Orlando: A Biography

( 31 )

Overview

Virginia Woolf is one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century and Orlando is one of her most unique and fantastic works. The protagonist, Orlando, begins the novel as a young sixteenth century aristocrat and a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. She gives him an estate and orders him never to grow old. We then follow Orlando through the centuries, as he crisscrosses the world, falls in love, and becomes a woman. Profound and comic, Orlando is Woolf's deepest investigation ...
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Overview

Virginia Woolf is one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century and Orlando is one of her most unique and fantastic works. The protagonist, Orlando, begins the novel as a young sixteenth century aristocrat and a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. She gives him an estate and orders him never to grow old. We then follow Orlando through the centuries, as he crisscrosses the world, falls in love, and becomes a woman. Profound and comic, Orlando is Woolf's deepest investigation of gender roles.

A fictional biography--spanning three centuries in the life of an Elizabethan nobleman who becomes a woman.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Three of Woolf's top works get annotated by individual scholars, who also supply introductions and additional reading lists. Other extras include a chronology of the author's life and illustrations. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156701600
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/28/1973
  • Series: Harvest Book Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 143,918
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

VIRGINIA WOOLF (1882–1941) was one of the major literary figures of the twentieth century. An admired literary critic, she authored many essays, letters, journals, and short stories in addition to her groundbreaking novels.

Biography

Virginia Woolf is now recognized as a major twentieth-century author, a great novelist and essayist and a key figure in literary history as a feminist and a modernist. Born in 1882, she was the daughter of the editor and critic Leslie Stephen, and suffered a traumatic adolescence after the deaths of her mother, in 1895, and her stepsister Stella, in 1897, leaving her subject to breakdowns for the rest of her life. Her father died in 1904 and two years later her favorite brother Thoby died suddenly of typhoid. With her sister, the painter Vanessa Bell, she was drawn into the company of writers and artists such as Lytton Strachey and Roger Fry, later known as the Bloomsbury Group. Among them she met Leonard Woolf, whom she married in 1912, and together they founded the Hogarth Press in 1917, which was to publish the work of T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster and Katherine Mansfield as well as the earliest translations of Freud. Woolf lived an energetic life among friends and family, reviewing and writing, and dividing her time between London and the Sussex Downs. In 1941, fearing another attack of mental illness, she drowned herself.

Her first novel, The Voyage Out, appeared in 1915, and she then worked through the transitional Night and Day (1919) to the highly experimental and impressionistic Jacob's Room (1922). From then on her fiction became a series of brilliant and extraordinarily varied experiments, each one searching for a fresh way of presenting the relationship between individual lives and the forces of society and history. She was particularly concerned with women's experience, not only in her novels but also in her essays and her two books of feminist polemic, A Room of One's Own (1929) and Three Guineas (1938). Her major novels include Mrs. Dalloway (1925), the historical fantasy Orlando (1928), written for Vita Sackville-West, the extraordinarily poetic vision of The Waves (1931), the family saga of The Years (1937), and Between the Acts (1941).

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

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    1. Also Known As:
      Adeline Virginia Stephen Woolf (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 25, 1882
    2. Place of Birth:
      London
    1. Date of Death:
      March 28, 1941
    2. Place of Death:
      Sussex, England

Read an Excerpt

Orlando (Annotated)

A Biography
By Woolf, Virginia

Harvest Books

Copyright © 2006 Woolf, Virginia
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0156031515

