The writer for the Saturday Review feels that Woolf doesn't pursue her goose chase far enough, and that "it is the tragedy of one of the rarest and most strenuous intellects now at work that she persists in approaching fiction through a theory of fiction" ; the reviewer for the Manchester Guardian notes her use of modernist technique to comment on the genre of biography.
Critics writing through the mid-forties continued to approach the novel from different angles: Joseph Warren Beach, for instance, noted that "the point of the book seems to be that there is more than one person in each body, that each individual has, at least potentially, many selves This is not to suggest that Woolf's novel came into its own early in its publishing history -- far from it. There is really a dearth of discussion about Orlando from its initial publication and the attendant book reviews until about the mids when the conversation begins to get going again.
But that said, that initial conversation essentially lays the primitive foundations for almost all critical discussion to come later.
Tilda Swinton on Virginia Woolf's Orlando
Almost all. Where are the feminist interpretations? Well, they hadn't happened yet. In part, it's a deliberately anachronistic question- -the women's movement of the 60s and 70s hadn't happened, and neither had academic feminist criticism come into its own. And yet now it's almost impossible to escape such interpretations of the novel.
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Why is that? Partly yes -- we are far more sensitive to issues of gender than those readers of long agobecause it's now part of our social consciousness; even those who might disagree with such a critical approach must now acknowledge the validity of the approach itself. And partly no -- we are simply reacting to what we're given to read. Anyone casually glancing at these covers is likely to suspect that issues of gender and sexuality are involved in the text beneath the covers.
The HBJ paperback gives us two almost identical figures, one male and one female, divided by a clock; the QBC book cover is more abstract, but there's a prominent pink triangle on its spine and back. If we are better readers today, it's because we have some help from the publishers. Help -- and possible hindrance. If we are more attuned to the sexual issues in Orlando today because of the novel's packaging, we are also less immediately aware of other aspects of the novel for the very same reason.
The glory in whimsy and fantasy is lost from these contemporary covers, but these very elements were the ones highlighted in previous incarnations. The Penguin paperback features a young boy in Renaissance dress writing beneath a tree while an airplane flies overhead; the Signet cover features a technicolor version of the ice skaters from the Great Frost. These covers present the text to the reader as wonderful escapist fantasy, at the very least de-emphasizing feminist interpretations of the novel.
Men are all in the light always: with women you swim at once into the silent dusk. Orlando came out of the closet as a lesbian text in the s and remains out as critics continue to discover and celebrate its subversive, pervasive, and persuasive lesbian strategies. In this way, rather than making explicit statements about censorship like so many famous authors have done , Woolf chooses instead to tease and taunt the censor with her literary magic wand, which she uses, more than anything, as an empathic tool.
by Kelly Tetterton
Consider this seemingly simple, infinitely evocative passage:. With this simple, understated passage, Woolf pulls a fast one on the censor, creating a radical text that enables readers to repudiate homophobia and experience lesbian desire. Her most powerful stance against censorship, however, was Orlando itself.
Hankins writes:. In a brilliant rhetorical coup, Woolf chose to spotlight the various strategies for avoiding the censor, making these options and strategies the topic and the focal point of her book. I t was precisely because of her belief that time was created through the act of living that Woolf took such a dim view of the possibilities of traditional biography. It cannot be denied, the narrator notes at one point:. Of them we can justly say that they live precisely the sixty-eight or seventy-two years allotted them on the tombstone.
Of the rest, some we know to be dead, though they walk among us; some are not yet born, though they go through the forms of life; others are hundreds of years old though they call themselves thirty-six.
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Biography will enlarge its scope by hanging up looking glasses at odd corners. And yet from all this diversity it will bring out, not a riot of confusion, but a richer unity.
By piling centuries upon the same figure, Woolf sought to build a bridge to the past, one that cut against the grain of the contemporary landscape. Futurists and industrialists could trumpet the virtues of the now, but this boosterism hid a more terrifying reality: the traumatic wound of World War I, a violence that had opened a rift between present and past.
As with many other works from the s, there is an overwhelming emphasis on the recent horror and its aftermath. The most terrifying aspect of this all, perhaps, was the fact that modernity was so stubbornly bound in the now. For even if we have broken from the past, these works tell us, we remain bound to it, a conjoined twin who has woken in the night to discover his brother is dead. The time of modernism is always one of postapocalypse, its questions always about how to go on after the end, how to shore up the ruins.go site
Chronological List of Works By Virginia Woolf
The Triumph of Time detail , Florentine school, fifteenth century. Museo Bandini, Fiesole, Italy. Director Sally Potter made an attempt in her film adaptation, rendering what was delightfully ambiguous in the novel overbearingly symbolic and obvious. Time in Orlando is all affect—it is a frock that can be changed at will. It is nothing other than the sum of its parts—its technologies, its politics, its disasters—and as such, any given age can be adopted or discarded.
This preternatural embodiment of the past not only offers the means to understand the world, it also seems to necessitate a withdrawal from it. If in Orlando Woolf had finally created a character who could transcend chronos entirely , the novel by its end cannot help but pose the question: is it worth it? Watching the ages fly by, Orlando is detached, without allegiance to any century or its petty concerns. The loneliness of Clarissa Dalloway or Mrs. Ramsay is a loneliness of melancholy and regret, of looking back across the space of years and taking stock of a life that has passed by too soon.
Having loved and lost, their recollections are at least bittersweet. Regret is quite the opposite for Orlando, having spent centuries trying and failing to carry out E.