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ClassicsOnline Home » WOOLF, V.: Orlando (Abridged)
Orlando is one of the most unforgettable creations of twentieth-century literature. He emerges as a young man at the court of Queen Elizabeth I and progresses, with breathtaking ease, through three centuries until, by now a woman, she arrives in the bustle and diversion of the 1920s. For Virginia Woolf, a leading figure of the Bloomsbury Group, Orlando was more than a fantastic flight of imagination. It was a roman à clef, a love letter for her lover, the charismatic, eccentric bisexual, Vita Sackville West. Orlando’s journey, from wondrous youth barbed by love, to fêted writer, settled in her femininity, is a wild and curiously relevant fable for our times.
Virginia Woolf was born in 1882, the daughter of editor and
critic Leslie Stephen. The early deaths of her mother, stepsister and brother
left her prone to bouts of depression, which continued throughout her life.
After teaching for a time at a college for workingwomen in south London, she
began writing reviews for The Times Literary Supplement and was drawn into a
group of radical writers and artists later to be known as the Bloomsbury Group.
Here she met the socialist intellectual, Leonard Woolf whom she married in 1912
and together they founded the Hogarth Press, whose list included such
influential literary figures as T.S. Eliot and Katherine Mansfield.
Through her early essays and articles and later her novels,
Virginia Woolf gained a reputation as a feminist and modernist and was
particularly interested in the effects of social and historical forces on
individual lives. Her major novels include: Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the
Lighthouse (1927), A Room
of One’s Own (1929) and The Waves (1931). In 1941, overcome
of another attack of depression, she drowned herself.
In 1927, when Virginia Woolf was planning Orlando, she
described her book as an ‘escapade’ and ‘a love letter’. It was an ‘escapade’ because
she needed a ‘writer’s holiday’: she wanted to write a book about history,
biography, the meaning of time and sexual ambiguity. But it was to be wild and
fantastic and it was to be a ‘love letter’ to the aristocratic, sensual and
charismatic Vita Sackville West, upon whom the character of Orlando is based.
It was Virginia Woolf’s romantic fascination with Vita that led her to write
the book with such speed and exhilaration. Vita Sackville West was openly
bisexual, enjoyed cross-dressing and conducted a passionate and public affair
with Violet Trefusis.
But this is no ordinary fictionalized biography. For
Orlando, time is elastic: we follow him through three centuries, from the court
of Queen Elizabeth I to the London of Charles II; into the gloom of the
nineteenth century; and finally to the bustle of London in the 1920s.
Not only is time elastic… Orlando also defies the
constraints of anatomy: he is first male, then female; a tortured writer, then
a man of action; an intellectual and a woman of fashion. Orlando is all of
these and none of them. Here is a unique and dazzling character that travels
through time and space and becomes a complex synthesis of diverse incarnations.
This immensely lyrical work ends with a final epiphany, in which we are left
with one of the most unforgettable creations of twentieth century literature.
Notes by Heather Godwin
A frequent reader for Naxos AudioBooks, Laura Paton trained
at LAMDA where she won the St. Phillip’s Prize for Poetry and the Michael Warre
Award. She has toured the UK extensively in productions as varied as The Two
Gentlemen of Verona and Oscar Wilde’s Salomé.
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WOOLF, V.: Orlando (Abridged)