Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Publication date: 11 October 1928/05 July 2018
Genre: Modern classics
Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This is a spoiler-free review.
Virginia Woolf is an author I’d really wanted to read more of, having only every picked up Mrs Dalloway. Wanting to read more of her books, I snapped up the chance to read Orlando. Written in 1928, Orlando has been celebrated as an important landmark LGBTQ+ novels.
‘He stretched himself. He rose. He stood upright in complete nakedness before us, and while the trumpets pealed ‘Truth! Truth! Truth!’ we have no choice left but confess – he was a woman.’
A young man in the court of the ageing Queen Elizabeth I, the beautiful Orlando seems to belong everywhere and nowhere. One morning, Orlando awakens transformed – transported into the eighteenth century, and the body of a woman. One of the twentieth century’s defining imaginings of queer identity, Orlando is a book of radical possibilities -boy and girl, past and future, nature and magic, life and history, love and literature. One of the most thrilling love letters in all literature, it trespasses thrillingly over the borders of place, time and self.
What sets this particular edition of Orlando apart is the fact that it has an introduction written by the actress Tilda Swinton, who played the title character in the 1993 film. While it was interesting to get her perspective on the book, I didn’t think this introduction added much to my reading experience. It was great to read about the impact on Swinton, however I tend to prefer more scholarly introductions.
Reading Orlando as a modern reader was a particularly interesting experience. I have read numerous classics — I, like so many of us, was a literature major at university — but my tastes tend to run toward more modern genre fiction these days. The thing that struck me most was that the plot in Orlando really isn’t important to the overall book. In fact, it feels a bit like Woolf is rushing us along to get to the good bits — the study of gender and gender roles with Orlando as our test subject. This wasn’t a bad thing, particularly because it is an incredibly character driven novel, but it did stick out to me. After Orlando’s transformation into a woman, I was fascinated to know how her peers who knew her as a man would react, but they didn’t really react at all. This, and other examples like this, really messed with my expectations of the book. I think that this is a learning experience — it’s time for me to pick up more classics and challenge my expectations.
I really loved Orlando as a character and how their experience allowed Woolf to explore gender historically across British society. Orlando is very aware of their transformation and the social changes across the centuries. Their pondering and musings, particularly after shifting into another century, on gender roles in society was what really captured my interest in the book. I found this to be a really interesting approach and I appreciate how unique it feels as a reader.
Overall, I liked Orlando, but I think I prefer Mrs Dalloway. This is a cool edition of the book, however I don’t think it adds a huge amount to the reader’s experience. If you’re looking for a book that’s a little bit off-beat, a LGBTQ+ classic, or want to read more work by Virginia Woolf, I’d recommend giving Orlando a shot.
Want to pick up a copy of Orlando? You can find it at the following sites (affiliate links):