CHAPTER ONE
HE--FOR THERE could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it--was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters. It was the colour of an old football, and more or less the shape of one, save for the sunken cheeks and a strand or two of coarse, dry hair, like the hair on a cocoanut. Orlando's father, or perhaps his grandfather, had struck it from the shoulders of a vast Pagan who had started up under the moon in the barbarian fields of Africa; and now it swung, gently, perpetually, in the breeze which never ceased blowing through the attic rooms of the gigantic house of the lord who had slain him.
Orlando's fathers had ridden in fields of asphodel, and stony fields, and fields watered by strange rivers, and they had struck many heads of many colours off many shoulders, and brought them back to hang from the rafters. So too would Orlando, he vowed. But since he was sixteen only, and too young to ride with them in Africa or France, he would steal away from his mother and the peacocks in the garden and go to his attic room and there lunge and plunge and slice the air with his blade. Sometimes he cut the cord so that the skull bumped on the floor and he had to string it up again,fastening it with some chivalry almost out of reach so that his enemy grinned at him through shrunk, black lips triumphantly. The skull swung to and fro, for the house, at the top of which he lived, was so vast that there seemed trapped in it the wind itself, blowing this way, blowing that way, winter or summer. The green arras with the hunters on it moved perpetually. His fathers had been noble since they had been at all. They came out of the northern mists wearing coronets on their heads. Were not the bars of darkness in the room, and the yellow pools which chequered the floor, made by the sun falling through the stained glass of a vast coat of arms in the window? Orlando stood now in the midst of the yellow body of an heraldic leopard. When he put his hand on the window-sill to push the window open, it was instantly coloured red, blue, and yellow like a butterfly's wing. Thus, those who like symbols, and have a turn for the deciphering of them, might observe that though the shapely legs, the handsome body, and the well-set shoulders were all of them decorated with various tints of heraldic light, Orlando's face, as he threw the window open, was lit solely by the sun itself. A more candid, sullen face it would be impossible to find. Happy the mother who bears, happier still the biographer who records the life of such a one! Never need she vex herself, nor he invoke the help of novelist or poet. From deed to deed, from glory to glory, from office to office he must go, his scribe following after, till they reach what ever seat it may be that is the height of their desire. Orlando, to look at, was cut out precisely for some such career. The red of the cheeks was covered with peach down; the down on the lips was only a little thicker than the down on the cheeks. The lips themselves were short and slightly drawn back over teeth of an exquisite and almond whiteness. Nothing disturbed the arrowy nose in its short, tense flight; the hair was dark, the ears small, and fitted closely to the head. But, alas, that these catalogues of youthful beauty cannot end without mentioning forehead and eyes. Alas, that people are seldom born devoid of all three; for directly we glance at Orlando standing by the window, we must admit that he had eyes like drenched violets, so large that the water seemed to have brimmed in them and widened them; and a brow like the swelling of a marble dome pressed between the two blank medallions which were his temples. Directly we glance at eyes and forehead, thus do we rhapsodise. Directly we glance at eyes and forehead, we have to admit a thousand disagreeables which it is the aim of every good biographer to ignore. Sights disturbed him, like that of his mother, a very beautiful lady in green walking out to feed the peacocks with Twitchett, her maid, behind her; sights exalted him--the birds and the trees; and made him in love with death--the evening sky, the homing rooks; and so, mounting up the spiral stairway into his brain--which was a roomy one--all these sights, and the garden sounds too, the hammer beating, the wood chopping, began that riot and confusion of the passions and emotions which every good biographer detests. But to continue--Orlando slowly drew in his head, sat down at the table, and, with the half-conscious air of one doing what they do every day of their lives at this hour, took out a writing book labelled "AEthelbert: A Tragedy in Five Acts," and dipped an old stained goose quill in the ink. Soon he had covered ten pages and more with poetry. He was fluent, evidently, but he was abstract. Vice, Crime, Misery were the personages of his drama; there were Kings and Queens of impossible territories; horrid