Orlando is the last novel in my first list of books. This novel dates back to 1928, and it is the most famous fantasy novel by Virginia Woolf. It is a revolutionary romance because of the unusual subject in that historical period.
The Novel of Orlando
At the beginning of the novel, the main character is an English nobleman, Orlando, a page of Queen Elizabeth I and a poet. Orlando isolates themself in their countryside house after a heartbreak and the queen’s death. During this period, they dedicate their time writing and contemplating nature, life, and death. Subsequently, they become an ambassador in Constantinople before King Charles. In this mysterious period, Orlando becomes a woman, and they go back to England as Lady Orlando. They will live as a woman for the following two centuries. In this period, they marry, and they continue to be a writer. The tale ends up in the year 1928, which is the year of publication of this novel.
Time and Death
Time and death appear to be an obsession for Orlando. Indeed, they enjoy passing years in solitude, writing poetry and reflecting about time and death starting from their isolation period. In this period, their obsession for death and decay is dominant, and time to time, they disconnect from reality and society. At the beginning of the novel, Orlando is a boy who loves nature and solitude. Their favourite place is under an oak tree and after a period of distress in the Elizabethan society, they fall into a mood of melancholy, thinking about death. They meditate about the thin line that separates happiness from melancholy. Orlando is obsessed with death since nothing is everlasting.
Solitude and Poetry
At the beginning of the second chapter, something mysterious happens to Orlando. After seven days of a deep sleep, they wake up with few memories of their past, and they meditate about the link between nature and death and life. Solitude was their choice, secluding themself in the big house of their fathers. Indeed, they pass their time into the crypt of their ancestors, where they think that even if people are merry and celebrate, one day they will die. Everything turns to dust, and nothing remains of all the illustrious persons. Death and decay are their constant thoughts. Life is not worth living anymore; hence Orlando sinks into a deep sadness. Since they were a child, they developed a passion for books and literature. Mostly now, the young Orlando spends several hours reading books and writing poetry. Before they were twenty-five years old, Orlando wrote forty-seven romantic plays, novels and poems, in English, French and Italian.
Orlando and Nature
In this novel, nature appears quite often as background and constant companion of Orlando. Although they are thirty years old, they learned that love, ambition, women and poets are delusory. Dogs and nature are the only trustable things. They always refer to their elkhound and a rose bush. So they seclude themself to avoid the external world, spending all their time reading and writing. Their favourite place is under an oak tree. Years passed, and although time passed, nothing happened. The time of the clock and the time in the mind seem to be different for them. Indeed, the time appeared long as they were thinking for a person of their age, but actions seemed to become short. Their timeline was very long, and it was surprisingly similar to a journey in a desert of vast eternity. The oak tree hideout was their place, where they contemplated about love, friendship and literature.
Orlando wrote the long poem “The Oak Tree, A Poem”, spending nights and days writing during this indefinitely long isolation. Once they encountered the mysterious Archduchess Harriet Griselda of Finster-Aarhorn and Scandop-Boom from Roumania, a cousin of the queen visiting England. The attentions of Harriet became too obsessive, and her chasing caused the departure of Orlando from England. And so Orlando moves to Constantinople with the title of Ambassador Extraordinary at the service of King Charles. The fantastic novel of Orlando is a biographical novel, and Virginia Woolf plays the role of narrator. Virginia portrays the life of Orlando as a vague mystery. During their Constantinople journey, the Ambassador keeps themself very busy among wax, seals, ribbons, documents and letters. Orlando never loses their charm, beauty and romantic glamour. Although many women and men were adoring and admiring them, Orlando lived a solitary life without friends.
The Mysterious Transition
During their journey in Constantinople, Orlando’s life takes a radical turn. After a long sleep, they wake up as a woman. Even though they become a woman, their nature and personality remained the same. They leave Constantinople, with a gipsy and a donkey; their adventures seem to be more intricate from now. The group of gipsies, who accepted them, noticed the vast cultural discrepancies. Their adoration of the beauty of nature was absurd for the gipsies. Orlando describes fiercely their big house with several rooms, a sign of their wealth and nobility. Virginia Woolf expresses an essential concept in the following lines “No passion is stronger in the breast of man than the desire to make others believe as he believes. Nothing so cuts at the root of his happiness and fills him with rage as the sense that another rate lows the prizes high. It is not love of truth but desire to prevail that sets quarter against quarter and makes parish desire parish’s downfall. Each seeks peace of mind and subserviency rather than the triumph of truth and exaltation of virtue”. Hence Lady Orlando decides to go back to England, where they embrace a new life as a noblewoman.
