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Orlando - various thoughts


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Hard to believe but I have finished Orlando.   :rolleyes:


The best smile of the day arose from the following lines:


"Madam", the man cried, leaping to the ground, "you're hurt".


"I'm dead, sir", she replied.


A few minutes later they became engaged.


This book was a puzzlement to me from beginning to end although a lot of her meanings were couched in sly and clever remarks and throwaway lines.  At times I wondered if Ms. Woolf had been dabbling in mind altering substances. The book, to me, was a lavish and fantastic fairy tale but with reference to reality hidden in the prose.  I can honestly say I have never read anything like it and at the same time I have a grudging admiration for a writer who can produce such a tale.  It was an experience.  :)

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Still reading my copy.  Last night I reached the part where we are heading into the 20th Century.  I absolutely loved the way we went from that to describing the ibad weather whic created all the dampness, to implications of the changes of mood and home decoration! So imaginative a train of thought and VW took me with her. 

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If I manage to get a good bit of Orlando read in one sitting I can sort of go with the flow, but when I leave it for a few days it takes me ages to settle back into it.

I've read several chunks while on longish bus journeys and now have a bunch of bus tickets as bookmarks, with jottings on the back of things that have made me think - with page numbers so I can take a second look. And words to look up when I'm near a dictionary.

I also went in for some underlining in the first chapter :yikes: .

It's not often that a book provokes that sort of reaction from me.

Not sure what that says about it.


I'm just a century behind Barblue :)

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I'm still with this. It took me ages to find where I was when I changed from ebook to paperback - it turns out that I was farther forward than I thought - and now I'm just about to start Chapter Five and the nineteenth century. Thoroughly enjoying it, even although I still don't really know what's happening and can easily relate to Meg's confusion when I haven't picked it up in a while. Fifty pages to go!


I read somewhere online that the prose is stream of consciousness but I've never read SOC before so don't know if that's true and I'll have to look it up to remind myself what it is.

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I finished reading the text last night.  My first though about the ending was that it was lame, but as i read the last five or six pages I could see through the words to something else.  Still thinking about that and trying to formulate some ideas and views on them.  I hope to return with more comments on that and the book as a whole later as I have quite a busy day today.  However, I have just glanced at the Index at the back and a smile spread across my face at the thought that a novel such as this could contain an Index of this kind as though purporting to be a book of some study.  I think VW was having a real game with us readers and personally I think she was very clever.

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I am glad I have read Orlando.  It's been something I have wanted to do for years.  However, it is not what I expected, having read Mrs Dalloway and To The Lighthouse some years ago.  If memory serves both books were enigmatic, and I was expecting similarities, but Orlando is something else entirely.  I have seen it said that it's a Fairy Story, and that's certainly a good description for me.  Only in a fairy story could you have someone live for several hundred years, not to mention changing sex whilst sleeping! But there is for me so much more in this book even if it is a fairy story.


Although I am aware that this is a novel and ought to be read as such and not a proxy for the author, I felt as if VW was speaking to the reader the whole time not just as a story teller, but as a writer, what it's like to be a writer, what it's like to feel as if you are someone born out of your time.  Trying to think about what it was like to be a woman during VW;s lifetime, then asserting independence or having an awareness of being attracted to the same sex as well as the opposite sex was not something that was expressed openly I think.  In may have been amongst her Bloomsbury group but for the general public, perhaps not.   In Orlando VW appears to want to let the readership know not only that these people exist but what it is like to be thus.


