Book Reviews

REVIEW: Orlando by Virginia Woolf

REVIEW: Orlando by Virginia WoolfOrlando by Virginia Woolf Published: Mariner Books on 1928, Paperback, 333 pages
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism
Purchase a copy: Amazon| Kobo
Add to: Goodreads

As his tale begins, Orlando is a passionate young nobleman whose days are spent in rowdy revelry, filled with the colorful delights of Queen Elizabeth's court. By the close, he will have transformed into a modern, thirty-six-year-old woman and three centuries will have passed. Orlando will witness the making of history from its edge, dressing in the flamboyant fashions of each day, following passing customs, and socializing with celebrated artists and writers. Orlando's journey will also be an internal one--he is an impulsive poet who learns patience in matters of the heart, and a woman who knows what it is to be a man. Virginia Woolf's most unusual and fantastic creation, Orlando is a funny, exuberant romp through history that examines the true nature of sexuality. (from Goodreads)

This was the fifth book we read for my Virginia Woolf class, and it’s the second one I’ve completely read instead of just pretending to. I loved it! I think I loved it even more than I love To the Lighthouse, though they really are two different beasts.
(Note: I’m not sure if I have to write a paper or not about Orlando, so I don’t want to get too deep into an analysis (just in case I need it later), but I’ll talk a bit about the book as if I wasn’t preparing to write an essay.)
Orlando is, like I said, a completely different sort of thing from To the Lighthouse. For one, it’s a historical fantasy.
I know! Virginia Woolf writing a historical fantasy? Completely at odds from what you think of when you think “modern fiction,” right? But though Orlando is historical fantasy it’s also modern fiction, and depending on who you listen to it’s also a love letter and a biography (see: here).
If you think about VW’s earlier books, they’re sort of…not depressing, but not happy-go-lucky, either. Orlando is happy-go-lucky. This is VW like she was high on love pills, or something, because it’s so lighthearted and funny and quirky and no-one dies and it’s wonderfully strange. I’ve gotten used to serious Virginia, but gleeful Virginia is lovely as well, and even more special for being so rare.
I could go on and on about what Orlando means in terms of GLBT history, in terms of gender and sex, of feminism and women’s history, and so on, but I might need that for the paper. So instead I’ll just say that besides all that admittedly interesting stuff, it’s a GREAT historical fantasy. It could stand up to modern historical fantasies, in fact, and probably even some urban fantasies.
Orlando is now my favorite Virginia Woolf book. I absolutely loved it, and I can totally see myself rereading it every year like I reread Diana Wynne Jones’ books. I for sure recommend reading it, though I’d also say that maybe you should read To the Lighthouse first (it’s short) so you can have something to compare to Orlando. I think it’ll make you appreciate it more? Yeah.
Read: March 23-25, 2010
Our next book is The Waves. Will I love it even more than Orlando? Or will I be disappointed with VW’s return to seriousness? Stay tuned to find out.
I do feel sort of bad for leaving this review half-finished. I totally DO want to write about, like, everything in it, but, seriously. I need to save that stuff up for class. Maybe I could post my essay after I’ve written it? OR! If you want to talk about something with me in the comments I will totally do it. Because I do love this book, immensely. And I wanna talk about it.
Oh, and: I could totally see this as a love letter (and the BEST LOVE LETTER EVER HELLO), but a biography? Not entirely. I think there’s bits of Vita in it but there’s also bits of Virginia, so if anything it’s a biography of their relationship instead of one single person.


  • Nicole

    I have read To The Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway and t is hard for me to imagine Virginia Woolf in this vein, but is sounds like fun. I will have to give it a try.

  • Bellezza

    If you liked Orlando, you’ll love The Waves! No, I’m partially kidding, but I liked The Waves so much, and really struggled enjoying Orlando. Although I know I’m in a minority. It reminded me so very much of Candide with its satire/commentary on social norms. Or, what’s expected of us anyway. You wrote a great review, and almost convinced me to reread it at some point in my life. 😉

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