Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

This book has been on my reading list over the summer- for returning to university. I have read a couple of Virginia’s books- and I expected this to be on the same wavelength. Woolf’s books are heavy and difficult to just pick up and read. However, Orlando is the complete opposite. This is by far the most enjoyable novel I have read by Woolf and the easiest!

Orlando begins the story a boy, progressing into manhood. He lives in London during the reign of Elizabeth I. He is briefly a lover to the queen who is growing ill with age- a poignant line in the novel occurs when she tells Orlando to never grow old. After the queen’s death Orlando finds a new love interest, in a Russian princess, Sasha. However, after the ice in London melts Sasha disappears leaving Orlando heartbroken. He begins an isolated life at this stage and takes up writing, poetry specifically.

The second stage of Orlando’s life begins in Constantinople, where he serves as a British ambassador. However, after a night of civil unrest and riots, Orlando falls into a deep sleep. After days of sleep Orlando eventually awakens as a woman.
Now, Lady Orlando, leaves Constantinople in order to begin a new life as a female. On a ship back to England she realises how much changes with her change of sex, the list of things she cannot or must not do, she never even considered when she was male.
Orlando experiences life, as a woman in the 18thand 19th centuries, with a number of new friends and acquaintances. Finally, after winning the lawsuit over her property (being a woman meant her inheritance of her mansion was in jeopardy) she marries Captain Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine. Finally in 1928 Orlando publishes her poem she started at the beginning of the novel- The Oak Tree.

Rating 4*- It is interesting to see how Woolf’s style changes so much when she wrote a novel she considered as a ‘break from writing’. This is a quirky and fun read-something I was not first expecting! Having read a number of novels by Woolf, including‘A Room of One’s Own’ and ‘Mrs Dalloway’, this is by far the best read.

If you are looking for something a little different and historical this is definitely worth a read! The history through the eyes of a man changing into woman is so fascinating, especially in Virginia Woolf’s written style. I really cannot recommend this book enough, well worth giving it a go!
If you think this book is a little too heavy- watch Sally Potter’s version of Orlando. Tilda Swinton takes the role of Orlando in a unusual adaptation!

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