I felt as if VW was lecturing at times about what she felt and believed in. As a writer, she expresses her feelings of total involvement in writing (my copy p157, Vintage Books) She seems unable to write anything meaningful and muses that "we write, not with the fingers, but with the whole person.  The nerve which controls the pen winds itself about every fibre of our being, threads the heart, pierces the liver."  I found this aspect of the book fascinating.  It's as if VW was putting all her emotions into the one place.  She goes on to talk about having to take a husband because of the  'spirit of the age' at that time (the beginning of the 20th Century) whilst Orlando's attitudes were of the previous centuries in which she had existed. I wondered whether VW considered that she did'nt fit the times in which she lived.  As the narrative progresses over the next few pages I got the feeling Orlando was becoming more and more depressed and could not help but think that VW must have understood that state of mind very well.  Knowing how she died obviously led me that way in part, but still I am left wondering how much was a story and how much a vent for VWs emotions.


Towards the end when Orlando is musing on the fact that she is middle-aged (at 36 I might add), she is again thinking almost too much about herself   Interestingly she notes people can live the 'sixty-eight or seventy-two years allotted them' then goes on to say 'some we know to be dead though they walk among us; some are not yet born though they go through the forms of life; others are hudred of years old though they call themselves thirty-six.' And I was left thinking that perhaps it was the spirit being referred to.  Is there not a view - or perhaps religious view - that the spirit carries on over centuries through other bodies.  Is this what VW is meaning?


Not an easy read I would say, but certainly one that I am glad to have read.  It has certainly created quite a bit of 'Thought' contributions anyway and that has to be good.  I have a feeling I will carry on thinking about this books for some time yet. 

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I think VW was having a real game with us readers and personally I think she was very clever.

I’m glad that you really enjoyed this Barblue. I agree that Virginia Woolf was playing a game with the reader all the way through and sharing all sorts of jokes. Some I think I understood, but I confess that my knowledge of the chronology of literature styles is poor and so I probably missed most of those. Much of what she wrote was tongue in cheek, I’m sure, for example the way she mocked the traditional biographer who would usually be looking back on someone’s life and at times moulding it into the form wanted. I thought this biographer seemed more like a fellow traveller documenting the journey along the way, trying to keep up at times and sometimes completely unable to explain how or why things happened. The events were too bizarre, but also the biographer wanted to be free to say what she wanted. All deliberate of course. As I’ve said previously, that did irritate me a little, but I could see why she did it.


 She goes on to talk about having to take a husband because of the  'spirit of the age' at that time (the beginning of the 20th Century) whilst Orlando's attitudes were of the previous centuries in which she had existed. I wondered whether VW considered that she did'nt fit the times in which she lived.

I think that is so.  I seem to remember reading once (sorry can’t remember where) that Virginia felt she was expected to marry. Also, of course, that would apply to Vita Sackville-West. From Orlando’s story, I wondered whether the convention of marriage gave them a sort of freedom, a passport to doing things they couldn’t do as single women. They (Virginia/Vita/Orlando) were suddenly ‘respectable’ and could also go out, take lovers or write without being watched or pestered by suitors.  This was especially so when one’s husband was not around or it was an open marriage, as Vita Sackville-West’s appears to have been.


I have a feeling I will carry on thinking about this books for some time yet. 

Good - that sounds like we can look forward to hearing more.

Edited by angel
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Finished this while I was on holiday. Difficult to make a sensible response as I'm still thinking about it but a couple of quick points before I forget:


1. This was certainly not what I was expecting. The image I had in my mind (based on reading around Mrs Dalloway and To The Lighthouse to be honest, although not the books themselves) was of something much more strait-laced, more "classic".


2. I wasn't blown away by the ending - it felt almost like running out of steam. Although I wonder if that might have been deliberate? Because the spirit of an age, or an age itself, doesn't really end does it, it just imperceptibly becomes something else, another age or another time or whatever.


3. It's hard to put yourself in the place of a contemporary reader. I was constantly trying not to make comparisons with more recent dramatic forms, like films and television - where the ideas of time travel specifically, but also, hmm, a head-turning vastness of life, scope, experience, scale - have been explored. I'm not explaining myself very well. I guess reading "ground breaking" works long after the fact will always be disappointing in some ways, just like the idea of talking movies (or even, moving pictures) is disappointing in one sense - but we can still perhaps put ourselves more in the frame of mind of people reading/watching/listening to works for whom it really was something new.

