Basically, Orlando is this young nobledude in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, well known for his awesome legs, and his way with a water bowl. Yes, seriously. He loves the ladies, and ice skating, and hanging out in the great outdoors, especially under his gigantic oak tree. Then his heart is broken and he runs off to Constantinople to act as England’s ambassador. A pretty pedestrian plot (written gorgeously, of course) until, after a night of civil unrest, violence, and looting of the ambassador’s residence, where Orlando sleeps through the mayhem, he then wakes up as a she.
Woolf’s subsequent musings on gender and sexuality are pretty awesome. Yes, this is a book of it’s time, but also, since it covers 300 plus years of Orlando’s life, it is a book of many times. Orlando’s legs are still the stuff of legend, but now instead of securing him an ambassador’s post they must be covered completely lest the glimpse of a calf send a sailor tumbling from the mast to his death.
One of the things I really liked was how Orlando still is attracted to woman after he becomes a woman. It’s pretty radical to realize that Woolf was separating out gender identity from sexual orientation back in the 1920s. It seems to be a concept people today still struggle with.
On a side note, I’m reading The Island at the Center of the World, about Manhattan when it was a Dutch colony. It contained a copy of this painting of James, Duke of York, that made me think of Orlando and hir legs:
This is one of my favorite Classics Club reads to date. I’m glad the Classics Spin and Modern March pushed me to reading it now rather than later.
Have you read Orlando, or anything else by Woolf? What did you think?