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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The very fabric of life was magic."
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...
Published on 12 Mar. 2006 by Mary Whipple

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Frustrating and exhilarating
I have not read much from Woolf, but the two works I have had the opportunity to: A Room of One's Own and The Voyage Out left me in thrall of her incandescent intelligence and the talent to turn a phrase. Where the other two works felt totally invested in getting my attention and holding it, Orlando felt more unruly, more of an ephemeral, "aesthete" piece that was more of...
Published 8 months ago by coronaurora


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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The very fabric of life was magic.", 12 Mar. 2006
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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. (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, 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 creativity 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. This is one of the most playful and delightful novels of the twentieth century. n Mary Whipple
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars clever and thought provoking, 27 Sept. 2010
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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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60 of 64 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Woolf gets weird and wonderful...again!, 4 July 2001
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
4.0 out of 5 stars A writer's holiday, 6 Dec. 2002
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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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A funny fictional biography, 23 Jun. 2008
I had to study this book in the first year of my degree. I am very glad of this, as I might not have encountered this amusing and original work of Woolf's otherwise. The tone of 'Orlando' is quite different to that of her other well-known novels such as 'To The Lighthouse' and 'Mrs Dalloway' - I would say that it is more 'accessible'. Despite its somewhat surreal plot (a sixteenth-century nobleman ends up as a twentieth-century female writer), the historical periods are described with realistic detail, and the reader's perceptions are challenged throughout. The themes of gender, race, truth, art and freedom, which are prevalent in the book, are still as relevant today as they were in 1928.

The Oxford World's Classics edition is well worth buying over cheaper ones; not only is the cover pleasant to look at, but there is a wealth of extra material in the form of notes, a pictorial insert, a lengthy bibliography, and an interesting and useful introduction. Highly recommended!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Frustrating and exhilarating, 26 Jun. 2014
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This review is from: Orlando (Kindle Edition)
I have not read much from Woolf, but the two works I have had the opportunity to: A Room of One's Own and The Voyage Out left me in thrall of her incandescent intelligence and the talent to turn a phrase. Where the other two works felt totally invested in getting my attention and holding it, Orlando felt more unruly, more of an ephemeral, "aesthete" piece that was more of a posing showcase of the best Woolf can do with a novel's format and how deeply felt her feminism is. It's also an exhibit of how fierce a modernist she is, the first evidence of it in Orlando being penned on the border of fiction and biography with an intrusive biographer-narrator who, very oddly, seems to be on the shoulder of and writing looking back at our century old titular character all at once and somewhat unsuccessfully, keeps letting us know the difficulties of chronicling such a life.

Orlando, born a man in Elizabethan England is driven to solitude, nature and poetry. The Queen of England takes much fancy of this earnest young man who in his straitjacketed world, gets married and finds himself head-over-heels in love for the daughter of a visiting Muscovite ambassador during the Great Frost. With the Frost's thawing, the enigmatic Russian love deserts him and he, already driven to melancholy in his happiest moments (only a knife's edge separates these, according to him), falls into an unrousable sleep for a few days. Waking up in the century after, he travels to Turkey as a British Ambassador in the Crusades and does much wandering and soul-searching with the gypsies. Sailing back to England and falling in another one of his sleeps, he finds himself transformed into a woman and thrusted into the subservient social-role of a female in Victorian England and much later into the vulgar age of modernity with new sights and manners in late Edwardian era.

Fashioned on her real-life author friend Vita Sackville-West and as an ode to her, while I enjoyed all of Woolf's subversions and flights, I am unsure if she is able to turn a mind-bending premise of a century-spanning mock-biography into a novel. There are moments of brilliance galore: equivalent to a real biography, there are pictures of our mock-real-Orlando punctuating the text; she with her command of the language remains fiercely quotable on issues of time, gender roles, gender identity, unattainable ideals of Truth, beauty and companionship.

While individually compelling, the sum total of these solipsistic fantasies, allusions and melancholic streams-of-consciousness fail to lend the narrative any engine. Woolf repeatedly alludes to an inviolable, central hard fibre, the "core" of every human's nature, to which gender and sex are mere trifles and afterthoughts, which I wholly agree to and applaud her for lacing this in her prose: this and her reverence for the aching beauty and constancy of Nature. But despite my philosophical alignment, Orlando remains strongly a beautiful idea, almost always an arm-length short of a fictional person you'd care or root for. Only when tethered in real-life interactions with her/his lovers at the start and towards the end, we get any sense of him. Certainly he cannot be a mirror to the changing world and social mores through the centuries (the most obvious reading of Woolf's choice of such a long-living character) encased as he/she is in a somewhat static internal life of his own "self".

While Orlando observes and we observe him observing himself turn into an anachronism, all his/her thoughts on gender roles, the farce of society and the ugliness of rushing modern world, they skate off the written page as they veer and shoot at all directions all at once, like shifts in seasons and a person's moods. With such a vacillating, spinning central figure, the fictional piece wobbles like a badly manufactured spinning top and Woolf couldn't care less. She is here to amuse us and muse with us. And it's best if one takes this fantastic escapade of hers each page at a time. I for one, missed her more considered fiction and character creation of The Voyage Out and will be on a hunt to find that in her other tomes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Loved my first Woolf novel!, 9 July 2011
By 
Helen S - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
Virginia Woolf is one of those authors who I've always felt slightly intimidated by but after finally reading one of her books I'm pleased to say I'm no longer afraid of her. I'm glad I chose to begin with this book because I found it witty, engaging and surprisingly easy to read, as well as being a very original and fascinating story. In Orlando, Woolf has surely created one of the most unusual protagonists in literature: a character who lives for four hundred years and changes gender midway through his/her life.