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What a great discussion! I loved Orlando, it's such a rip through, well everything really. Some of Woolf's 'comments' might be a kind of conversation with Vita S-W. she couldn't inherit her family home because she was a woman and I think it grieved her greatly. Perhaps Woolf is writing a sort of alternative biography of her? A fantasy where she gets to live through all the ages of her (Vita's I mean) family home, historically and emotionally. I realise that's not the whole point of the book, but for me it adds an extra dimension. I like the mix of fantasy and reality, the view of a writer wrestling with creating and dodging the cultural, social norms and limitations both on her as a person and as a writer, trying to manouvre readers into reading what she is writing, taking them out of preconceived ideas of what a woman can (should?) be concerned with. I love all the silk and brocade of it and playing with writerly conventions (the hero riding his horse out of the mist to rescue the maiden), the returning lost child, the gypsies stealing one away to the wrong sort of life. Ripping yarns each and every one and all sewn together in one mad life. Such fun :)

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I thought that this book was amazing and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I had no idea what it was about but the prose was delicious and that's what kept me reading.  I'm reading the introduction and it did mention stream-of-consciousness style so that might be why I had no idea what was going on but it's a book I intend to read again and maybe I'll get more out of it then.


Glad I read it and one I would not have chosen for myself.

Edited by lunababymoonchild
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I agree lunababymoonchild and waawo - glad I read it and I wouldn't have chosen it but for BGO Group Read. I didn't particularly enjoy it when I read it, but like it more and more as I've thought about it and as we've discussed it.



Some of Woolf's 'comments' might be a kind of conversation with Vita S-W. she couldn't inherit her family home because she was a woman and I think it grieved her greatly. Perhaps Woolf is writing a sort of alternative biography of her? A fantasy where she gets to live through all the ages of her (Vita's I mean) family home, historically and emotionally. I realise that's not the whole point of the book, but for me it adds an extra dimension.


The idea of the house being Vita Sackville-West's had not occurred to me, Ailecornum, but it makes sense. I have just looked up the pictures and they help to give the idea.

I also like the phrase 'alternative biography'. I think we are probably used to authors taking a biography and combining fact and fiction to give a novel, but they still stick to a chronological pattern within the relevant time-frame, whereas Virginia Woolf stretches the subject's life-span across time and although it is still basically chronological, time less important than creativity and all things that affect it. It seems to stop when it catches up with real time and with the completion of the poem. . . which in turn is connected with the Vita Sackville-West's work. I noticed that her long poem 'The Land received a prize in 1927 and Orlando was published in 1928. Maybe it felt like the end of an era.

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  • 2 weeks later...

 I'm reading the introduction and it did mention stream-of-consciousness style

It is sort of stream-of-consciousness, but with the conscious mind on a much looser rein than others I have read. To me it had an unfettered, let the mind wander as it wills, sort of feel about it.

I have disliked many of my previous experience of stream-of-conscience novels, particularly Mrs Dalloway & To The Lighthouse by VW,  Catcher In The Rye by J D Salinger & The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, but this had a fantastic, fairytale quality to it, you had no idea where Orlando was going to end up next, or what she would be doing & with whom.


I continued to enjoy VW's authorly asides and expositions, and particularly her descriptions of the changes in 'the spirit of the age' at the periods of transition from one era to another. I couldn't help but wonder what she would have made of C2 communications, I find it all a bit overpowering myself much of the time.

In the light of what we know was to come it was a shame that Orlando had to run out of steam when she did, but VW took her right up to what was 'the present day', and as the story was roughly based on the life V S-W I don't see that there could have been either a definite 'end', nor a continuation into an unknown future.

Anyway, contrary to my expectations, I did enjoy reading Orlando

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  • 4 weeks later...

