Don’t we all occupy stretches of time that are finite yet inerasable and profound? So do we, then, accept the many possibilities of inhabiting a different self in a single lifetime? Isn’t that the true length of a person’s life? Not for how long one has lived but for the many selves one has embraced?
This question – Who am I? –clocks in every single day when you are as harmonized and unbridled as Orlando in Woolf’s novel.
Orlando’s story is like a net flung far off into the sea – and as you draw the net closer in towards you, all you find are a bunch of sea-weed in them – no great Big Fish. Because we are reminded, time and time again, that there is a Big Fish; a pinnacle that crystalizes the sole purpose of your existence. In Orlando, Woolf proves how closely and miserably what determines one’s existence is tied to one’s gender. And the language and conduct of each.
Every story is written so that a character solidifies in the mind of a reader even after the pages turn blank. The narration grants one the consciousness of a character. This places the character at the mercy of one’s gender and personality.
Woolf’s writing discredits one with the other. If you’ve read her A Room of One’s Own, you’ll know how she tackles the interiority and exteriority of gender. She mocks the aloofness of feminine and masculine roles. And in Orlando, she reshapes this narrative on a creative, intellectual, and literary footing.
Why read Orlando?
It is a portrait of a person freer than any literary character I’ve ever read. Orlando’s life is androgynous and the detached tone of writing offers an enlightened perspective on human complexity and sexuality. It is a labyrinth of many selves; as verdant and beautiful as the sound of leaves rustling in a thick forest; as magnificent as a tidal wave; and as resilient and eternal as the wind that stirs one and enrages the other.