Orlando: A Biography

Orlando: A Biography

by Virginia Woolf


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Orlando 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 60 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Hera on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a great novel. Witty, clever and a great conceit. Too bad the rest of her novels aren't so good to read.
themulhern on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is one of a kind; I have heard people condemn the book vehemently but I myself enjoyed it tremendously.The key to enjoying the book is to recognize the humour; I've laughed out loud at many of the passages. If the humour is not the kind you appreciate or even recognize you will surely dislike the book as much as I like it.The lengthy paragraphs are a deliberate device of the author. It is an intriguing introduction to English literature; I found myself a good deal more interested in the Augustan poets after I finished the book.
deebee1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was a joy to read. Exuberant, fanciful, exemplifying literature at its finest. This semi-biographical novel is partly based on the life of Vita Sackville-West, an intimate friend of Woolf. Orlando is a character who is liberated from the restraints of time and gender. He starts as a young nobleman in the Elizabethan era and ends as a modern woman three hundred years later. Woolf explores the theme of femininity and roles of men and women within certain cultural (English mainly and Oriental) and historical contexts through some bizarre and outrageous devices (e.g. Orlando is not the only androgynous character). The reader is taken on a wild and playful ride, from his days as a young steward of the queen and on the throes of passion for a Russian princess, his devastation on her desertion, to a period of ambassadorship in Constantinople where he awakes one day as a woman, to time spent with the gypsies, and eventually, to her return to modern-day England. The 2 constant things through all this was her passion for writing, and search for love -- the fulfillment of which she finally found towards the end of her 300-year journey (signifying the drastic difference of the social milieu and implications for women in general). The novel is full of wit, and where Orlando has moments of ambiguity and confusion (owing mostly to social restraints of the era) -- which she would after a round of internal debate, invariably junk, i found hilarious. This publication of this book in 1928, was a hallmark in literature, especially in regard to women's writing and gender studies, for obvious reasons.
girakittie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very stylized writing, difficult for me to read. The prose was overblown and did not further the plot. Did not finish, which is rare for me.
joririchardson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A poetically worded, yet hazily written, work of flowery and dramatic prose."Orlando," which is a supposed biography, recounts the life of a young man who begins as a handsome courtier in Queen Elizabeth I's court, and hundreds of years later is (well for one thing, is inexplicably still alive) is transformed into a married middle-aged woman.For a book written in the early to mid 1900's, writing a story about a transvestite - before the word even existed - is certainly a giant leap of literary creativity and openness. However, perhaps also due to this very same reason, I thought that Woolf was unclear about how exactly this took place. One day, Orlando simply is described as, "now certainly a woman." How did this come about? What did Orlando think of this? Events in the story do, of course, hint answers to these questions, but nothing is ever expressed concretely. I often felt confused about Orlando, not sure how to picture him/her in my head, and unsure of his identity. The reader does not get to know their main character here.Also, although the wording of "Orlando" is undeniably beautiful - rippling along in metaphors and comparisons of poetic license - this does not go so far as to say that it is necessarily well-written. Certainly, Woolf was one of the most brilliant writers of her time. But, this particular book is most likely not her best. It is loosely written, leaving much to assumption and imagination, and the plot is scattered and unstructured at best. The book wanders aimlessly through time, much like the character herself/himself."Orlando" could be placed amongst Woolf's most inventive works, but most likely not among her best.
soniaandree on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a great book, extremely well written and the storyline is interesting. Orlando, who is Elizabeth I's favourite pet companion, lives an adventurous life through the following ages and centuries, in different nations. His/her change of gender in Turkey sends her into a confusion of the genres, whilst reflecting the ages' preoccupations. Whilst elevated, the language is lyrical, sometimes poetical and practical, with a focus on Orlando's own narrative inner voice, her reflections on life, society and her role within a seemingly linear chronology.Orlando's life is a reflection of Vita Sackville West's familiar grounds and life. Some readers may interpret the book as a declaration of love or as a philosophical discussion about gender and a nation's historical changes through Orlando's life. It is open to interpretation and it is well worth reading the book for the multitude of questions it opens. A highly recommended classic.
