"It was Orlando's fault perhaps; yet after all, are we to blame him? The age was the Elizabethan; their morals were not ours..."
Through this quote, the narrator tries to convince the reader that maybe Orlando’s actions should not be harshly judged and that we, as readers, have no right to blame him for his actions. In the light of this quote, it is clear that the narrator is not impartial, but rather tries to convince the reader to like Orlando. Through this, the writer tries to make the reader realize that when we believe something to be true, there is always the possibility that what we believe is not our own idea but rather something that someone made us believe. The biographies that we may consider as being impartial can actually be the opinion that someone has about somebody, and that opinion may become ours as well if we are not careful.
"I am growing up. I am losing my illusions perhaps to acquire new ones."
In Chapter Four, Orlando gives up writing for a short period of time, considering that maybe it is better to give up her illusions. Her apparent adversity towards literature is a stepping stone in her maturation process, and it marks the beginning of a period when she is unable to feel accepted by the society she lives in. But her state is not permanent: soon, she acquires new passions and finds her true calling.
"I have found my mate...It is the moor. I am nature's bride."
In the fifth chapter, Orlando thinks about the fact that every woman has to get married, especially in the Victorian time. As she puts it, not every female wants to get married, but they do it anyway because this is the custom and this is what everybody does. But Orlando realizes quickly that she doesn’t connect with people as others do. Instead, she notices that she resonates better with nature and with what is wild and can’t be controlled by humans. Because of this, for her, the moor is the perfect mate because it represents everything that Orlando wants to be.
“A woman knows very well that, though a wit sends her his poems, praises her judgment, solicits her criticism, and drinks her tea, this by no means signifies that he respects her opinions, admires her understanding, or will refuse, though the rapier is denied him, to run through the body with his pen.”
In this quote, the narrator exposes how, even though Pope, Addison, and Swift acted as if they valued Orlando's company and opinions as a fellow intellectual, they actually saw her as lesser due to her gender. The fact that they devalue her judgment and abilities is ironic because Orlando was raised, and has at this point lived most of her life, as a nobleman. Therefore, it is clear that they are only basing their appraisal of her literary abilities on her gender, rather than her education, social upbringing, or even her mental physiology. This topic was of particular interest to Virginia Woolf because, as a female author herself, she had to work especially hard to have her work published and legitimized in the eyes of intellectuals and scholars.
“No passion is stronger in the breast of a man than the desire to make others believe as he believes. Nothing so cuts at the root of his happiness and fills him with rage as the sense that another rates low what he prizes high. Whigs and Tories, Liberal party and Labour party — for what do they battle except their own prestige?...Each seeks peace of mind and subserviency rather than the triumph of truth and the exaltation of virtue”
In this quote, Woolf criticizes the polarization of people's beliefs due to the psychological discomfort caused by being seen as wrong. What Orlando is actually experiencing in the story at this moment is discomfort with the fact that the gypsies do not value the things she has always valued about herself and her life: her wealth and possessions, her family name and lineage, and perhaps also her literary abilities. Woolf makes a connection between the psychology behind this type of cultural clash and political partisanship or polarization, which occurred during her lifetime in the United Kingdom and continues to plague political discussions around the world today.
“To put it in a nutshell...he was a nobleman afflicted with a love of literature...It was the fatal nature of this disease to substitute a phantom for reality.”
The fictional biographer who serves as the narrator of Orlando here humorously criticizes Orlando's love of reading and writing. While many today see an interest in reading as a lofty and worthy pursuit, the biographer metaphorically compares love of literature to a disease that causes one to dissociate from reality and dwell in fantasy. Instead of seeing Orlando as intellectual and well-read, his servants worry about his well-being. The biographer goes on to say that this point of view was especially prevalent when it concerned nobility or high-class people, since their lives were so good in reality. It was seen as strange that someone with such a comfortable life would seek to escape from reality, though we know that Orlando's embarrassments with Sasha and Nick Greene entice him to do just that.
“Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world's view of us.”
