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Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf - Book Report/Review Example

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Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

Although Woolf's work of Orlando is a passionate depiction based on the life of her friend and lover Vita Sackville-West as it was originally intended to be, the novel gives us a far more illustrative view of the world concerning gender specifics, sexuality and human nature as it had been during the second half of the previous millennium. According to Wikipedia, the novel can be read as a 'roman clef' which is a work of literature describing real life, behind a faade of fiction and where the main character is usually a famous personality, or in some cases, the author. Woolf has used immense material from the writings of Vita as a basis for her own novel. Even though the main character here is based on the life of Vita, using the overtones of fiction and the liberties made available through fantasy, Woolf was able to construct a well documented biography of Vita, without subjecting herself to criticism or controversy. Themes such as homosexuality have been subtly brought into the picture by fictionalizing the real life character as a male who transforms into a female later on. This show the ingeniousness of Virginia Woolf, as most other works of English fiction directly approaching the subject of homosexuality had been banned during her years. Therefore even though she has titled her work as a biography, the novel has been classified as fiction, and this shows how Woolf had intended to cross the boundaries set between fiction and non-fiction with Orlando, "so the novel is not only about trans-gender, but also trans-genre, so to speak." (Wikipedia)

The book offers us considerable insight into the study and comparison between the male and female mind, as Woolf had deemed to subject her main character to in the various roles he/she plays, but it is the other aspects of life that automatically creep in while performing the subject analysis that make this a profound work of literature. Take for example her anatomy of time with respect to the human mind (starting from page 47) in which it is stated that the simplicity of time as shown on the clock cannot be compared to the complex structure of time as thought of in the mind. But this discrepancy is sorted out by the biographer, who is also the narrator in the novel, when it is stated that 'time spent thinking becomes inordinately long, and time spent doing becomes inordinately short.' The significance of time is apparent throughout the book, either when Orlando is pursuing a particular situation or person, in some cases hastily pouring out the emotions of his heart into a romantic escapade or in another trying to force the demons of jealousy and vengeance out of his mind, or spending time elaborately walking across the many winding hallways and chambers of his ancient home, that which was built by his ancestors lying dead in the crypt of the Chapel. Again it is the significance of time being called for, when Orlando proclaims the immortality of words over the 'dust and ashes of the deeds of his ancestors' because what lies of them now is but a finger or a skull, and not the immortal lustre of name when he would become the first poet among a race of campaigners, of whom he questions: "But ...Show more


Orlando: A Biography written by Virginia Woolf, which was probably not her most famous work, was however a thorough study of the characteristics and commonalities of gender during the long four hundred years that the novel traces through. In it Woolf examines the various biases with respect to both masculine as well as feminine types, in a subtle manner that clearly expresses her strong feministic views on the prejudices that existed right from the days of Queen Elizabeth the First to the end of World War I…
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Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf essay example
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