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Orlando: A Biography Paperback – October 24, 1973

124 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

In 1928, way before everyone else was talking about gender-bending and way, way before the terrific movie with Tilda Swinton, Virginia Woolf wrote her comic masterpiece, a fantastic, fanciful love letter disguised as a biography, to Vita Sackville-West. Orlando enters the book as an Elizabethan nobleman and leaves the book three centuries and one change of gender later as a liberated woman of the 1920s. Along the way this most rambunctious of Woolf's characters engages in sword fights, trades barbs with 18th century wits, has a baby, and drives a car. This is a deliriously written, breathless-making book and a classic both of lesbian literature and the Western canon.


'Together these ten volumes make an attractive and reasonably priced (the volumes vary between L3.99 and L4.99) working edition of Virginia Woolf's best-known writing. One can only hope that their success will prompt World's Classics to add her other essays to the series in due course.' Elisabeth Jay, Westminster College, Oxford, Review of English Studies, Volume XLV, No. 178, May '94 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: A Harvest Book, Hb 266
  • Paperback: 333 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (October 24, 1973)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 015670160X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156701600
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (124 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,713 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

VIRGINIA WOOLF (1882-1941) was one of the major literary figures of the twentieth century. An admired literary critic, she authored many essays, letters, journals, and short stories in addition to her groundbreaking novels.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

80 of 81 people found the following review helpful By A.J. on December 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
"Orlando" is a fictional biography whose subject in the beginning is a sixteen-year-old boy in the Elizabethan era and in the end -- three hundred years later -- is a thirty-six-year-old woman. This is not a novel about transsexuality, as such a premise would indicate, but it is a statement about sexual identity and gender roles in English society as only an author like Virginia Woolf could make, territory not even the brazen D.H. Lawrence could traverse with much confidence. It is a lyrical tour de force in which Woolf displays her considerable talent for subtly describing moods and scenery, but most surprisingly, it demonstrates her sly sense of humor and satire.
Orlando's gender alteration is naturally the central event of his preternaturally long life, but his aging only twenty years over a course of three centuries is certainly no less bizarre. To describe the circumstances under which he becomes a woman or explain the logic by which he ages so slowly would be giving away too much in this review, nor would it really help to recommend the novel to one who is not yet persuaded to read it, so I will be silent on that account, saying only that these outrageous devices fully succeed as vehicles to explore Woolf's theme of femininity with respect to English cultural and historical frames of reference.
The novel examines the effect of gender alteration on Orlando's amorous and professional capacities. As a young nobleman in the Elizabethan court whose interests are swordsmanship and poetry, he is engaged to an aristocratic Irish girl, has a torrid affair with a Russian princess, and meets a silly woman who, resembling nothing so much as a hare, calls herself the Archduchess Harriet.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
Orlando is simply wonderful. In the novel, Woolf uses the character of Orlando, a person who lives through four centuries as man sometimes and woman sometimes. The term biography might throw you, since Orlando is no normal biography. Woolf personifies literary thought as a person (hence the timelessness and gender changing capability). She depicts Elizabethan times through the early twentieth century with wit and sarcasm. The more that you've read of English literature from Shakespeare forward the more you will catch the little jokes and the reason for why certain things happen. A very enjoyable read. The film version is not exactly the same, so I recommend sticking to the book.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 17, 1996
Format: Paperback
John Irving ("World According to Garp") wrote an essay on
Charles Dickens book "Great Expectations" in which he said
that that book was the first book he had ever read that he
wished he had written. For me the first book that I had read that I wished
I had written is "Orlando" by Virgina Woolf. It blew me
away. I had seen the movie version a few years ago, and
recently found it in a bookstore, so I decided to check it out.
It's subtitle is "A Biography" and although it is based (very
loosely, I'm sure) on someone's actual life, it becomes clear
to the reader that this is definitely a work of fiction.
The reason that I enjoyed it so much is, well, let me put it
this way...Charles Dickens and John Irving were and are storytellers,
very wonderful, brilliant storytellers, but Virgina Woolf is (well, was)
an amazing artist. I don't go for poetry that much, I'm a prose
kind of guy, but "Orlando" for me, was the very best kind of poetry but
written as a narrative. Read this book. And let me know what you think...
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Robertuccio on December 13, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
There probaly isn't very much that hasn't been already said and written about this masterpiece of literature. I was very keen on chapter 5, where Ms. Wolf simply rips Victorian morality to shreds. Superb read.

Oh the Glawr!

A note on the Kindle editions: I purchased this one for $.99 though I also saw another one with the same cover but for approximately $3.99.
There wasn't enough information for me to be able to tell if there was any difference however, there is so much critique and commentary written on "Orlando" that I don't see the need to pay for something I can simply Google rather than have it added onto to the book for 10 times what I paid for this book.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Monika on February 21, 2005
Format: Paperback
Virginia Woolf's "Orlando" is unique in form, being a mock biography of a fictional character. We are introduced to Orlando, a protagonist based partly on Woolf's close friend Vita Sackville-West, as a 16-year-old boy, the son of noble parents, in the latter years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. By the end of the book, more than three hundred years later, he has become a 36-year-old woman living in "modern" times (meaning 1928, the year of publication).

Woolf uses Orlando's sexual transformation and long life as a vehicle for investigating influences on and consequences of gender and sexuality through history. Her commentary is pointed and often right on the mark. But at the same time, the book is infused with Woolf's dry wit, giving everything a humorous overtone. For example, when Orlando returns to England after his transformation, everyone at home assuming him to be dead, she finds herself embroiled in a legal battle to get her property back: "The chief charges against her were (1) that she was dead, and therefore could not hold any property whatsoever; (2) that she was a woman, which amounts to much the same thing" (168). One can tell that, while these issues were obviously important to her, Woolf was having fun when she wrote this.

Now, as far as my personal reaction, I am going to be among the minority of reviewers here in saying that overall I really didn't much care for the book. In talking to others who have read it, I've noticed that "Orlando" seems to be one of those "love it or hate it" works. Perhaps I went into it with the wrong expectaions, this being my first Woolf novel, but it just kind of fell flat for me. I certainly wasn't expecting it to be the kind of book it was.
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