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on 26 April 2015
Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is the well known story an English Nobleman who works for the Queen in Elizabethan times. He has his heart broken by a Russian princess, and so he decides to leave the country. He becomes an ambassador for England in the city of Constantinople. During a fight in Constantinople, Orlando falls into a deep sleep, awakening days later as a woman. The novel then returns to England, where Orlando must take her place as an English woman in 19th century society.

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.
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on 10 October 2012
Being a book I had to read for my Gender and Sexuality class this year at university, this was not a book I was looking forward to at all. I haven't had the best of luck with Virginia Woolf over the past couple of years and after reading the first couple of pages, I wanted to read it even less.

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.
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on 27 September 2010
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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on 7 September 2016
Find Amazon books a treat to buy, always found what I was looking for, all have been in good condition! Would recommend this book, a biography of Vita Sackville-West.
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on 1 August 2017
Great idea, well written, drags on a little but a classic nonetheless.
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on 14 October 2013
I had no idea what was going on in this novel but I loved it anyway. The prose is delicious and should be read for that alone. I also appreciate the introduction which helped to explain a lot of things. Recommended, just for the prose.
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Because we know how Woolf met her end, and because we know that she suffered several breakdowns, it is easy to backward read her writing to find evidence of the intensity of her suffering, and forget that she also lived with an intense awareness of joy – and, perhaps more easily ignored, wit, playfulness and ordinary moments of satisfaction , gaiety and pleasure

All these – including suffering, ennui and so-so are to be found rolled up in Orlando – as well as evidence of her intellect, her research and her always questioning mind

Written as a kind of love-letter, game and amusement both for her own creative pleasure and as the same for her lover and friend Vita-Sackville West, Orlando is both a highly readable, accessible introduction to Woolf’s writing, easily enjoyed by a teenager – I was 14, 15 or 16 when I first devoured this – and repaying later, more nuanced and reflective study, after surrendering to her more complex ‘difficult’ work

Why this is such a pleasurable read for a thoughtful teenager is that one of its major themes is the trying on of identity and the discovering both its fluidity and dizzying possibilities, and its kernel of ‘this is my true core, inviolate from the influence of time, place, culture – and gender.

What a very surprising and modern book this must have been on its publication, in 1928, for those who looked behind its playful inventions and fantasies

Orlando is a beautiful young man, son of an aristocratic family, aged 16, with spectacularly attractive legs, shown to perfection in the costume of the times – the latter years of the sixteenth century. He is a moody, sullen and open-hearted, candid young man. Lest that sound contradictory, people are, and Woolf always reminds us of that. The elderly Queen Elizabeth, who always took a shine to comely young men, makes him an Order of the Garter. However, there is something strangely androgyne about Orlando and this is not the extent of his strangeness. He has something, which Woolf does not waste time on trying to explain, which makes him able to jump time as easily as space. She is not interested, as an SF writer might be, in explaining this : her interest is in identity in time, in history, in geography, so we follow Orlando, who not only jumps time – and various of his acquaintances similarly do so – but jumps gender. Falling into a deep sleep and melancholy following the failure of a love affair with a similarly androgynous young woman in 1608, and after making one of his seamless time jumps to the Restoration, and becoming an Ambassador in Turkey, another sleep follows, and he wakens as a woman. The Lady Orlando is no different in many ways to Lord Orlando – his/her core nature is the same, gender allows, encourages, forbids – in time and in place, certain manifestations of nature. Woolf has great fun with this, but also, she is offering delicious possibilities to readers who come to her in that time where they are exploring identity, discovering who they are, who they might be, who they won’t be

Woolf of course was the daughter of Sir Leslie Stephen, himself an author, a critic, an historian and biographer – and all of these strands are woven into this book, which is an once a history and a ‘biography’ of Orlando, and a meditation upon writing, reading and literary criticism. In fact, the final joke is Woolf’s presentation of this as a non-fiction by the inclusion of an index. Within which we will find Shakespeare, Pope, Dryden and others referenced, alongside such marvellous inventions as Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine, and the Archduchess Harriet of Finster-Aarhorn (see Archduke Harry) – who, with a physiognomy remarkably like a startled hare must surely be a little dig at Lady Ottoline Morrell.

Though I did find the final section of the book, bringing it to the ‘now’ of her writing in 1928, dragged a little, this was such a pleasure to read again
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on 12 October 2014
This book is weird. Ostensibly about a boy growing up in Elizabethan England who becomes a favourite of the Queen. He falls for a Russian Princess but loses her. He goes to Turkey as an ambassador, falls asleep for a week and wakes up as a woman. He/she falls in with gypsies but escapes back to his/her estates in England. She potters around for a couple of hundred years and marries a strange man who is constantly at sea. 
There are a few lines in the book which wouldn't be out of place in a modern day sitcom. I think there are lots of in-jokes in the book but, since I'm not in, they were lost on me. The author remembers every so often that she's poking fun at biographers. Then again she allows her intellect free rein to wander where it will. The book is an interesting concept but is esentially a rambling mishmash of pretentious, self indulgent codswollop
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on 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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Really a fantasy biography this was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West and her family history. Although meeting a popular reception with both critical acclaim from critics and some much needed money for the Woolf family, in later years Virginia herself wished she had not published this. This is possibly because it is in some ways a love letter as such to Vita, and has always been seen as a bit of a tale that could create gossip.

We first meet Orlando when he is sixteen and we then follow the progress of the character through the centuries, this coming to an end in 1928. So we go from the late 16th Century all the way through to the early 20th Century. I think most people who have not read this before come to this story not only because it is one of Woolf’s most accessible, but because they know that the character of Orlando changes sex, waking up one day at thirty to find that he has become a woman.

Do not expect historical accuracy here, this is as I have already mentioned a fantasy novel albeit one that looks at what it means to be a male or a female, but also takes in women’s rights as well as other political issues, all with a bit of satire. With the current trend being talking about gender fluidity it is reassuring in some ways to know that this isn’t a new subject, and Virginia Woolf had already written about it in this novel.

It is also interesting to note that of the other lesbian novels that came out at the same time as this, this was the most successful and is still probably the most read. The reason for this is that this doesn’t actually come out with the expression lesbianism, or Sapphism, but attacks the issue obliquely, thus not causing controversy at the time. We also must remember that Orlando although changing with regards to sexual bits doesn’t actually change in other ways unconsciously. As Vita’s son, Nigel Nicolson wrote this is the longest love letter in literary history.
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