Well I finally finished this odd and somewhat irritating novel by Virginia Woolf, the first of her works I have read. I had several criticisms of both the form and storytelling, all of which have been addressed in previous posts. My thoughts on the story itself were eloquently stated by Momac when she called it 'a collection of extravagant and imaginative twaddle'. But, and this is a big but, some of the writing itself was as good as anything I've ever read. Some of those paragraphs (although many of them were a single,paragraph length sentence) were masterful. And the stream-of-consciousness style was more clear and understandable and downright readable than any other SOC works I've ever read! I think that some truly expert punctuation skills had a lot to do with that. But VW must also possess a remarkable skill at allowing the flow of words to erupt unimpeded. As much as I didn't care for Orlando as a novel, I'm really excited to read more Virginia Woolf on the off chance that this book was an aberration and that somehow her exquisite abilities were put to better use elsewhere.

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It probably could be thought of as an aberration. As a semi-biographical novel, partly based on the life of her lover, it must have had meaning to Woolf  beyond that of her other fiction.

I've only read a couple of Woolf's books before this, and I found them tedious - others may think that they demonstrate a better use of her abilities.

Orlando was a puzzle, but I found it fun & interesting

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 I think that some truly expert punctuation skills had a lot to do with that. But VW must also possess a remarkable skill at allowing the flow of words to erupt unimpeded.


Good points. I hadn't really thought about her punctuation skills before. I really appreciate writing that flows well and so often we only highlight punctuation skills when they have failed a writer, causing the writing to be less fluid.




(Edited to add punctuation!)

Edited by angel
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  • 1 month later...

I'm miles behind everyone else as usual - just finished. I have to say I started with a very positive attitude (I loved the film starring Tilda Swinton) and thought it started very well with the encounter with the Russian princess and then the Archduchess, and even the trip to Anatolia. Strangely, it's from the gender change onwards that I think both the book (and me as the reader) lost its way. The various random happenings as the centuries went on seemed to have little rhyme or reason to them, and VW eventually has to resort to the old trick of bringing back old characters like Nick Greene to try and keep our interest. Towards the end, I was literally counting the pages and have to admit that I skimmed through many of the last 20-30 pages. It is a great relief to have finished it - I am looking forward to reading something gripping (my daughter's been begging me read Matched/Crossed/Reached which seems like a good idea). I feel that the novel was a very interesting concept with possibly revolutionary ideas for its time but really it is ideally suited to the film format i.e. a 90 minute dash rather than the interminable plodding required to get through a book.


Thanks for all the very interesting comments. Someone said they thought it was probably conceived and researched at soirees and dinner parties. Myself, I wonder if Woolf spent a night wandering alone through Knole House, soaking up its atmosphere and getting plot/character ideas from the portraits. There is a dream like quality to the whole book that might explain the randomness and impossibility of many of the happenings.


Someone wrote that they thought the Bloomsbury lot were quite an unpleasant and waspish group of people. Personally I think the problem is that they valued conversational entertainment higher than anything else. T.S. Eliot who was obviously the sort of clever person that they wanted to know, was terrified of going to these dinner parties because his conversational skills were poor. There's a story that he painted his face with a slight green tinge so that he could say that he was feeling sick and not able to talk very much! There is also the story that when VW and others heard of Eliot's poverty, they tried to raise money for him privately. Eliot was mortified and embarrassed by this - but I suppose this shows that they did have a caring side even if it was carried out in an insensitive way.


My favourite VW reference is from The Pursuit of Love (Nancy Mitford). Lady Montdore is visiting the narrator (Fanny). LM: "I suppose your husband thinks I'm really stupid." Fanny (in reality her husband hadn't given Lady Montdore a second thought): "Oh no, he thinks you're really clever. Not an intellectual like Virginia Woolf, but very clever." LM: "Oh so he doesn't think I'm an intellectual..." From then on she would habitually end sentences with "...but then I'm not an intellectual, not like Virginia Woolf". After some time, Lady Montdore says: "Who is this VIrginia Woolf anyway?"

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