plots confounded them; noble sentiments suffused them; there was never a word said as he himself would have said it, but all was turned with a fluency and sweetness which, considering his age--he was not yet seventeen--and that the sixteenth century had still some years of its course to run, were remarkable enough. At last, however, he came to a halt. He was describing, as all young poets are for ever describing, nature, and in order to match the shade of green precisely he looked (and here he showed more audacity than most) at the thing itself, which happened to be a laurel bush growing beneath the window. After that, of course, he could write no more. Green in nature is one thing, green in literature another. Nature and letters seem to have a natural antipathy; bring them together and they tear each other to pieces. The shade of green Orlando now saw spoilt his rhyme and split his metre. Moreover, nature has tricks of her own. Once look out of a window at bees among flowers, at a yawning dog, at the sun setting, once think "how many more suns shall I see set," etc., etc. (the thought is too well known to be worth writing out) and one drops the pen, takes one's cloak, strides out of the room, and catches one's foot on a painted chest as one does so. For Orlando was a trifle clumsy. He was careful to avoid meeting anyone. There was Stubbs, the gardener, coming along the path. He hid behind a tree till he had passed. He let himself out at a little gate in the garden wall. He skirted all stables, kennels, breweries, carpenters' shops, wash-houses, places where they make tallow candles, kill oxen, forge horseshoes, stitch jerkins--for the house was a town ringing with men at work at their various crafts--and gained the ferny path leading uphill through the park unseen. There is perhaps a kinship among qualities; one draws another along with it; and the biographer should here call attention to the fact that this clumsiness is often mated with a love of solitude. Having stumbled over a chest, Orlando naturally loved solitary places, vast views, and to feel himself for ever and ever and ever alone.
So, after a long silence, "I am alone," he breathed at last, opening his lips for the first time in this record. He had walked very quickly uphill through ferns and hawthorn bushes, startling deer and wild birds, to a place crowned by a single oak tree. It was very high, so high indeed that nineteen English counties could be seen beneath, and on clear days thirty, or forty perhaps, if the weather was very fine. Sometimes one could see the English Channel, wave reiterating upon wave. Rivers could be seen and pleasure boats gliding on them; and galleons setting out to sea; and armadas with puffs of smoke from which came the dull thud of cannon firing; and forts on the coast; and castles among the meadows; and here a watch tower; and there a fortress; and again some vast mansion like that of Orlando's father, massed like a town in the valley circled by walls. To the east there were the spires of London and the smoke of the city; and perhaps on the very sky line, when the wind was in the right quarter, the craggy top and serrated edges of Snowden herself showed mountainous among the clouds. For a moment Orlando stood counting, gazing, recognising. That was his father's house; that his uncle's. His aunt owned those three great turrets among the trees there. The heath was theirs and the forest; the pheasant and the deer, the fox, the badger, and the butterfly.
He sighed profoundly, and flung himself--there was a passion in his movements which deserves the word--on the earth at the foot of the oak tree. He loved, beneath all this summer transiency, to feel the earth's spine beneath him; for such he took the hard root of the oak tree to be; or, for image followed image, it was the back of a great horse that he was riding; or the deck of a tumbling ship--it was anything indeed, so long as it was hard, for he felt the need of something which he could attach his floating heart to; the heart that tugged at his side; the heart that seemed filled with spiced and amorous gales every evening about this time when he walked out. To the oak tree he tied it and as he lay there, gradually the flutter in and about him stilled itself; the little leaves hung; the deer stopped; the pale summer clouds stayed; his limbs grew heavy on the ground; and he lay so still that by degrees the deer stepped nearer and the rooks wheeled round him and the swallows dipped and circled and the dragon-flies shot past, as if all the fertility and amorous activity of a summer's evening were woven web-like about his body.
Copyright 1928 by Virginia Woolf
Copyright renewed 1956 by Leonard Woolf
Annotated Edition copyright 2006 by Harcourt, Inc.
Preface copyright 2005 by Mark Hussey
Introduction copyright 2006 by Maria DiBattista
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Continues...

