Orlando was the third read for the Woolf In Winter Read Along with this particular read being hosted by Frances at Nonsuch Book.
Woolf has described Orlando as a "Writer's Holiday" for herself and I felt it was also a sort of "reader's holiday" for me in terms of my Woolf reading. Not that I haven't totally loved and enjoyed my earlier reads but the intense focus on her characters inner lives and thoughts is draining to read - enlightening and amazing, but draining as well. I found Orlando to be an extremely entertaining read - a great story and a fascinating character to follow.
I feel this is another Woolf book where it really would have helped my appreciation of the novel to have a deeper and fuller understanding of Woolf's life and in particular her relationship with Vita Sackville-West, for whom Orlando was written. Overall though that lack of knowledge did not impede me from loving the story - and especially the freedom with which it was written.
Orlando starts life as a young boy in sixteenth-century England and moves through the ages to end up being a woman writer in 1928. The whole concept sounds so fantastical but Woolf makes it work. Before starting the book I was eager to read how Woolf would create this transformation in gender and I really liked the scene where this occurred:
We are, therefore, now left entirely alone in the room with the sleeping Orlando and the trumpeters. The trumpeters, ranging themselves side by side in order, blow one terrific blast -
at which 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.
Woolf goes on to write:
Orlando had become a woman - there is no denying it. But in every other respect, Orlando remained precisely as he had been. The change of sex, though it altered their future, did nothing whatever to alter their identity.
For me this is one of the most important paragraphs of the novel - the premise that sex or gender is in many ways irrelevant to a person's identity and character. Quite a powerful concept for the time in which Woolf is writing.
I loved Orlando as I have loved my earlier Woolf reads but I particuarly enjoyed the slight break from the intensity that Orlando delivered - I'm ready for The Waves now!