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Orlando (Annotated): A Biography Paperback – July 3, 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Annotated edition (July 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156031515
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156031516
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

CHAPTER ONE
HE—FOR THERE could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters. It was the colour of an old football, and more or less the shape of one, save for the sunken cheeks and a strand or two of coarse, dry hair, like the hair on a cocoanut. Orlando’s father, or perhaps his grandfather, had struck it from the shoulders of a vast Pagan who had started up under the moon in the barbarian fields of Africa; and now it swung, gently, perpetually, in the breeze which never ceased blowing through the attic rooms of the gigantic house of the lord who had slain him.

 Orlando’s fathers had ridden in fields of asphodel, and stony fields, and fields watered by strange rivers, and they had struck many heads of many colours off many shoulders, and brought them back to hang from the rafters. So too would Orlando, he vowed. But since he was sixteen only, and too young to ride with them in Africa or France, he would steal away from his mother and the peacocks in the garden and go to his attic room and there lunge and plunge and slice the air with his blade. Sometimes he cut the cord so that the skull bumped on the floor and he had to string it up again, fastening it with some chivalry almost out of reach so that his enemy grinned at him through shrunk, black lips triumphantly. The skull swung to and fro, for the house, at the top of which he lived, was so vast that there seemed trapped in it the wind itself, blowing this way, blowing that way, winter or summer. The green arras with the hunters on it moved perpetually. His fathers had been noble since they had been at all. They came out of the northern mists wearing coronets on their heads. Were not the bars of darkness in the room, and the yellow pools which chequered the floor, made by the sun falling through the stained glass of a vast coat of arms in the window? Orlando stood now in the midst of the yellow body of an heraldic leopard. When he put his hand on the window-sill to push the window open, it was instantly coloured red, blue, and yellow like a butterfly’s wing. Thus, those who like symbols, and have a turn for the deciphering of them, might observe that though the shapely legs, the handsome body, and the well-set shoulders were all of them decorated with various tints of heraldic light, Orlando’s face, as he threw the window open, was lit solely by the sun itself. A more candid, sullen face it would be impossible to find. Happy the mother who bears, happier still the biographer who records the life of such a one! Never need she vex herself, nor he invoke the help of novelist or poet. From deed to deed, from glory to glory, from office to office he must go, his scribe following after, till they reach what ever seat it may be that is the height of their desire. Orlando, to look at, was cut out precisely for some such career. The red of the cheeks was covered with peach down; the down on the lips was only a little thicker than the down on the cheeks. The lips themselves were short and slightly drawn back over teeth of an exquisite and almond whiteness. Nothing disturbed the arrowy nose in its short, tense flight; the hair was dark, the ears small, and fitted closely to the head. But, alas, that these catalogues of youthful beauty cannot end without mentioning forehead and eyes. Alas, that people are seldom born devoid of all three; for directly we glance at Orlando standing by the window, we must admit that he had eyes like drenched violets, so large that the water seemed to have brimmed in them and widened them; and a brow like the swelling of a marble dome pressed between the two blank medallions which were his temples. Directly we glance at eyes and forehead, thus do we rhapsodise. Directly we glance at eyes and forehead, we have to admit a thousand disagreeables which it is the aim of every good biographer to ignore. Sights disturbed him, like that of his mother, a very beautiful lady in green walking out to feed the peacocks with Twitchett, her maid, behind her; sights exalted him—the birds and the trees; and made him in love with death—the evening sky, the homing rooks; and so, mounting up the spiral stairway into his brain—which was a roomy one—all these sights, and the garden sounds too, the hammer beating, the wood chopping, began that riot and confusion of the passions and emotions which every good biographer detests. But to continue—Orlando slowly drew in his head, sat down at the table, and, with the half-conscious air of one doing what they do every day of their lives at this hour, took out a writing book labelled “Æthelbert: A Tragedy in Five Acts,” and dipped an old stained goose quill in the ink.
 
 Soon he had covered ten pages and more with poetry. He was fluent, evidently, but he was abstract. Vice, Crime, Misery were the personages of his drama; there were Kings and Queens of impossible territories; horrid plots confounded them; noble sentiments suffused them; there was never a word said as he himself would have said it, but all was turned with a fluency and sweetness which, considering his age—he was not yet seventeen—and that the sixteenth century had still some years of its course to run, were remarkable enough. At last, however, he came to a halt. He was describing, as all young poets are for ever describing, nature, and in order to match the shade of green precisely he looked (and here he showed more audacity than most) at the thing itself, which happened to be a laurel bush growing beneath the window. After that, of course, he could write no more. Green in nature is one thing, green in literature another. Nature and letters seem to have a natural antipathy; bring them together and they tear each other to pieces. The shade of green Orlando now saw spoilt his rhyme and split his metre. Moreover, nature has tricks of her own. Once look out of a window at bees among flowers, at a yawning dog, at the sun setting, once think “how many more suns shall I see set,” etc., etc. (the thought is too well known to be worth writing out) and one drops the pen, takes one’s cloak, strides out of the room, and catches one’s foot on a painted chest as one does so. For Orlando was a trifle clumsy. 
 
