Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1928, 192 pages)

A couple of months ago I won a copy of The Waves by Virginia Woolf  (1882 to 1941-England)   in a book blog giveaway contest.    I had never prior to receiving that book read anything by Virginia Woolf.    I had no aversion or apprehension about her, she was just one of those many authors I had  not yet got around to.   While reading The Waves I also read a couple of her short stories and essays.    I next read her Jacob's Room which I really enjoyed.    I next read Mrs Dalloway.   At that point I looked over a listing of her  oeuvre.     Over all her out put is overwhelming but if one focuses in on her fiction it seems reasonable to attempt to read it all.    I knew some of her books are considered  "difficult" modern works in the manner of Joyce and Ford but  none of them are big monsters and most can be read online.    I loved all the references to books and authors that her work contains so I decided I would begin The Reading Life Virginia Woolf  Project and try to read all of her fiction.    I decided to more or less read her four consensus master works first.     They are (in no order) Mrs Dalloway, The Waves, Orlando, and The Lighthouse.   My thinking was that if I began the project and some how got diverted or did not complete it at least I will have read her best works.    

I just completed  Orlando.   Prior to reading Orlando I read Vita-A Biography of Vita Sackville-West by Victoria Glendinning.   Vita Sackville-West, a larger than life super wealthy aristocrat, author and a lover of Woolf, is the role model for the central character of Orlando.   In fact,  Orlando  is dedicated to her.   

Orlando is a wonderful super interesting and very funny alleged biography of  an English aristocrat who over the course of an unnaturally long life is transformed from a man to a woman.   I do not feel a lot of need to recast the action of this very well known book.   Orlando has many wonderful adventures, romances of various sorts and along the way gets infected with what the persona of the pseudo-biographer calls "the disease of loving to read".    

A fine gentleman like that, they said, had no need of books. Let him leave books, they said, to the palsied or the dying. But worse was to come. For once the disease of reading has laid upon the system it weakens it so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the inkpot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing. And while this is bad enough in a poor man, whose only property is a chair and a table set beneath a leaky roof — for he has not much to lose, after all — the plight of a rich man, who has houses and cattle, maidservants, asses and linen, and yet writes books, is pitiable in the extreme.
There are a number of very good blog posts on Orlando that do a great job covering the themes of the book.    Dolce Bellezza has an excellent post.   

I did find it somehow interesting to see the treatment of Gypsies in Chapter Three when Orlando became involved with a tribe (Woolf's word).    Woolf's treatment of Gypsies is much more subtle than the simple prejudice shown in say, Jane Eyre, but it did make me wonder what was behind it.

Looked at from the Gypsy point of view, a Duke, Orlando understood, was nothing but a profiteer or robber who snatched land and money from people who rated these things of little worth, and could think of nothing better to do than to build three hundred and sixty-five bedrooms when one was enough, and none was even better than one. She could not deny that her ancestors had accumulated field after field; house after house; honour after honour; yet had none of them been saints or heroes, or great benefactors of the human race.

(Before any one dismisses my concerns on this keep in mind that about 500,000 people considered Gypsies were killed in concentration camps in WWII.)

So far Orlando is my favorite Woolf  novel.     I think I might read her famous critical literary essay A Room of Her Own next then maybe I work of short fiction then I will read The Lighthouse.   I saw a recent posting on a survey of lists of best 100 books of all times and The Lighthouse is the most frequently listed of her books.  

If anyone has any suggestions as to how to go about my project, please leave a comment.

Orlando (and many more great books) can be read online at the web page of the University of Adelaide Library.

Mel u


Suko said...

I have not read Orlando, only reviews of it. I now feel as if I may actually read this book, due to your review, because you call it your favorite novel by Virginia Woolf so far.

Bellezza said...

Thank you for linking to me; I reread my post and thought it rather wordy, but I appreciate you thinking it worthy enough to reference. ;)

I'm interested that you liked this so much. I hadn't read any of Virginia Woolf until Woolf In Winter read-along this winter. Of the four we read, Orlando was my least favorite and The Waves was the one I liked the best. But, I have to admit that I loved none of them. Her depression/mental illness was quite oppressive to me.

pussreboots said...

Orlando is one of the low points of my undergraduate career. I left it to the very last minute and ended up having to pull an all nighter to read it. Let's just say I don't remember any of it.

Tiina said...

Glad to hear you liked Orlando. Virginia Woolf is my favorite writer & Mrs Dalloway and Orlando are among my all time favorite novels. The beauty of her writing never stops to amaze me. Have fun with your Woolf project!


Dwight said...

I have listened to Orlando and enjoyed it. Let me know when you plan on doing Between the's the next Woolf I would like to read and would be fun to post on it at the same time.

The funniest book reivew I have read involves To the Lighthouse. They basically said all you need to know about the book is in the title:
To = toward
the Lighthouse = the large phallic thing

It's completely wrong, but I love it anyway.

Lyndsey said...

Hey Mel,
Have you seen the movie version, with Tilda Swinton. I had not read the book before seeing it (bad girl) though enjoyed it nevertheless. Would be interesting to see how it compares.

JoV said...

A much needed confirmation that this good, especially from you Mel. I hope to clear all my library loans and start with my own books soon!

Glad you like it so much. I can't wait to read it now. ;)

Mel u said...

Suko-I would love to see your review of one of Woolf's major works

Lyndsey-No I have not seen the movie but I will look for it-thanks for pointing me in that direction-I can see how it could be a very good movie

Mel u said...

Bellezza-I enjoyed your post a lot

Pussreboots-I understand about reading under pressure spoiling our enjoyment

Tina-thank you for your comments-I am having fun with my project

Dwight-I have no real fixed schedule in reading Woolf-I am mostly reading her online and Between the Acts is online also-It might be fun to read her last work then her first work then Lighthouse-I am up for a joint read-

Laura McDonald said...

Her first novel, The Voyage Out, is very good too. And it can be found for free online in various places. Her second one, Night and Day, I didn't like as much. But I've found one's favorite Woolf is a very subjective thing and differs from person to person.

Suko said...

Mel, I've read several books by Virginia Woolf and reviewed A Room of One's Own and To The Lighthouse a while ago on my blog. Amanda from the Zen Leaf has a wonderful review of Flush, a lighter Woolf work on her blog today.

Anonymous said...

Orlando is on my list of top 10 favorite books and I am a bibliophile. I have been trying to get through Mrs. Dalloway but have yet to conquer it.
Orlando has one of my favorite opening lines :-) Glad you enjoyed it.