Orlando. A Biography,
by Virginia Woolf.
Introduction and notes by Merry M Pawlowski.
Wordsworth Classics, 2003 (1928).
Illusions are to the soul what atmosphere is to the earth. Roll up that tender air and the plant dies, the colour fades.
The earth we walk on is a parched cinder. It is marl we tread and fiery cobbles scorch our feet.
By the truth we are undone. Life is a dream. ‘Tis the waking that kills us. He who robs us of our dreams robs us of our life.
As Orlando is a welter of vignettes, a kaleidoscope with multiple patterns, and a diorama with many scenes, so might a consideration of this ‘biography’ be a sequence of thoughts, reflections and digressions.
Orlando being so well-known as an extended fantasia on Woolf’s lover Vita Sackville-West means only occasional reference to that fact needs mentioning; it’s as a piece of literature and, above all, storytelling that I think Orlando needs to be remembered, and whether it works as a satisfying experiment or not addressed.
And what is the outward show of this narrative, its material appearance? It tells the history of a young Elizabethan noble whose life, career, gender and obsessions go through a series of transformations over several centuries till we arrive at the year 1928, in the month of October, with Orlando now a woman together with, one hopes, the love of her life. Accept this wild proposition, therefore, and things start falling into place.Continue reading “Life and a lover”