Copyright 1928 by Virginia Woolf
Copyright renewed 1956 by Leonard Woolf
Annotated Edition copyright © 2006 by Harcourt, Inc.
Preface copyright © 2005 by Mark Hussey
Introduction copyright © 2006 by Maria DiBattista

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on June 4, 2009
Format: Paperback
In her most playful and exuberant novel, Virginia Woolf writes the "historical biography" of Orlando, a young boy of nobility during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. A wild ride through four centuries, the novel shows Orlando aging, magically, only thirty-six years between 1588 and 1928. Even more magically, he also changes from a man to a woman. As she explores Orlando's life, Woolf also explores the differing roles of men and women in society during various periods, ultimately concluding that one's role as a man or woman is determined by society, rather than by birth.

From the Elizabethan period, during which Orlando works as a steward for the queen and also serves as her lover, he progresses to the reign of James I, experiencing a profound love for a Russian princess, Sasha, who is herself exploring the role of a man. When the relationship ends, he retreats, devastated, to his estate, with its 365 rooms and 52 staircases, which he redecorates over the next few years. An interlude in which he is wooed by the Archduchess Harriet/Archduke Harry leads to his ambassadorship to Constantinople, a period spent with the gypsies, and his eventual return to England--as a woman. New experiences and observations await her there.

Throughout the novel, Woolf matches her prose style to the literary style of the period in which Orlando lives, creating always-changing moods and sheer delight for the reader. Some constants continue throughout the four centuries of Orlando's life. Orlando is always a writer, always recording his thoughts, and always adding to a poem he has begun as a child entitled "The Oak Tree." He is always returning to his 365-room house whenever he needs to recuperate from his experiences, and some characters repeat through time.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 1, 2010
Format: Paperback
No lover in the world ever wrote a valentine more exquisite than Virginia Woolf's tribute to her lover Vita Sackville-West. That tribute was "Orlando: A Biography," a magical-realism tale about a perpetually youthful, charming hero/ine who traverses three centuries and both genders -- and Woolf's writing reaches a new peak as she explores the hauntingly sensuous world of Orlando.

Orlando was born a young aristocratic man in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, and when the dying monarch visited his home she became his new court favorite (and briefly lover). His passionate, curious personality attracted many other women over the years -- until he fell in love with Sasha, a mercurial but faithless Russian princess (supposedly based on Sackville-West's ex-girlfriend). Bereft of true love, he devoted himself to poetry and entertainment.

But then he's assigned to be an ambassador to Constantinople, and something strange happens -- while a bloody revolution rages, he sleeps for a full week... and wakes newly metamorphosed into a woman. With the same mind and soul but a female body, Orlando sets out on a new life -- and discovers that women aren't quite as different from men as she once thought.

"Orlando: A Biography" is a very weird book, and was even more so when it was written since "magical realism" didn't exist as a literary style in 1928. Virginia Woolf makes no explanations about Orlando's immortality or unexpected gender switch. It's simply accepted that once he was a man, and then she became a woman, and that s/he has lived from the Elizabethan era until at least the 1920s (and who knows, maybe Orlando still wanders among us?).

And Woolf's writing is at its peak here.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Emma Freeman on December 26, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For those of you who are interested in modernist writing, go ahead and pick up this book. Woolf wrote this directly at the women of the day to poke fun at what was considered then 'normal' literature. With gender bending and immortality this book is a most for feminism in modernism.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ryan Mease on February 17, 2011
Format: Paperback
A fine work of scholarship with a very thorough-going introduction that has much to say about the context and content of the work. The endnotes tend to be very helpful for providing context in even greater detail. I wish they would have been footnotes, but... oh, well...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Samuel Rafael on February 17, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An absolutely magnificent book about a young nobleman in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, who, by mid-book somehow transforms into a woman. This florid and eloquently-written novel closely examines the nature of sexuality, gender and changing social values over several centuries. Not a transgender book, per se, but a glorious evisceration of the social norms that comprise our gender. Those who have an interest in the transgender arena will particularly appreciate and revel in the author's cutting insights. The irony and humor in this book is absolutely brilliant. Stick with it through the first half as it all comes together to make incredible sense.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By K. Floyd on June 7, 2010
Format: Paperback
This novel is Woolf's literary joke, where she pokes fun at herself and all her literary predecessors. The story follows Orlando, who begins life as a young man in 16th century desperately striving for love and affection. About midway through, however, he becomes a stunning literary embodiment of Woolf's lover, Rita Sackville-West. Woolf's constant references to herself and her constant fun with other others make reading the book a bit like a treasure hunt, but it's certainly a joy to read even if you aren't searching for literary clues and connections. Reading Orlando is like sinking into a warm bathtub up to your neck and just enjoying the sensation and the blissful silence when you put your ears underwater.
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