Wordplay and the Androgynous Self: Woolf's Construction of Orlando

Virginia Woolf's creation of the main character in the novel Orlando relies upon a certain amount of "wordplay" in order to maintain her androgynous nature. But what is androgyny according to Woolf; to what degree does this gender mixing occur? When discussing discrete genders in any form of literature, there are certain specific phrases and indeed certain attributes that are usually reserved for one gender or the other. It is precisely by mixing up these words that Woolf is able to create a genuine air of androgyny - here, wordplay is not a mere stylistic attribute, but a tool as necessary as grammar or sentence structure because it is the only thing that is able to define intersexuality the way Woolf desires.

According to Woolf, Orlando is born and raised as a boy, '...there could be no doubt about [that].' However, later in that first segment of the novel he is described in quite the peculiar way; Orlando is described as having 'eyes like drenched violets... [and] shapely legs.' This is quite clearly a breach of the code of rigid gender roles! Why, from that sentence, one would think that we were describing a woman, not a man. In western culture, shapely legs and beautiful eyes are specifically...

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