Orlando: A Biography
a work by V. Woolf, published in 1928, dedicated to her friend Vita Sackville-West, as a witty love offering. Fantastical, comical, light and whimsical, it also makes a serious inquiry into the status and treatment of women in English history and the possibility of an ‘androgynous’ personality which could be ‘a mixture of man and woman, one being uppermost and then the other’. It is also a skilful pastiche of conventional biography, showing ‘what a phantasmagoria the mind is and meeting-place of dissemblables’, and how resistant to the dull plod of chronology. Orlando begins the book as a seductive 16-year-old Elizabethan boy, trying to write poetry, inheritor of a great country house (based on the Sackville house, Knole), and madly in love with a Russian princess. His picaresque journeys take him through a sex change, a romantically adventurous relationship with ‘Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine’, and three vividly caricatured centuries tills/he reaches the ‘present day’.