

If you enjoyed Orlando , you might like Woolf's The Waves , also available in Penguin Modern Classics.

'I read this book and believed it was a hallucinogenic, interactive biography of my own life and future'
Tilda Swinton

Publisher: London : Penguin Books, 2000.
ISBN: 9780141184272
Characteristics: xlviii, 272 pages : illustrations ; 20 cm.


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Feb 09, 2018

I saw the movie in 1993, and enjoyed it, though I didn't always understand it. Seeing it on the library shelves recently, I decided to give it a try. The Vintage edition of 2004 has two introductions, to which I returned when I got bogged down. I often read it in short sections, then at other times would sail through sections--not skimming, but fascinated by the details and the changes in style and Orlando's life. Always, it took a great deal of concentration. Thoroughly wonderful, sly, witty, sometimes sarcastic, often sad. Interesting that Woolf's handling of the transgender theme is to have male Orlando, the British Ambasador to Constantinople, become very ill with fever, and wake up female. As simple as that! The book reminded me very much of "One Hundred Years of Solitude," both in some of its themes and its style, though written decades before that "original" magical realism novel. I've never been able to get through any of Woolf's novels before, though her life has long fascinated me. While this may be , as the introductions indicate, her best, I think I'll try some more. I will probably re-read this one at some point, and understand, and enjoy it, even more.

Jun 08, 2016

Challenging but rewarding in parts.

The chapters are long. The setting/time period are sometimes hard to pin down.

Once Orlando's gender changes halfway through things get more interesting - as Orlando thinks about the ways that her life has changed as a woman.

There is also a heightened level of comedy at this point in the story - as the other characters barely react to the change.

This is a book which felt most engaging at its center.

Read it if you're in the mood for some magical realism or gender discourse

Dec 18, 2013

one of woolf's most accessible novels, this is also one of the funniest and prettiest books i've ever read.

Oct 07, 2011

I totally didn’t get this one, although it was strangely readable. I lost track of who was transgendered and who was immortal and who was both, and wished that those aspects were a subject of the novel and not a device. Like many stories involving longer-than-human lengths of time, a great deal of it is spent on the beginning and then we zoom through the next few hundred years and come to a quick conclusion.

MomoT Sep 15, 2011

Not an easy read and quite frustrating in some ways, but sly and witty in others. Difficult to categorise.

Mar 31, 2011

Orlando who first starts off as a male who writes stories and poetry and over time, he turns into a she. And all his/her struggles with life and their running away and living life which supposedly lasts over 300 years. Unfortunately I didn't get much out of this book.


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AveryG_KCMO Apr 26, 2019

Once look out of a window at bees among flowers, at a yawning dog, at the sun setting, once think "how many more suns shall I see set," etc., etc., (the thought is too well known to be worth writing out) and one drops the pen, takes one's cloak , strides out of the room, and catches one's foot on a painted chest as one does so. For Orlando was a trifle clumsy.

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