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Orlando: a Biography Unknown Binding – 1963


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Unknown Binding, 1963

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Product details

  • Unknown Binding: 234 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (1963)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0019Y2LE4
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)

More About the Author

Virginia Woolf is now recognized as a major twentieth-century author, a great novelist and essayist and a key figure in literary history as a feminist and a modernist. Born in 1882, she was the daughter of the editor and critic Leslie Stephen, and suffered a traumatic adolescence after the deaths of her mother, in 1895, and her step-sister Stella, in 1897, leaving her subject to breakdowns for the rest of her life. Her father died in 1904 and two years later her favourite brother Thoby died suddenly of typhoid.

With her sister, the painter Vanessa Bell, she was drawn into the company of writers and artists such as Lytton Strachey and Roger Fry, later known as the Bloomsbury Group. Among them she met Leonard Woolf, whom she married in 1912, and together they founded the Hogarth Press in 1917, which was to publish the work of T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster and Katherine Mansfield as well as the earliest translations of Freud. Woolf lived an energetic life among friends and family, reviewing and writing, and dividing her time between London and the Sussex Downs. In 1941, fearing another attack of mental illness, she drowned herself.

Her first novel, The Voyage Out, appeared in 1915, and she then worked through the transitional Night and Day (1919) to the highly experimental and impressionistic Jacob's Room (1922). From then on her fiction became a series of brilliant and extraordinarily varied experiments, each one searching for a fresh way of presenting the relationship between individual lives and the forces of society and history. She was particularly concerned with women's experience, not only in her novels but also in her essays and her two books of feminist polemic, A Room of One's Own (1929) and Three Guineas (1938).

Her major novels include Mrs Dalloway (1925), the historical fantasy Orlando (1928), written for Vita Sackville-West, the extraordinarily poetic vision of The Waves (1931), the family saga of The Years (1937), and Between the Acts (1941). All these are published by Penguin, as are her Diaries, Volumes I-V, and selections from her essays and short stories.


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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 12 Mar 2006
Format: Paperback
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 Sasha departs for Russia without him, 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, who is also the 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.
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.
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60 of 64 people found the following review helpful By serensays@hotmail.com on 4 July 2001
Format: Paperback
Written as a gift to her close friend, Vita Sackville-West, this is a firm favourite amongst initiated Woolf fans. For those who know little about Woolf, it is also a good starting point. Whilst "Orlando" carries much of Woolf's trademark stream of conciousness style and dry feminist wit, it never seems over indulgent or inaccessible. The mock biographical format makes for an interesting and more structured read, but it is worth noting that there is little or no explanation for some of the more fantastic events. For instance (and if you don't want to know the spoilers, turn away now!) it is never made clear why Orlando lives for so long, nor are we enlightened as to the cause of his unexpected change in gender. Unbelievable though the plot is at times, it is quite good fun, and the freedom allowed to Woolf by the weird and wonderful nature of the protagonist is well tempered by the more sober and considered style. The prose is wonderful, as you would expect with Woolf, flowing easily and, at times, lyrically. As we follow the twists and turns of our hero's life, so we are compelled on not just by the absorbing plot, but also by the excellent narrative style. Woolf balances the factual, dry voice of a biographer with the omniscience of a third person viewpoint. This allows her to make many interesting points about historical figures and gender roles alike. Not just a novel about life and a lover, or a thinly concealed feminist tirade, Orlando is full of dry comments to raise a smile and is worth a read if only for the diversity of imagery and characters. It stands as one of the most enjoyable Woolf novels for old fans and new alike.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 6 Dec 2002
Format: Paperback
A writer's holiday is what Virginia Woolf called this novel. It was more fun and less compulsive writing for her than her previous and later novels. Orlando is a fantastical novel which begins somewhere in 1500 and ends in 1928. The main character is Orlando who lives for this long period of time and also morphs from man into women. Woolf wrote this novel for her friend (lover) Vita Sackville-West and is one of the best love letters ever. it's written as a biography and the author often directs herself at the readers. There are also a lot of gender issues which are touched upon in the book and it's great to read the subtility with which she handels these things.
Although Orlando is one big fantasy I think it's the most accesible novel Woolf has written. It still has her distinct style. But the changes of scenery and times are very entertaining. It's such a nice idea to have a couple of centuries encapsulated in one book.
A must read (even if you think Woolf is to difficult.or boring!..she isn't!!)
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jaggers on 27 Sep 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This novel is a wonderful, clever piece of writing by virginia woolf. The titular characters' life spans a number of centuries, transforming from male into female at one point and so able to see the world from a different gender perspective. Its both a charming and disarming way of reflecting on how men and women behave towards each other. Orlando as a female realises it is for her 'to refuse and then to yield' in the romantic encounters - as opposed to the male 'pursue and conquer' approach that Orlando had known as a male. Its a unique take on a well known situation and all wrapped up in such a lyrical way with words, descriptions and stream of consciousness that it is like someone reading you a fable on a cold winters day in the comfort of a wood panelled room complete with a blazing fire crackling in a fireplace.
Among the many insightful passages in this story, one that lingers describes the problematic nature of being witty in a social gathering. Reflecting on the many parties Orlando goes to (through the centuries) she realises there is only an illusion of witty conversation from the urbane erudite people who are members of this social scene, an illusion which keeps the notion of having fun well oiled until the evening when someone really is profoundly witty - and this tremendous moment provokes only silence and the break up of the whole social scene! I think about this often now when I watch QI - its great to watch on TV at a distance - but would that amount of wit bouncing around your home at a party actually be the end of any fun - I have a hunch that virginia woolf is right and that it would.
This is the first Woolf book I have read and its a great introduction; looking forward now to reading her other works.
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