The New Life of Lady Orlando
The second part of the Orlando novel is about their life as a woman. They go back to their house although now they are a lady in the Victorian period, dividing their time in writing, reading and mundane events. These social events were accessible only to the aristocracy and Orlando when felt a disappointment due to that society’s frivolity and emptiness. Occasionally in their house, they meet the ghosts of notable poets. With the time they lose some illusions to acquire others, and their joy consists in writing. In this period, Orlando meets Archduchess Harriet again, who reveals herself as a man, but they reject the Archduchy proposal for the second time. Finally, Orlando is delighted to be alone and enjoy their solitude. They realise the difference between the two sexes after they start wearing modest and feminine clothes. They believe that clothes become important ornaments, conditioning the mood of the person wearing them.
The Two Sides of Orlando
Since their transition happened, Orlando coexisted different sides of their personality, which were sometimes masculine and sometimes feminine. They were tender-hearted mostly forward animals, and they detested the household activities. They were riding very well and driving several horses at the same time. Sometimes they were crying emotionally for a slight provocation, and they were not fond of mathematics and geography. So their personality was a blend of masculine and feminine impulses. In this novel, Virginia Woolf expresses her perspective about the period during Queen Anne’s reign, considering it splendid and exquisite, even though the society was superficial and worthless. Orlando frequently joined parties of aristocracy and nobility as a proper socialite. In the beginning, they felt great enjoyment, but afterwards, they became disgusted. Society can be pleasing and evil, but it owns a potent essence, which can be intoxicating and addictive. Suddenly the elite becomes tedious and repulsive. Hence Orlando avoids social encounters.
Illusions and Truth
Orlando believes that illusions are precious and necessary among all the things in life. Dreams are essential for the soul as much as the atmosphere is vital to the Earth. Lady Orlando lives in a delusional confusion. Sometimes it occurs that they wear their old nobleman clothes embracing their masculine nature from the past. Every night they enjoy wandering outdoor when there are not so many people around. Orlando likes to entertain themself with both the sexes. Their dual nature offers them all kind of experiences and amusements, having relationships with both the genders. Nonetheless, books, literature and poetry remain a big passion in their life.
The Nineteenth Century
The last two chapters take place in the nineteenth century, the period contemporary with the author. A turbulent welter of cloud covers all the city of London. Darkness and confusion are spreading all over. The eighteenth-century ends up, and the nineteenth century begins. The weather changes, and it is rainier. There is a rise of muffins, coffee, artificial flowers, pianofortes and china ornaments. Women’s life target is marriage, and having as many children as possible. Orlando carries their manuscript “The Oak Tree” with them wherever they go. The date on the first page of the script was 1586, and they worked on it for three hundred years. After all these centuries, they realised that they remained the same person. Their personality was unaltered despite their transition. Their meditative side, their love for animals and nature remain immutable, although now there was Queen Victoria instead of Queen Elizabeth.
The Last Part of Orlando Novel
Orlando kept their Elizabethan spirit during the nineteenth century, which is too much antipathetic to their personality. Now they are in complete solitude, and they feel very lonely. They define themself as single, mateless and alone. Although they met several men and women in their life, Orlando concludes that they don’t understand human nature deeply. They realised that it was better to lie in peace, surrounded by nature. And it is in this right moment that they meet their last husband. Indeed, Orlando was previously married to a Spanish dancer and had three sons. Even though they belong to the nobility and they still own their estate, they become poor. Finally, Orlando succeeds to publish their precious manuscript, and they become a famous writer. They win a prize for The Oak Tree poem, which they kept writing years after years with devotion and love. They are a beautiful person, kind to dogs, faithful to friends and very fond of poetry. After all those years of writing, the world seemed the same, considering that also after their death, the course of the events would be immutable.
Orlando: A Biography
This novel is a dedication to Vita Sackville-West, who is represented by Orlando. It is a phantasmagoria of Vita’s life during three centuries. Nigel Nicolson, son of Vita, defined Orlando as “the longest and most charming love letter in literature“. And Vita was delighted with the book. This book is a fictional biography of Orlando, who embodies a non-binary person. Indeed, Their spirituality and intellect define Orlando, not their gender; in fact, what matters is their soul and mind. Solitude, poetry and literature remain the loyal companions of Orlando years after years and century after century. Moreover, the last day in the novel is the first day of 1928, the women’s suffrage in Britain.