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Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf (25th January 1882–28th march 1941) was an English writer, modernist (20th century). Wolf was an important part of London’s literary and artistic society. Orlando is one of her best-known works. As a biography, it was first published on 11th October 1928. Orlando is a frolic inspired by family history of Woolf’s lover and friend Vita Sackville-West, who was an aristocratic poet and novelist. Orlando is based on satiric form.

The book describes the adventures of a poet, who changes his sex from man to woman and lives for centuries, meeting the famous literary critics in history of English literature. The book is considered as a feminist classic, based on gender equality and transgender studies.

Furthermore, Woolf and Vita Sackville-West were members of Bloomsbury Group, which was popular for its views on sexuality. After their sexual and romantic relationship, for almost a decade, Virginia got inspired for writing Orlando. In her diary she noted the idea of Orlando on 5th October 1927 with the idea of writing a biography beginning in 1500th century and continuing till the present day.

Summary of Orlando 

Orlando is a young man, belonged to a noble family, who wishes to go on adventures like his father and grandfather. But, instead of being an explorer he turns to be a poet who admires nature and hills in London.

One day the Queen Elizabeth I, visits the place and notices Orlando. She falls for him instantly. Two years after the incident, Orlando becomes the Queen’s treasurer and steward. The queen afterwards catches Orlando kissing another girl, which breaks her heart. In anger, she breaks her mirror with her sword.

Afterwards, Orlando moves to stay with ordinary people. He acquires ordinary lifestyle, frequent pubs and makes out with many young women. But soon he decides to move back to the court, as he gets bored of this lifestyle.

After he joins the court back, he finds that the queen has died and replaced by King James I. Orlando dates many young and wealthy women but then, decides to marry a women named Euphrosyne, who belongs to a noble family.
Since it was the Winter of Great Frost, the frozen river has been turned to be the carnival scene by the King James.

Once, during the night near the river, Orlando meets a Russian princess named as Sasha. Since Orlando knows French, he was the only person to grow friendship between the two. Eventually they both fall in love, and decides to run away. Whereas, Sasha grows tired of Orlando’s changing moods.

One day Orlando sees her with a Russian soldier, and feels betrayed, though she assures him about her love for him. They both decides to leave London that very night. Orlando waits for her that night but she never arrives. Orlando rides to the river and finds out that the frost has broken and hundreds of people are stuck on the icebergs. He watches their ship drifting away.

Heavy hearted, Orlando closes himself in his house that has 365 rooms and 52 staircases, and concentrates on writing immensely. He writes plays, poems, and other forms of literature. Later, he invites Nick Green, a famous poet whom he admires. Nick behaves entertaining however, their difference in class puts a barrier in between them. Orlando finds out that Nick has written a satirical story based on his present state as ‘Parody of Orlando’, which disappoints him. Grief strikes him and he decides to stop writing and destroys all that he has written except one poem titled as “The Oak Tree”.

Later on he decides to refurnish his house. Afterwards he calls his neighbors earning their respect.
On an afternoon, he encounters the Archduchess Harriet of Romania from his window, and founds himself to be attracted towards her physical appearance. But then, rejecting her advances, Orlando decides to leave England forthwith.

King Charles II appoints Orlando as an ambassador in Constantinople, and later declares him as the duke. Orlando was found to organize frequent parties. On a night after one such party, the servants notice Orlando bringing a woman in his room by letting down a rope.

Next morning, a marriage certificate between Orlando and Rosina Pepita, a Spanish dancer was found on the table, whereas, Orlando was alone in his room, in a trance, completely unconscious. Turkey undergoes a rebellion and many foreigners are murdered. The robbers burst into Orlando’s room as well, but leaves him declaring already dead.

Orlando suffers the trance for seven days and wakes up as a women. Not taking the shock for long, she accepts her biological changes. Afterwards, Orlando rides away with a gypsy, and starts following their tribe. One of the elder gypsies mistrusts Orlando because she spends her time reading and envisioning nature. Once Orlando visions her house to be destroyed in England, and hence she decides to leave the tribe and marches back.

A feeling of independent strikes Orlando, as she comes back to England. She meets Archduchess Harriet again, and finds out that she has turned to be a real man now as Archduke Harry. They spends time and eventually Harry proposes Orlando but with no proper answer Orlando starts losing interest in him. Orlando starts spending time with famous eighteenth century poets including Addison, Dryden and Pope, but she turns to get bored of them as well.

Orlando starts spending time with the prostitutes in London, as she grows interest in their stories.
The eighteenth century has been ended and nineteenth century has begun. The Victorian era feels to be suffocating. She visions about a man, deciding to get married. Her ankle gets twisted and she falls.

A man rides up to save her named as Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine, Esquire and she found herself to be attracted by him and vice versa. Orlando cannot believe that Shel is blessed with all the qualities of a woman and Shel as well, is unable to believe the manly qualities of Orlando. Shel informs about his duty on his ship, as he was a seaman. They both gets married before Shel takes off.

Later Orlando finishes her poem, “the Oak Tree” and travels to London. She meets Nick Greene, who has turned one of the most well-known Victorian literary critic now. Orlando presents her poems to him and he gets impressed. He promises to publish her poems and assures her a good response. After that she visits a park and has a vision of her husband’s ship sinking. Orlando returns home which is now cold and empty. Its 1901 and King Edward VII succeeds Queen Victoria on the throne.

Later on, when the narrator picks up the story, a son has been born to Orlando. The present year is 1928, and Orlando is in her middle 30s. Orlando is frightened and amazed at once by the present time. She visits a shop, smells a candle and relates its aroma with Sasha, realizing that everything has changed and are related to something else now.

She drives back to her home, and thinks about all her past identities. She thinks of how this house has always been with herself and her past. An explosion brings her back to the present and gives a thought to bury her book of poetry under the oak tree, but rejects it later on. She prays her husband to be safe and yells out his name. With a belief of her husband to be back, she starts preparing for his arrival, the clock strikes midnight, it was October 11, 1928.

Orlando Impacts & Acknowledgement

Orlando achieved huge modern success, as critically and financially. Though it was viewed as a gossipy novel against Sackville-West, However, New York Times reviewed its significance as an experiment into new forms of literature. It was one of the most famous work by woman writer which directly treated the subject related to gender.
What’s more is that, the novel has also been adopted for theatre and film by various directors and movie makers and achieved a great success.

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