Thursday, 29 May 2014

Orlando (review)

by Virginia Woolf


Orlando woke.
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.

Orlando is a boy who was born in Elizabethan era, fascinated by the Poetry, the nature and girls. But Orlando is also a beautiful young woman looking for a husband in Victorian England. And much more.
Through the ages we follow the changing of fashions, of customs, of England along with Orlando, who also changes... or maybe not.


I approached this novel with a mixture of fear and expectation. I was afraid it could be boring (I had some difficulties in the past with To the Lighthouse, though in the end I didn't dislike it), but at the same time I was strongly attracted, it intrigued me a lot and I dared to hope for something different.
From the number of stars I gave this novel you can easily guess which of the two sensations with which I approached this book turned out to be true! :)

At the very beginning I was pleasantly intrigued because I didn't know the book was set in the sixteenth century. Even more surprising was discovering slowly (I needed a lot to understand this thing!) that in fact while Orlando was gowing up the story moved in later centuries, from king to king (or queen), and reaching out to the "present" (obviously author's presente, 1928).
This strangeness, this apparent immortality of Orlando is not explained in any way, nor does it seem strange to people; through the centuries, moreover, he/she happens to meet the same people he/she knew two or three hundred years before, so it is not a peculiarity of the only Orlando, in fact, it almost seems that the only people to die with frequency are the monarchs, as I said, that with their succession to the throne marked the passing of time.
I can't explain this choice of the author. Perhaps her intention was to analyze the society changes and changing characters all the time would be too confusing. In fact, the feeling that this novel left me is like "the years pass, everything changes, but human nature, after all, remains the same."

I would like to read some interesting essay (possibly short!) about this novel - have you anything to suggest? ;) - because I'm curious to know how the critics have interpreted its oddities. It seemed to me mostly a reflection on the status of women, from a very particular point of view, namely that of a woman that for the first thirty years of her life was a man.
Another common thread: the love for literature. As I said, times change, so does Orlando, but this passion born when he was a kid (see one of the phrases below), remains throughout the novel,
As a lover of reading, I obviously appreciate this aspect of Orlando's life, even if, unfortunately (shame on me!), the authors cited were mostly unknown for me!

Orlando is not one of those books that kidnaps you, and you devour in a few days for the anxiety to know what happens next, but it sure is exciting, and almost every page made me exclaim to myself: what a wonderful book!!
A fascinating reading, which really made me fall in love with this author and her style. I'd want to focus more on this topic, but I feel a little silly, as if you say: but really?!?! You have discovered that Virginia Woolf writes well?!?! Fancy that, so far nobody had noticed it! ;)

Book Info

Title: Orlando: A Biography
Author: Virginia Woolf
Italian title: Orlando
First publication date: 1928
Publisher: Mondadori (Oscar Classici Moderni)
Italian translation: Alessandra Scalero
Pages: 225
Links: ANOBII

Bookmarks: I used the one on the right during the reading; it was bought ina fair trade shop; the bookmark in top left, indeed, was made by me!

Quotes

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.
[incipit]

Snow, cream, marble, cherries, alabaster, golden wire? None of these. She was like a fox, or an olive tree; like the waves of the sea when you look down upon them from a height; like an emerald; like the sun on a green hill which is yet clouded - like nothing he had seen or known in England.

The taste for books was an early one. As a child he was sometimes found at midnight by a page still reading. They took his taper away, and he bred glow-worms to serve his purpose. They took the glow-worms away, and he almost burnt the house down with a tinder. To put it in a nutshell, leaving the novelist to smooth out the crumpled silk and all its implications, he was a nobleman afflicted with a love of literature. Many people of his time, still more of his rank, escaped the infection [...]. But some were early infected by a germ said to be bred of the pollen of the asphodel and to be blown out of Greece and Italy, which was of so deadly a nature that it would shake the hand as it was raised to strike, and cloud the eye as it sought its prey, and make the tongue stammer as it declared its love.

It is a curious fact that though human beings have such imperfect means of communication, that they can only say 'good to eat' when they mean 'beautiful' and the other way about, they will yet endure ridicule and misunderstanding rather than keep any experience to themselves.

Such differences of opinion are enough to cause bloodshed and revolution. Towns have been sacked for less, and a million martyrs have suffered at the stake rather than yield an inch upon any of the points here debated. No passion is stronger in the breast of man than the desire to make others believe as he believes. Nothing so cuts at the root of his happiness and fills him with rage as the sense that another rates low what he prizes high.

Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than merely to keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world's view of us. [...] Thus, there is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us and not we them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking.

If one still wished, more than anything in the whole world, to write poetry, was it marriage? She had her doubts. But she would put it to the test. She looked at the ring. She looked at the ink pot. Did she dare? No, she did not. But she must. No, she could not. What should she do then? Faint, if possible. But she had never felt better in her life.

And so at last she reached her final conclusion, which was of the highest importance but which, as we have already much overpassed our limit of six lines, we must omit.

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