This blog is a combination of information compiled as an element of a seminar course revolving around Virginia Woolf.

Monday, October 11, 2010


For this blog, I wanted to concentrate on the submissive nature of Orlando’s character, especially in Chapter 5. At the beginning of the novel, we see a young boy who serves the Queen at court, but by the end we see a women filling her own internal desires, which are two very different ideas. Therefore, my question regarding this novel concerns how and why this shift occurs. We literally are taken to two polar ends of a spectrum and there must be a reason for this. While many people would argue that Woolf’s main inspiration for creating many diverse characters would be to highlight the differences in gender roles, I would argue differently. I think Woolf wanted the reader to look past Orlando’s specific personality at the moment and focus on society’s impact upon the his/her character and judge his/her response. In my eyes, Orlando’s different personalities are literary puppets used to show repressive qualities of society. I also believe the existence of ‘The Oak Tree” throughout the entire novel is one of the only non-conforming elements within the work as it helps Orlando find her true identity.

In Chapter 5 the reader sees the emergence of the 19th century. When thinking of the 19th century, I automatically think of the Victorian Era and a plethora of snobby people with their noses stuck a little to high in the air. With Orlando, we see that Virginia Woolf seems to share my assumption. The 19th century is introduced to the reader as a cloud hanging over London. The cloud seems to add a sense of doom and desperation to the remainder of the novel. It seems to suffocate Orlando and we see this suffocation through the constant annoyance of her outfit and the demand to be married. Nature is even in accord with the change of pace as the gardens become overgrown and out of control in this chapter.

And maybe this is reading a little too much into Virginia Woolf novels as a whole, but I think Woolf may have included this despair to show that women had no outlet and nowhere to turn in the 19th century. It reminded me of To The Lighthouse when Lilly finally finds satisfaction from a finished painting. The only source of satisfaction and steadiness in this novel is the poem, ‘The Oak Tree” which Orlando carries around all the time. It is the only element that is a constant presence whether Orlando is functioning in her/his male or female persona; therefore, I think it is symbolic of the function of art as an outlet of emotion. In the Victorian Era, creativity seemed to be suppressed as strict morality standards made creativity hard to come by and Woolf juxtaposes this idea by constantly incorporating the influence of poetry. In the middle of the chapter, Orlando reflects on the influence her poetry has had. She talks of how it has remained ’fundamentally the same’ even through all of her changes (173). It has been the constant presence that she refers to when times are hard. It is her rock and no other changes make a difference.

Through this scene, the reader sees the positive influence that art can have on a person. Woolf quickly reiterates the idea by having an outside force take hold of Orlando’s pen. She states, “Nothing more repulsive could be imagined than to feel the ink flowing thus in cascades of involuntary inspiration” (175). Clearly, Orlando does not being in control of her art, just like Lily did not enjoy not being able to create art. For both, art is the center of the universe and the stable ground that keeps them functioning. For Orlando, the influence of an outside force controlling the pen may have been Woolf’s commentary of the strict codes of the Victorian Era. Orlando was not free to write as she wanted and do as she pleased; therefore, she felt trapped in a despair of human emotion. By showing this in Chapter Five of Orlando, Woolf reaffirms this idea of art as a needed source of society within the reader.

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