Now that we have had articles about an overview of tv and movies, tv characters, inspirational song interpretations, and a movie review. It feels like a good time to write a review on a book. There is lots of fiction found online that is specifically geared towards our communities but I have been curious as to works of literature that existed prior to the world wide web. When I mentioned Virginia Woolf’s Orlando in my first article, I kept thinking time to read the novel. I clearly remember saying the same thing when I first saw the film back in 1993. I was enthralled by Tilda Swinton and the scenery, it is a beautiful piece of moving art.   But alas, I never got around to reading it. When I wrote the overview, it was as if a voice said “Hey, why don’t you finally read the story?” So that’s what I have done.

The novel was originally published in 1928, and tells the story of an immortal aristocratic wannabe poet with the titular name through a narrator/biographer with a seemingly intimate knowledge of the character’s life. We learn that Orlando is from an old family at court and as a young boy captures the eye of Queen Elizabeth. She finds him innocent and delightful. She tells him that he can keep his titles and property on the condition of never growing old We follow the Orlando through life and the many ups and downs that happen from his first love (a Russian princess) who breaks his heart by being unfaithful and leaving without so much as a goodbye, through the ages of being a nobleman at court, and a patron of starving poets revitalizing the family estate, having an Archduchess persistently pursuing him, becoming an ambassador to Constantinople.

It is here where the story for me picked up because it is at this point the transition from male to female happens after a night of civil unrest and a sleep that appears to last for a lengthy period of days.  Orlando wakes up and has changed from one gender to the other. It is hinted that it is by a spell that the transformation has happened after marrying a Romany witch.  Our narrator states “Orlando has become a woman, there is no denying it. But in every other respect, Orlando remained precisely as he had been. The change of sex, thou it altered their future, did nothing whatever to alter their identity.” (Harcourt Brace Company, 1956 p138) So for Orlando, there is no difference between being Male and then suddenly Female. There is no true questioning at first as to what it means, she sees herself as the same person just a different gender. And I found that fascinating as someone who is still trying to understand their own feeling as to what gender truly means to me.

Stepping Out Secrets

As we follow the Lady Orlando, we are treated to a whirlwind of adventure from escaping the turmoil at her post, to living with the Romany, to sailing home and causing a stir for showing a bit of ankle and how wearing the clothes of her new gender has not only an effect on the sailors but herself as well. Once back in England, she finds out her former suitor was really a man pretending to be a woman and still pursues Orlando.  As the centuries go by it appears that there are other immortals. Orlando remains a woman though dresses how she wants and fights to keep her inheritance since she was no longer who she once was. The story ends in the then modern day with Orlando married and awaiting the return of her husband who was born a woman. There is no real established timeline other than by literary and historical names dropped. I will say that though I enjoyed the book overall and Virginia Woolf’s satirical and irreverence toward established beliefs of gender roles was refreshing, it is dated in certain views. I do think it is worth reading. And I hope my summary and review inspire you to read it. Or at least see the 1992 film.

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9 Comments
  1. Olivia Faye Marie 3 months ago

    Really interesting. virginia woolf was riding a line there. wonder if the book was considered scandalous at the time?

    • Author
      Michelle Liefde 3 months ago

      Thanks Olivia. It was interesting and a little tough at times but that might have been due to work, lack of sleep and a cold. I am really glad I read it and it has made me want to watch the film again.

  2. Deanna Lund 3 months ago

    I begin by saying I have not read the book but am thinking I might. it’s not that I am afraid of reading Virginia Woolf but of acquiring another book. Orlando, the movie is available to rent and my wife is a big fan of British history but the trailer was pretty blah and referred to the queen as he. Which is good by me but about to let her see the trailer.

    I am confused about the conclusion of Orlando. Is it that there is no difference between men and women? I know that’s not true. Is it that it doesn’t matter what clothes I wear? I don’t feel that way. It’s like the old riddle, why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side. Why do I cross dress? To wear women’s clothes! If it doesn’t matter, why do it?

    Luv
    D

    • Author
      Michelle Liefde 3 months ago

      hi Deanna,
      Good questions! They casted Quentin Crisp as Elizabeth in the film. An interesting choice to play the queen. I was taken by the movie because of the way it was filmed, the sets, and Tilda Swinton. The message of no difference does stand out in both film and book. In the film, it does try to contrast the difference between male and female clothing and how Orlando is treated. Though in the book Orlando eventually sees that there are differences yet you are still you, I think that was more her point. But I could be wrong.

  3. Jaime 3 months ago

    Speaking personally, I have never felt I was a man. I tried my best to fit in with other guys. Most of my memories are telling myself I shouldn’t behave or think a certain way, because that’s not what a man suppose to do. It seems like Virginia Woolf is saying that Orlando was transgender. That character was more comfortable presenting as a woman than a man.

    I think I might have to track down a copy of this movie and watch it.

    • Author
      Michelle Liefde 3 months ago

      Thanks Jaime, that is a good point. If you do find a way to watch it, I would love to know what you think.

  4. Rose Turner 2 months ago

    I have new for you. There IS a difference between male and female. What was the name of the movie? I would like to see it.

    • Author
      Michelle Liefde 2 months ago

      Hi Rose, the name of the movie is “Orlando” . I believe that one of the points of the story is that you are you no matter male or female. I know for me that whether I feel the need to express in either binary gender, i still am the same loving, caring, silly, laughing, foible person.

      • Rose Turner 4 weeks ago

        I’m going to have to see that movie.

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