Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Orlando by Virginia Woolf
The protagonist of the novel is a man named Orlando, and the story covers a time period of three hundred years (1588-1928). Despite this large time span, Orlando only ages to a mere thirty-six years old while also undergoing a gender change from a man to a woman. In the beginning of the novel, Orlando pretends to cut off the heads of Moors just like the men in his family have always done, for he is too young to fight yet still loves to experience adventuresome situations. On one particular occasion, Orlando ventures out into the woods in order to write poetry; however, he falls alseep and wakes up to the incredibly loud sound of trumpets. He realizes that the sounding of the trumpets is to signal that Queen Elizabeth has arrived. Orlando immediately leaves the woods to return home so that he can properly prepare himself for her presence. When he finally meets her, the Queen is very much impressed by him. Two years after their initial meeting, she summons for him to become a part of her highly prestigious court. Orlando experiences the positions of a steward, treasurer, and even becomes romantically involved with the Queen, thus allowing him to have a great degree of social status. Nonetheless, Orlando still chooses to spend some time with people considered to be of a lower class and even engages with a number of younger women. He eventually becomes bored of this newly acquired lifestyle and thus returns back to the court under King James I due to the fact that Queen Elizabeth has died. The novel incorporates the events of the Great Frost in which a carnival extravangza exists on the frozen river. It is here that Orlando meets the Russian priness named Sasha; they plan to run away together, but their plans fall through when the ice eventually breaks, thereby causing the ships to leave. Later on in the novel, King Charles II decides to send Orlando to Constantinople to serve as an ambassador. One night, Orlando brings a woman into his room and falls deeply into a trance; after seven days, he awakes from the trance transformed as a woman. Orlando cannot decide which gender is more suitable to her desires and experiences a number of relationships with various men. She eventually marries a ship captain named Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine. Towards the end of the novel, Orlando goes to London for her writing and is unexpectedly struck ten times on the head by a very bright light. She has been struck by the present and is thirty-six years old. The novel ends with a scene involving the return of the previously dead Queen Elizabeth in addition to the arrival of her husband.
1). Because this novel endures a time span of three hundred years, there is a transition from the eighteenth century to the nineteenth century. Orlando experiences the gender change into a woman during the beginning of the nineteenth century. The nineteenth century was a time in history when women were more widely recognized and able to aquire more freedoms, so what do you think is Woolf's purpose in having Orlando undergo a gender change? Does Orlando seem to be too deeply affected by this change? Why or why not? How do you think that you would react?
2). This novel also focuses on social statuses and the importance of conforming to society as it changes. What is the importance of a social status, and do you think that these rankings are as emphasized today as they were back then? Why or why not?