‘The longest and most charming love letter in literature.’
Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is the well known story an English Nobleman who works for the Queen in Elizabethan times. He has his heart broken by a Russian princess, and so he decides to leave the country. He becomes an ambassador for England in the city of Constantinople. During a fight in Constantinople, Orlando falls into a deep sleep, awakening days later as a woman. The novel then returns to England, where Orlando must take her place as an English woman in 19th century society.
I’m not entirely sure this book was for me. The more I reflect on reading it, the more I’m not entirely sure I enjoyed it. I have only read one other book by Virginia Woolf and that was Mrs Dalloway, and that too gives me that same sense of “what did I just read?” I guess my feelings are partly due to Woolf’s stream of consciousness style. It’s very quick and I sometimes felt lost, like I was reading pages and pages and wasn’t entirely sure what the point was. I put this book down so many times and it took me a good while to finish it.
That being said, I still think Orlando is a pretty interesting work, and I much prefer it to Mrs Dalloway. Orlando has a lot to say about women and the way women are treated. The story is written as a love letter to Vita Sackville-West, a woman Virginia Woolf had an affair with. It shows the passion of the Elizabethan age as well as both resenting and craving the idea of love.
It is written in a very experimental style, it has a biographical feel to it, and I liked the elements in which the narrator stepped in to say a few words. It was full of wit and humour, as well as telling a very tender love story. It has very beautiful writing and imagery, but I still found it a very strange book to read.
There is also a rather interesting film adaptation with Tilda Swinton, and I have to say it does a pretty great job of converting the book to the screen. While this book may not have been entirely for me, I think it’s a really important piece of literature. It discusses a lot about writing and why people choose to write, and overall is an immensely influential piece of writing.