The narrator makes it clear from the moment of Orlando's transformation from male to female that very little changed about Orlando's appearance. It is implied that Orlando's sexual anatomy changed—that it was not a purely mental transformation—but that Orlando's face, legs, and other defining features stayed the same. This artistic choice on Woolf's part serves to highlight the importance of clothing as a symbol of gender and status in society, particularly 17th-20th-century English society. It is clear how clothing changes "the world's view of us" from Orlando's experiences on the boat back to England: the crew treats her as if she were a modest, delicate, respected guest. Particular moments—such as Orlando accidentally revealing an ankle, causing a crew member to almost fall overboard—drive home how women's bodies are sexualized and how fashion interacts with the societal norms created by this sexualization. However, it is interesting to note that Woolf also calls attention to how clothes "change our view of the world," meaning that wearing female clothes actually makes Orlando feel and act more female. This idea acknowledges that societal norms concerning gender are not simple matters: they create a feedback loop that shapes an individual's psychology and worldview.
“At one and the same time, therefore, society is everything and society is nothing. Society is the most powerful concoction in the world and society has no existence whatsoever”
When Orlando, now a woman, moves back to England, she enters 18th-century English high society. Woolf uses the upper-class culture of this period in English history to critique upper-class society in general, saying that rich people use parties and relationships as a facade for vapidity and social climbing. When Orlando goes to parties, especially with people who are considered witty or genius, she is struck afterward by how normal and even boring they are. However, she is sucked in like anyone else: during the party, she finds everything delightful and basks in feelings of luckiness and importance. Throughout the book, a reader can trace Orlando's enchantment and disenchantment with wealthy people and high society; in the end, Orlando feels like an outsider to every society, always hanging somewhere in the middle.
"Really it would profit little to write down what they said, for they knew each other so well that they could say anything they liked, which is tantamount to saying nothing, or saying such stupid, prosy things, as how to cook an omelette, or where to buy the best boots in London, which have no lustre taken from their setting, yet are positively of amazing beauty within it. For it has come about, by the wise economy of nature, that our modern spirit can almost dispense with language; the commonest expressions do, since no expressions do; hence, the most ordinary conversation is often the most poetic, and the most poetic is precisely that which cannot be written down. For which reasons we leave a great blank here, which must be taken to indicate that the space is filled to repletion.”
In Orlando's view (or perhaps the narrator's), speech is not as important as the meaning behind it. This can be seen at earlier moments in the story, such as when Orlando is going back and forth about whether Pope is amazing or disgusting while carrying on a perfectly polite conversation with him in a carriage. When Orlando and Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine first meet, they move on quickly from important details about themselves to talking about banal things, since it is less important what is said and more important that they are spending time together. The narrator believes so strongly that the actual words they are saying don't matter that he or she does not include them at all, leaving "a great blank" and asking that the reader imagine the two lovers in tender conversation. This kind of conversation, according to the narrator, shows that the two characters are truly in love.
“For she had a great variety of selves to call upon, far more than we have been able to find room for, since a biography is considered complete if it merely accounts for six or seven selves, whereas a person may have many thousand…and these selves of which we are built up, one on top of the other, as plates are piled on a waiter’s hand, have attachments elsewhere, sympathies, little constitutions and rights of their own… so that one will only come if it is raining, another in a room with green curtains, another when Mrs. Jones is not there… and some are too wildly ridiculous to be mentioned in print at all.”
Woolf makes two important points in this quote. The first is that every person is made up of many selves. Though one may think that they are a unified person, they actually contain selves that show up when interacting with different people, selves from different points in their life, selves with particular interests, and so on. This is illustrated by Orlando having a conversation between different selves—some female, some male, some from different time periods, and one that unites all the others. While most people are not able to separate their selves in this way, the scene as a whole—and this quote in particular—stresses that everyone has disparate pieces of their identity that they must try to reconcile and navigate between.
The second crucial point Woolf makes in this quote is that biography will always give an incomplete picture of an individual. This is a theme that runs throughout the novel and likely a major reason why Woolf chose to write the book in this interesting format. By saying that Orlando has "a great variety of selves to call upon, far more than we have been able to find room for, since a biography is considered complete if it merely accounts for six or seven selves," Woolf points out that there is always more to a person than what can be seen or summarized by an outsider, so readers of biographies must be wary of the writer's natural biases and limitations.
Orlando Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Orlando is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.