nmhale on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was the first novel by Woolf that I read, and her masterful skill with words held my attention, which is impressive, considering that the plot of this story begins with Orlando, a young boy, and ends hundreds of years later with Orlando, a mature woman. Orlando, the same person. Woolf offers no apologies for the passage of years, and only a very funny "explanation" of how Orlando changes gender midlife. The book claims to be a biography, and this tongue-in-cheek premise sets the stage for the droll humor that permeates the rest of the novel. Yet the novel manages to be profound and dramatic within this construct.Nevertheless, Woolf's language play is even more incredible than the storyline. She creates metaphors that are poetry in prose, and her creative use of lists is another strong technique. She also uses some very clever allusions. I love the characters Purity, Temperance, and Chastity, who physically make an appearance when Orlando changes gender and try to cover her, while cleverly providing a reason for Woolf not to describe how the miracle takes place. Her writing is lyrical.I read this book twice. First, just because I wanted to, and the second time for a group read. I'm very glad that I read it a second time. The first time, I was captivated by her use of words, but the story lost me several times, and I put it down frequently. The second time, already knowing what to expect plot wise, I was able to appreciate the craft of the novel, and at the same time, understand the story and characters more deeply and stay focused. This book has a lot to offer. Orlando's life spans several ages of London life, from Queen Elizabeth, through James and Victoria, and through the eyes of her main character, Woolf offers interesting criticism of each. Her perspective on gender is another central theme, which she can explore from two angles, thanks to her character's unique personality. Not content with those broad motifs, Woolf further ponders the themes of love and life. With her language, intriguing characters, and complex themes and metaphors, this story is well worth a read, and then another, to fully appreciate this work from Virginia Woolf.
MorgannaKerrie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ms. Woolf always writes a brilliant novel.
stunik on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
. . character liberated from the restraints of time and sex. Born in the Elizabethan agte to wealth and position, Orlando is a lusty young nobleman at the beginning of the story and three centuries later a modern woman. the hero-heroine sees monarchs come and go, hobnobs with the great literary figures of every age, and slips in and out of each new fashion. In the Vicorian Age she dutifully puts on layers of petticoats, marries, and bears a child. In the twentieth century she drives a motor car and publishes a poem she has been writing since youth. The author leaves her at "the present moment." She is 36.-
k8_not_kate on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While the scope and idea of this novel was and is exciting, I felt it lacked something. Orlando's adventures felt more like aimless (and not-quite-interesting) wanderings than an exciting odyssey. After finishing the book and feeling a little like I had wasted my time, I read some background on it that explained that the biography was a kind of tribute to Woolf's androgynous lover, Vita Sackville-West. Knowing that gives the novel a little more meaning, but doesn't make it all that much more interesting. As other reviewers have noted, the story up to the point where Orlando leaves London for Constantinople is much more exciting than the rest and is what most of my three stars a owed to.
Othemts on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fantastic novel in which a young courtier from the time of Elizabeth magically lives for four centuries without aging, even more magically changing sex from man to woman halfway through. This humorous book satirizes the politics of all the eras Orlando lives through, and more so challenges the gender roles across time. Very different from any other Woolf novel I've read. Sally Potter made an excellent film based on the novel staring Tilda Swinton as Orlando, but definitely read the book first.
fleurdiabolique on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
You know, this could have been a good book. I am definitely interested in the sort of premise of the last two-thirds. But my potential enjoyment of the book was ruined by the fact that this book purports to be a biography, or at least a straightforward narrative, for the first third or so -- and then, without warning or explanation, our hero abruptly becomes a transsexual time traveler. Though the book has to this point been fairly realistic, no one reacts as though Orlando's gender switch is odd, and no one thinks it's strange that s/he suddenly appears again over a century after his/her birth. Again, this would have been _fine_ if it was set up. But it wasn't. Woolf begins in a realistic mode, and there is absolutely no good excuse, save sheer perversity, for turning the reader topsy-turvy in this manner. After 130 pages of apparently realistic prose, an abrupt shift (which makes use of an extremely trite use of allegorical figures, I might add) to the realm of the fantastic is confusing and illogical. And the book just goes downhill from there. People from the sixteenth century appear in later centuries -- again, without any explanation and without any expression of surprise on anyone's part. Orlando's house staff from the 1500s is waiting for her when she returns in the early 1700s -- but then they all die by the 1800s, though she is still alive. She marries, and after her husband leaves on a trip we pretty much never find out what the hell happens to him. She gives birth (when she actually got pregnant is yet another question), and her child isn't mentioned after that moment. Jumps in time during the course of the narrative are profoundly unclear. And why doesn't anyone around Orlando seem to remark on the fact that she seems to be immortal?! And of course, woven through all of this at intervals is intolerable "philsophical" prattling which rarely has any depth.As usual, Woolf is too busy trying to be unusual and shocking to bother writing something actually readable. It is so frustrating, because there are a few beautiful passages, and the idea behind the last two-thirds or so of the novel is really interesting and could have made a wonderful book on its own. But these sparks of something better are drowned in Woolf's usual overly-self-conscious, self-indulgent prose. If you really must read any of this (and I advise against it), go only as far as the point where Orlando falls into a trance in Constantinople. There is absolutely nothing worth your time and energy beyond that point.
