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Orlando Kindle Edition
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|Kindle Edition, 14 Jan 2014||
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I'm not entirely sure this book was for me. The more I reflect on reading it, the more I'm not entirely sure I enjoyed it. I have only read one other book by Virginia Woolf and that was Mrs Dalloway, and that too gives me that same sense of “what did I just read?” I guess my feelings are partly due to Woolf’s stream of consciousness style. It’s very quick and I sometimes felt lost, like I was reading pages and pages and wasn’t entirely sure what the point was. I put this book down so many times and it took me a good while to finish it.
That being said, I still think Orlando is a pretty interesting work, and I much prefer it to Mrs Dalloway. Orlando has a lot to say about women and the way women are treated. The story is written as a love letter to Vita Sackville-West, a woman Virginia Woolf had an affair with. It shows the passion of the Elizabethan age as well as both resenting and craving the idea of love.
It is written in a very experimental style, it has a biographical feel to it, and I liked the elements in which the narrator stepped in to say a few words. It was full of wit and humour, as well as telling a very tender love story. It has very beautiful writing and imagery, but I still found it a very strange book to read.
There is also a rather interesting film adaptation with Tilda Swinton, and I have to say it does a pretty great job of converting the book to the screen. While this book may not have been entirely for me, I think it’s a really important piece of literature. It discusses a lot about writing and why people choose to write, and overall is an immensely influential piece of writing.
The beginning of the book is extremely hard going and slow to get into. Set in the Elizabethan England, there is a lot of information about who is ruling the country at the time and where Orlando stands in the middle of it all. The language used is quite pretentious and needlessly long winded. These were the main reasons for me not being able to get into the story immediately and not wanting to continue reading. However, after putting the book down for a couple of weeks and giving it another shot, I found it easier and easier to read as I continued.
Orlando spans over a couple of hundred years which is extremely strange and different for a novel and I didn't quite understand why for a while. Orlando, at the beginning of the story, is a man who a nobleman during the rule of Queen Elizabeth, then going on to be an Ambassador in Constantinople. Part way through the story though, Orlando falls asleep and wakes up a woman. Another strange part of the story. Anyway, as Orlando changes to be a woman, still having all knowledge of her life previously as a man, the times change throughout the story. This is the main theme of the book. Having been both a man and a woman, Orlando is able to see how the treatment of women changes throughout time and also from both points of view.
I actually really enjoyed the way that Woolf changed the era being written about. I thought that this would bug me and that it would make the plot flow at a slightly weird pace. Strangely, this is something that I felt made the plot flow quite well as the time periods are quite blurred at times and the change happens so quickly that you barely notice. It was also interesting to see how Orlando changed over time, both when he went from man to woman and also how thoughts changed about different things. As the book ends in 1928, there are so many changes in the world compared with when the story first started.
Orlando is also very funny - this I wasn't expecting at all. Through Orlando's experiences as a woman, it becomes clear that she doesn't really know what to do in certain situations. She explains at one point that if she had still been a man, you would have taken out a sword and cut someone's head off. Things like this she cannot do as a woman so the funny parts of the book came when Orlando found herself in a dissimilar situation. I laughed a fair amount through reading this book and this isn't something I have experienced with a Woolf novel before.
Even though I had a bad experience with this book to begin with, it turned out that I really quite liked it. If you haven't been a fan of Woolf in the past, like me, you may find this novel a bit better.
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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