Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Orlando: a Biography has been on my TBR shelves for nearly five years now, so I was glad it came up in the Classics Club spin as this gave me the push to actually read it. I won Orlando in one of Heaven Ali’s Woolfalong giveaways in May 2016 and I’m sorry that I haven’t read it before now. I did start it when I first got it, but found it a bit ‘difficult to get into it’ and left it on my bookshelves for while – the while turned out to be nearly five years!

I’ve read some of Virginia Woolf’s books before – Mrs Dalloway, To The Lighthouse, Kew Gardens (a short story), Flush: a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog, A Room of One’s Own and The Three Guineas (in one volume and more recently, I’ve read The Voyage Out, and Death of a Moth and other essays.

Synopsis:

Orlando tells the tale of an extraordinary individual who lives through centuries of English history, first as a man, then as a woman; of his/her encounters with queens, kings, novelists, playwrights, and poets, and of his/her struggle to find fame and immortality not through actions, but through the written word. At its heart are the life and works of Woolf’s friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West, and Knole, the historic home of the Sackvilles. But as well as being a love letter to Vita, Orlando mocks the conventions of biography and history, teases the pretensions of contemporary men of letters, and wryly examines sexual double standards.

My thoughts:

Orlando is a fictionalised biography of Vita Sackville-West, based on her life. They had met in 1922 when Woolf was 40 and Vita was 30, when Wolf described her as ‘lovely’ and ‘aristocratic’. I was a bit overwhelmed at times reading Orlando – such a fantastical novel, spanning 500 years. There are copious literary, historical, and personal allusions and despite continually referring to the Explanatory Notes at the end of the book I’m sure I missed a lot of them. And it makes for a fragmentary reading experience, having to stop reading and flip backwards and forwards between the text and the notes, so that I was a bit confused about the story and what happened when.

But having said that the plot is extraordinary, beginning towards the end of Elizabeth I’s reign when Orlando is a young nobleman, and continuing for the next five hundred years to the start of the twentieth century. You have to completely suspend your disbelief, not just for the length of his life, but also for his/her gender as in the late 17th century whilst he is an ambassador for Charles II he falls into a trance for seven days, only to find when he comes to that ‘he’ has become a young woman. As a woman she lives with a group of Turkish gypsies and then returns to England in the 18th century, when she has difficulty in being identified as a woman. In the 19th century she falls in love with a young romantic traveller, finally finding freedom in finishing the poem she began in the 16th century and in experiencing the delights of motoring in the early years of the 20th century.

What I’ve described here is just the bare bones of the book, because there are many vivid passages – such as her description of the ‘Great Frost’ of 1608, when the Thames was frozen for six weeks and Frost Fairs were held on the ice. It hit the country people the hardest:

But while the country people suffered the extremity of want, and the trade of the country was at a stand still, London enjoyed a carnival of the utmost brilliance. The Court was at Greenwich, and the new King seized the opportunity that his coronation gave him to curry favour with the citizens. He directed that the river, which was frozen to a depth of twenty feet and more for six or seven miles on either side should be swept, decorated and given all the semblance of a park or pleasure ground with arbours, mazes, alleys, drinking booths, etc at his expense. For himself and his courtiers, he reserved a certain space immediately opposite the Palace gates; which railed off from the public only by a silken rope, became at once the centre of the most brilliant society in England. (pages 22-23)

She also writes about writing and about books, about the nature of gender, and about the position of women in society over the centuries. One theme that fascinates me is her depiction of the passage of time, particularly in the final section of the book set as the 20th century reached 1928 (the year Orlando was published). Overall it is a book steeped in history showing how the passage of time had changed both the landscape and climate of England along with its society – and I have only scratched the surface in this post. It is a book packed with detail that deserves to be read more than once to appreciate it fully.

  • Publisher : OUP Oxford; 2nd edition (11 Dec. 2014)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 288 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 019965073X
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0199650736

The Classics Club Spin Result

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin is number …

which for me is Orlando by Virginia Woolf. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 30 January, 2021.

Orlando tells the tale of an extraordinary individual who lives through centuries of English history, first as a man, then as a woman; of his/her encounters with queens, kings, novelists, playwrights, and poets, and of his/her struggle to find fame and immortality not through actions, but through the written word. At its heart are the life and works of Woolf’s friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West, and Knole, the historic home of the Sackvilles. But as well as being a love letter to Vita, Orlando mocks the conventions of biography and history, teases the pretensions of contemporary men of letters, and wryly examines sexual double standards.

I hope I get on better with this book than I did with my last Classics Club Spin book, which was Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. I did start reading it, but didn’t get very far – it wasn’t appealing to me at all!

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced yesterday. It’s number …

18

which for me is Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 30 September, 2020.

My last Spin result was The Return of the Native, which I loved. So I am delighted this time to get another of Hardy’s books to read.

Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her bold presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and tragedy ensues, threatening the stability of the whole community. The first of his works set in the fictional county of Wessex, Hardy’s novel of swift passion and slow courtship is imbued with his evocative descriptions of rural life and landscapes, and with unflinching honesty about sexual relationships.  (Goodreads)

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

Classics Club Spin

What is the spin?

It’s easy. At your blog, before next Sunday 9th August 2020, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list.

This is your Spin List. You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the spin period. On Sunday 9th August, the Classics Club will post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by 30th September, 2020.

I have just 7 books left on my list, so I’ve repeated the list twice (minus the 7th book for second repeat).

  1. 8, 15 The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
  2. 9, 16 Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  3. 10, 17 Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  4. 11, 18 Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  5. 12, 19 Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  6. 13, 20 Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
  7. 14 Orlando by Virginia Woolf

I really don’t mind which book is chosen!

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club
The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced yesterday. It’s number … 6

which for me is The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 1 June, 2020.

The Return of the Native

I’m delighted with this as I’ve been meaning to read it for years and never got round to it.

‘To be loved to madness – such was her great desire’

Eustacia Vye criss-crosses the wild Egdon Heath, eager to experience life to the full in her quest for ‘music, poetry, passion, war’. She marries Clym Yeobright, native of the heath, but his idealism frustrates her romantic ambitions and her discontent draws others into a tangled web of deceit and unhappiness.

Early readers responded to Hardy’s ‘insatiably observant’ descriptions of the heath, a setting that for D. H. Lawrence provided the ‘real stuff of tragedy’. For modern readers, the tension between the mythic setting of the heath and the modernity of the characters challenges our freedom to shape the world as we wish; like Eustacia, we may not always be able to live our dreams. (Amazon)

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

Classics Club Spin

63269-classic2bspin

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin.  I was wondering if one was due, so I’m pleased to find it is, especially as I haven’t made much progress with reading any off my list recently.

    • Before Sunday 19th April 2020, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list. This is your Spin List.  I only have 9 unread books left on my list so I’ve listed them twice and added two more books that I’d like to read.
    • You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the spin period.
    • On 19th April the folks at The Classics Club will post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by 1st June 2020.

 

      1. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
      2. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
      3. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
      4. Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert
      5. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
      6. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
      7. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
      8. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
      9. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
      10. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
      11. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
      12. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
      13. Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert
      14. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
      15. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
      16. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
      17. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
      18. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
      19. I’ll Never Be Young Again by Daphne du Maurier
      20. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn

Have you read any of these and loved them? Any that you didn’t enjoy?

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club
The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced yesterday. It’s number … 13

which for me is Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by January 31, 2020.

Charles Dickens oliver twist etc

I’m delighted with this as I’ve been meaning to read it for years and never got round to it.

The story of the orphan Oliver, who runs away from the workhouse to be taken in by a den of thieves, shocked readers with its depiction of a dark criminal underworld peopled by vivid and memorable characters – the arch-villain Fagin, the artful Dodger, the menacing Bill Sikes and the prostitute Nancy. Combining elements of Gothic romance, the Newgate novel and popular melodrama, Oliver Twist created an entirely new kind of fiction, scathing in its indictment of a cruel society and pervaded by an unforgettable sense of threat and mystery.

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

This is my last post until after Christmas, so I’m wishing you all a very …

Christmas bells

The Classics Club Spin – My List

63269-classic2bspin

It’s time for another  Classics Club Spin. Before next Sunday 22nd December 2019 compile a Spin List of twenty books that remain ‘to be read’ on your Classics Club list.

On that day the Classics Club will randomly pick a number and that will be the book to read. You then have until the 31st January 2020 to finish your book and review it.

I have only 10 unread books left on my list  so, I’ve repeated the list to make the numbers up to 20.

  1. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
  2. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  3. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  4. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  5. Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert
  6. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  7. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  8. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  9. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
  10. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  11. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexte
  12. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  13. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  14. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  15. Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert
  16. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  17. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  18. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  19. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
  20. Orlando by Virginia Woolf

There are several long books on my list, but for the beginning of next year I think I’d prefer one of the shorter books. What do you think?

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced yesterday. It’s number …

5

which for me is Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by October 31, 2019.

Mary Barton

 

I’ve read some of Elizabeth Gaskell’s books and enjoyed them. This is her first book, set in Manchester between 1839 and 1842.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

Mary Barton, the daughter of disillusioned trade unionist, rejects her working-class lover Jem Wilson in the hope of marrying Henry Carson, the mill owner’s son, and making a better life for herself and her father. But when Henry is shot down in the street and Jem becomes the main suspect, Mary finds herself painfully torn between the two men. Through Mary’s dilemma, and the moving portrayal of her father, the embittered and courageous Chartist agitator John Barton, Mary Barton powerfully dramatizes the class divides of the ‘hungry forties’ as personal tragedy. In its social and political setting, it looks towards Elizabeth Gaskell’s great novels of the industrial revolution, in particular North and South.

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?