LisaMorr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
On the back cover it states that this is one of Virginia Woolf's most popular and entertaining works. Last year I had read Mrs. Dalloway, my first Woolf, and enjoyed it a lot more.(VERY MILD SPOILERS)The book was interesting, but it didn't grip me. It is a fantastical biography about Orlando, starting with him as a 16-yr old boy sometime in the 1500's, who eventually turns into a woman (I don't think this is a spoiler - it's written on the back of the book...), and is still a relatively young woman when the novel ends in 1928. Orlando is rich with a large estate and is in good favor with the Queen. He has a romance with a Russian princess (at least we think she is), and many others, gets to be Ambassador to Turkey, turns into a woman, has more affairs, and so on.There was lots of just the narrator stepping in and saying how this part is boring. Also, there were some confusing bits, like at one point I think she got pregnant, but it wasn't really clear. But then years later (I think) she gives birth. And then no mention of her child. I was used to that a bit from Mrs. Dalloway, but it was a lot worse in this book.It took me a lot longer to read than it should have; I figured I definitely would have finished it by the end of the year, but it just dragged on and on, and it was a chore to finish.I haven't said a lot of good things about the book, and I'm sorry about that. There were interesting parts here and there, and it did spawn a neat movie, but all in all, I didn't think it was that great.I'm going to give it 3 stars; I'm vacillating a bit, quite ambivalent about it, but I think that's what it should get on my scale.
Nickelini on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Review of the Annotated Edition of Orlando, published by Harvest Books Harcourt, Inc. Although the movie version of this book is one of my favourites, and although I've read a decent amount of Virginia Woolf, I was rather dubious about this book. It seemed very odd compared to her other writing. And it is . . . but it's wonderfully odd. This may be my favourite of all her novels.What really made this book for me was all the magic realism elements. I loved her descriptions of Orlando viewing all of England from his/her oak tree, including "the wild tides that swirl about the Hebrides". The whole Great Frost section was exceptionally well done, and I especially loved the description of the porpoise frozen in suspended animation in the icy Thames, or the Norwich countrywoman who turned visibly to powder by the cold while she crossed the road. I could go on and on . . .As for the annotations, as with the other annotated Woolf books published by Harvest Harcourt, I have mixed thoughts. Some of the annotations were very helpful. However, I thought they missed some things in the text that I would have appreciated a note on, and there were many notes that I thought unnecessary.Recommended for:I want to say "everyone," but alas, Virginia Woolf is not everyone's cup of tea.
Snakeshands on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Loads of fun, effortless prose, and one hell of a love note. Not your usual Woolf!
hbw on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an odd book by any stretch of the imagination.
isabelx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What with the crowd, what with the Duke, what with the jewel, she drove home in the vilest temper imaginable. Was it impossible then to go for a walk without being half-suffocated, presented with a toad set in emeralds, and asked in marriage by an Archduke?Orlando is written in the form of a biography rather than a novel, with Virginia Woolf as the very present biographer, discussing her choice of words and the biographer's role, while relating the life of her protean and strangely long-lived subject.I won this book in a competition on the BBCi Arts web-site in 2002. I have been putting off reading it because, out of Virginia Woolf's novels I've only read "Mrs Dalloway" and part of "To the Lighthouse" and struggled with both. I did however enjoy the film version of "Orlando" starring Tilda Swinton, so when I gave myself a 'read it or get rid of it' ultimatum, I decided to give it a go and surprised myself by enjoying it quite a lot!
NicoleHC on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's crazy. In a good way.
Chris_V on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Virginia Woolf's most sustained work of narrative fiction is in fact a spoof biography of the Elizabethan lord Orlando who travels the years to the Twentieth Century while turning into a woman. A hymn of praise to the character of Vita Sackville-West.
nickdreamsong on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A quote from one of my favorite Woolf novels and one of my favorite books of all time:"Different though the sexes are, the intermix. In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the male or female likeness, while underneath the sex is the very opposite of what is above."
riverwillow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I studied this as part of my degree and slowly this book began to grow on me. Its
gwendolyndawson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story begins with Orlando as a passionate young nobleman in Queen Elizabeth's court. By the end, Orlando is a 36-year-old woman three centuries later. Orlando witnesses the making of history from its edge. A close examination of the nature of sexuality and the changing climate of the passing centuries. Very novel and engaging if a bit loose-ended at times.
rebeccler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Magical realism saved Orlando from being targeted for obscenity. A delicious tale of a writer's growth into herself, and out of himself. The biographer's commentary is often hilarious, and do pay special attention to the cross-dressing section for hints of the "obscene" according to Lord Campbell's Act of 1857. It isn't there, but it is there.
HeatherLee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Orlando is a man attracted to a Russian woman in trousers who looks like a man. A despondent Orlando goes to Turkey as an ambassador and emerges as a woman. Orlando is pursued by a man who is a woman. Orlando falls in love with a man and in a bizarre sequence they confess to each other that they are the other sex. But they remain the sex in which they presented themselves to each other, get married, and Orlando has a baby. Oh, and all this takes over three centuries. It's easy to see why Virginia Woolf is admired by modernists, litarati and feminists. Woolf transitions seamlessly between gender and centuries in a classic of modernism that can just as easily be labeled postmodern today.