The book, although obviously a work of fiction, is presented as a biography. We first meet Orlando as a young sixteenth-century nobleman, during the final years of the reign of Elizabeth I, and the biographer follows our hero/heroine throughout the centuries. The book covers a period of four hundred years and during this time Orlando ages only slightly. At one point in the story Orlando sleeps for a week and awakens to find that he is now a woman - and gradually her perceptions of the world and the roles of males and females begin to change. No explanation is given for Orlando's remarkable life span or gender change; it's simply accepted that those things have occurred.

As you would expect, over the course of four hundred years Orlando has a lot of unusual experiences and adventures, both as a man and as a woman living through the Elizabethan age, the Great Frost (one of the most memorable episodes of the story, for me), the Restoration period, the 18th century, and the Victorian era. One thread that runs through the entire story is Orlando's love of literature and attempts at becoming a writer. The story finally comes to its conclusion in 1928, at which point we can look back at everything Orlando has been through and what she has learned about gender, love and what it means to be an artist.

I'm not a fan of the stream of consciousness writing style but although there's some of that in Orlando, particularly in the second half of the book, much of it was in the form of a more conventional narrative and I didn't find it hard to read at all. I was aware that this book has been described as a love letter from Woolf to her friend, Vita Sackville-West, but I deliberately avoided reading the introduction first as I wanted to enjoy the book on its own merits as a novel first. But after I'd finished the story it was interesting to turn back and find out more about the inspiration behind it and how some of the events that take place in the story relate to aspects of Sackville-West's and Woolf's own lives.

Orlando is a very clever and imaginative piece of writing. I've heard that this is one of Woolf's more accessible books and now that I've read it, I think I would advise other people who are new to her work to try this one first too.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A hymn to being an author, 28 July 2010
A treatise on what it takes to be an author disguised as a tribute to a bi-sexual friend. Told as a fable covering 400 years of history this is beautifully written but without an obvious narrative so that at times it is slightly laboured.

This work is generally described as a tribute to Woolf's bisexual friend, Vita Sackville-West and it's true that Orlando starts the book as a boy and changes into a woman during its course and there are other points of reference as well but in truth it is a hymn to being an author, and all that it takes and entails to become a real writer.

The book is written as a biography of Orlando but comes across as more of a biography of an author or perhaps even autobiography. It is written in a very simple style like a fable or fairy tale with straightforward language used in layers to produce penetrating descriptions of scenes and emotions. An object under scrutiny is described in four, five, or perhaps a dozen different ways to build a convincing picture. The setting at England's royal court, the strangeness of much of what happens and the enormous timescale enhance the feeling of reading a myth.

Orlando is born into a noble English family in the last days of the reign of Elisabeth I and dies in 1928 some 400 years later and the book follows his (later her) story. This covers a variety of extraordinary adventures and experiences most notably changing sex, but including various types of love and intercourse with different kinds of society and the artistic world and importantly Orlando writes and loves literature.

This last is a constant thread through the book as Orlando right from the start is a would-be writer and may even have seen Shakespeare at work. Although she is stung by the cruel opinions of the poet Nicholas Green into burning most of her work, she keeps one poem - the Oak Tree - which is worked on and over for four hundred years until, meeting Green again in the Victorian age, it is published.

At the end, the reader is asked to look back over all that Orlando has experienced as man and woman, and felt and done and the huge time span over which she has done it; to understand that only armed with these experiences, and with endless revision of the work, can an author be created. This is finally expressed as being a multitude of people inside all of whom have a voice (Woolf suffered from mental illness so this may have been a resonant image for her).

The cleverness of the writing is hidden by the use of simple words and phrases but this does create a very emotional and evocative picture of a life and world. However, the book drags, because it never becomes clear where it is going - it's like modern maths, you are just supposed to discover it - and that puts a lot of weight on simply enjoying the writing.

This was one of Woolf's most popular books during her lifetime but I suspect that most modern readers will prefer her other works.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Playful and accessible Woolf, 17 July 2006
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This is probably Virginia's Woolf's most accessible novel. It tells the story of Orlando, who starts life as a charming boy in Elizabethan England and then lives through the remaining centuries till Woolf's own time (early 20th century England) after changing sex halfway through the novel. It sounds weird but it works fabulously.

Witty, lyrical and playful, with Woolf's distinctive prose this is definitely the place to start if you've never read one of the best novelists/writers of the 20th century.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars virginia Woolf, 26 April 2011
Virginia Wool's biography of Orlando is a superbly written page turner of a book. Freer and more humorous than some of her other works, it's an enjoyable read.
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Orlando (Penguin Hardback Classics)
Orlando (Penguin Hardback Classics) by Virginia Woolf (Hardcover - 3 Nov. 2011)
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