When I made an instagram page to promote this blog (@tomboypress), I started a feature called Tomboy Bookclub (including cute pictures of my animal companions and what I think they would say aha). I gave my general opinions on books I had read and liked, they weren’t indepth at all- so I’ve decided to bring the feature PROPERLY here, and to start a-fresh with the book that incubated it all… ORLANDO!!! A classic with changing genders, Woolf hounds (see what I did there- aha), poetry written in berries and a life that lasts 400 years!
This Woolfian mock-biography is known as one of the longest love letters in literary history, and knowing that tid-bit does make reading more endearing- get rid of all the indepth analysis that can be done on Orlando’s sprawling ancient mansion, or the cryptic scene of their gender swap, and even if you don’t understand all the wierdness of the book, it’s still interesting to imagine the similarities between Vita ( Virginia’s lover aside from Leonard, and her inspiration for this book) and Orlando; what Virginia noticed and remembered about her to later transform into further fictions.
The elements of this book that interest me most- aside from it’s beautiful prose and hilarious narrative in general- are the ways it presents the natural world in its relation with human emotion. How as a youth up until the last chapter, Orlando returns to their favourite Oak tree to try and spit out the truth of their heart’s love; rewriting, scribbling over old lines to make an almost illegible Ode. Yet, in settings of their courtly mansion or in town, Orlando changes subtly from the romantic poet, to the aloof yet popular socialite with a reputation for public grandeur and wealth- not hiding in tree trunks. Despite the huge changes of gender and historical era Orlando experiences, I still kind of feel the biggest changes in Orlando come with the tensions of public status in their community VS what Orlanndo actually wants to express when in the clear-mindedness of reflection in nature.
For example, Orlando never really feels the urge/ desperation/obligation to marry (despite forlorn hankerings for romance) until the Victorian era. But one day, they freak out and declare they will only be nature’s bride. It is at this moment, the moment of resolute decision in the wilds of wind and moss, that Orlando’s future paradoxically swings in the other direction. Love on horseback arrives, and the rest is history. I think the point Woolf is trying to make is that of individuality. That we all MUST hang onto the quirks and stubbornesses and wills of our personality in order to maintain that ‘true’-self that will be loved, BUT… AT THE SAME TIME we have to understand how we as individuals fit into a larger order where others’ plans intercept our own. What we deem ‘morally right’ or ‘important’ or ‘necessary’ for ourselves doesn’t mean a rats ass to how the big guys think this place should be run. We have to adapt and hide what is wild to survive- but never, ever loose the core of dreaming which is what we suvive for. Don’t worry though; even though Orlando does marry, it isn’t written in a traditional way and in my opinion, doesn’t take away from any radical queerness. I don’t think finding a love that fits life diminishes their character in any way.
I won’t lie and say it is a straight-forward read, because for Woolf’s wit and elegance to truly be enjoyed you can’t just guzzle the words without tasting them. It isn’t a traditional or predictable story at all, but I think just the sheer quirkiness of the story and it’s characters means even if you don’t fully understand a fancy-shmancy sub-plot or how what is happening is even logically possible (trust- it is a wonderfully wierd book); sometimes it’s better to give yourself over to nonsense. The stranger things are, the more room for imaginative reasonings and resonations- the world needs people thinking outside the box!!!!
Give Orlando a quick google if I still haven’t sold it to you! But if you’ve read the book let me know and we can have a geeky chat about it!!!!
To finish, I shall leave you with a quote… nothing profound xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox
“… clumsiness is often mated with a love of solitude.”
― Virginia Woolf,