Excerpted from Orlando (Annotated) by Woolf, Virginia Copyright © 2006 by Woolf, Virginia. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 113
Chapter 265
Chapter 3119
Chapter 4153
Chapter 5227
Chapter 6263
Index 331
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 31 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(23)

4 Star

(7)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 32 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2001

    rating error?

    A superior and important novel by one of the geniuses of the English language. What does not add up, as I write this, is the 2 1/2 star rating which fails to characterize the two positive reviews. One reviewer entered a 5 star. Perhaps the other did not click on the 'stars' feature, something that would unfortunately be computed as a zero! In any event, Orlando deserves as many stars as B&N has to offer.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2002

    Classic

    This book scares me a little. It is written like a biography, but it is in no way true. Orlando starts out as a 16 year old boy, and in the end (300 years later) he is a 36 year old woman.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2014

    WHitewind

    What's the name of the pack?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2014

    River

    Sorry. Sometimes I get a temper. Sorry again!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2014

    Weissa

    Ok

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2014

    Fallen

    Good morning he purred we neeed more members

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  • Posted February 14, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? This Guy. I'm probably going to

    Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? This Guy. I'm probably going to have to turn in my English Lit Major membership card over this, but man. I slogged through this, and didn't enjoy it at all. I'm not sure when I was last so bored by a book whose core concept intrigued me so much. Orlando is virtually immortal, changes gender mid-book, has a group of core household personnel who also seem to be immortal. The story starts in Elizabethan times and moves to the early 1900's. So much of that is fodder for great storytelling, not to mention the ability to comment on societal norms, gender reversals, etc. I won't deny that Woolf manages to pack a lot of social commentary into the book. I won't deny that she experiments with form in a way that makes most students and professors of English literature salivate. But in a book that is over 300 pages long ... nothing happens! Sure, there's the sudden deep freeze and equally sudden thaw of England that provides a momentary rush, but other than that, the protagonist spends pretty much the entire book sitting around depressed over the slights he receives from a woman, a fellow poet, and other varied personalities. I'll say it again: I was bored. And based on my reaction to this, which is supposed to be the most accessible of Woolf's works ... I can honestly say I don't think I'll be trying to read anything else by her.

    Also, It is interesting to me that when I looked on Amazon, BN and Goodreads, none of the product descriptions I read attempt to describe the plot of ORLANDO. These are product descriptions now, not reader reviews. They all talk about how original and influential the book is and what a great movie Tilda Swinton was in a few years back. But none of them even attempt to describe the plot beyond what's quoted in the premise above. Maybe I just looked in the wrong place, or maybe it's just become accepted that ORLANDO is one of those things you read because "it's a classic."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2011

    Great Read

    I loved this book. It is what fiction, to me is all about; creatively obscured with alliteration. So much to take in upon first read I really want to read it again

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2004

    A fantastic book

    This book is quite exuberating and it gets awkward at times but in the end all of it makes sense I think Virginia did herself well.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2004

    A Beautiful Novel

    Orlando is very rich, with deeply moving beauty that is nothing like the airy enchantment of other novels. Woolf's dramatic poetry and surreal modernism are a change from tradition, and a wonderful example of her profound concord with the 'spirit of the age' of the 1920's.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2002

    Orlando, a better man

    Orlando is about a young sixteenth century noble man, who accomplishes the somewhat daunting task of living for four hundred years, halfway through he turns into a woman, uttering the words ' no difference at all'. What makes this movie a seminal experience is that the director - Sarah Potter - has nursed to every aspect of the story as it unfolds. Developed (by her) for the big screen it shows only a few changes to the novel and is faithfull to the essence of Orlando as a creation of Virginia Wolf. The dialogue in Orlando is fluent (adapted mainly from the narrative form). It is poetic, rich and vibrant with subtext, easily understood and delishously enjoyable for soft feminists. However, it is NOT a chick flick. Orlando battles his own duality, his ability to absorb injustice versus his snobbery, when he makes the perfunctory remark 'nothing thicker than a knifes blade seperates happines from misery,' and then is confronted with this duality much later. Apart from the emminent choice of actors, costumes, locations, musical score and Sarah Potter's own poetry in the hands of a certain mr. Greene. I also have to mention the astounding visual appearance of the film. The pictures are breathtaking and are powerful storytellers within themselves. This is why Orlando is a masterpiece.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2002

    GOOD BOOK

    THIS IS A VERY GOOD BOOK

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2001

    Most Inspirational Novel I've ever read

    This is wonderful novel. People can learn a lot from it. It is very feminist and opens your eyes to a new way of thinking. I won't say what happens, for I don't want to give it away, but to anyone who enjoys a challenging novel and wishes to learn a great lesson too, this is it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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