Since I pretty much stole the title of this blog from Virginia Woolf, I thought it would be appropriate to write a little something about her work. I read Mrs. Dalloway during my undergraduate (for fun, not actually for a class) and found it very… familiar in some way. More recently, I picked up Orlando and found it an equally, if not more gratifying read. My friend Julie Laurin has just created her own blog and has asked a number of people (including myself) to write about a book they read and loved this year. I have included my write-up below. You can read others – written by politicians, youth, artists – on the aforementioned blog.
One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to read much more fiction. I think I’ll continue with George Eliot’s Middlemarch, as I never actually finished it for my Victorian Seminar. But shhh, don’t tell my professor.
I’ve been on a Virginia Woolf kick lately, having recently watched The Hours and being subsequently inspired to reread her magnum opus Mrs. Dalloway. My dad – who sports a rather impressive library of his own – lent me his copy of Orlando, a more accessible, less stream-of-consciousness style, fictional-historical biography. The eponymous character lives through four centuries and ages only a handful of years; Orlando starts out as a gorgeous male specimen, and then, midway through the story, he transforms into an equally beautiful woman. And, like Tiresias, Orlando questions, among other things, whether sex is more enjoyable for men or for women. The answer is never revealed, but the research process is delicious.
Why did I love this book? First of all, the opening sentence is superb: “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.” It contains irony, foreshadowing, historical background, and even a hint of comic racism. Beyond the lyrical writing style and witty remarks, this book is extraordinary in its discussion of sexual identity and sexual politics. When our protagonist first notices the object of his infatuation, he cannot tell if it is a man or a woman; and yet this has no bearing on his attraction, except that he is concerned with what people might think. Furthermore, when Orlando becomes female, he (she, at this point) is hardly concerned with the transformation: it is only when she dons the skirts and wrappings of a woman does she begin to notice the differences, both externally and internally.
These are talking points that are still appearing regularly in online forums and in queer press like Xtra. We behave as though this type of discussion is something new, uncomfortable, and not yet appropriate for the majority. And yet Woolf was sparking this same discussion with grace and intelligence almost one hundred years ago in mainstream literature. Something to think about.