Orlando Summary and Analysis of Chapter VI


Orlando goes back inside and finds her writing things laid out the way they had been before meeting and marrying Shelmerdine. Ironically, she had just mean meaning to write that “Nothing changes” (233). Orlando toys with her wedding ring and muses aloud about marriage, testing if her acquiescence to the spirit of the nineteenth century has succeeded. She wonders if her marriage counts if her husband is always off sailing, if she actually likes her husband, if she likes other people as well, and if she still wants to write poetry. She decides to try it out, and begins to write poetry, pausing to ponder over a particular simile. She concludes that she has stopped clashing so much with the nineteenth century, though in her mind she still has “contraband” (235) from the eighteenth century.

Time goes on, and Orlando’s life is quite boring. The biographer laments that there is nothing to write about. Orlando sits, sometimes writing and some just thinking silently. The biographer finally says that, since Orlando is a woman, love can be substituted for action. The biographer hopes for Orlando to think of some man, even a gamekeeper, and invite him to meet up, to create some kind of romantic plot. Orlando does not do this kind of outward show of “love — as the male novelists define it” (240), so the biographer humorously concludes that she is “no better than a corpse” (240). The biographer turns to describing what Orlando sees out the window for lack of any action.

Finally, Orlando declares “Done!” (242), drops her pen, and stands. She looks out the window and realizes that life has been going on while she’s been hidden away, and that it would go in just the same if she were dead. This thought disturbs her, but she is brought back from her negative thoughts by the manuscript of "The Oak Tree" rustling in its spot by her chest. Orlando intuitively knows that the manuscript wants to be read, so she orders a servant to prepare a carriage so she can go to London. The servant tells her that she can catch the 11:45 train, and Orlando realizes that she’s forgotten about the invention of the steam engine, which “completely changed the face of Europe in the past twenty years” (243).

She gets to London by train in less than an hour, and then must decide where to go since her family’s house at Blackfriars has been sold. She is very confused and distracted by the different vehicles crowding the streets and constant flow of people jostling, yelling, and not paying any attention to one another. She walks a long way, past rows of matching houses and statues of soldiers on horseback. Eventually, she is reminded of her manuscript by its beginning to flutter again, so she stops abruptly. She sees an elderly man approach and recognizes that it is Nicholas Greene, the poet who once stayed at her house and wrote a satire about her.

They greet one another and decide to share a meal. Since they last met, Greene has become a Knight and a professor and is now regarded as “the most influential critic of the Victorian age” (246). Ironically, when they get to talking, Green begins to laud the very poets of the past century he once criticized for being overly focused on money, and he uses the same reasoning to criticize new poets. Orlando is quietly skeptical of Greene, thinking that he has lost his liveliness and that literature itself is lacking if he is its representative. While they talk, Orlando’s manuscript falls out of her dress, and Sir Nicholas seizes upon it. He reads a bit, declares that it reminds him of the works of Addison and Thomson, and says it should be published. Greene takes the poem, saying that he will get it published himself. He tries to discuss royalties, or Orlando’s financial compensation for the work, but she does not understand.

Greene leaves with "The Oak Tree," and Orlando leaves without it for the first time in hundreds of years. She runs to send a wire to Shelmerdine using a shorthand they have developed. She knows there will be no answer for a while, so she goes looking for something to do. The first shop she walks into is a bookshop, and she is shocked by how many books there are, especially now that it is relatively easy for even lesser-known authors to get published. She asks for the bookseller to “send her everything of importance” (252). She proceeds to sit down beneath a tree and read some of the articles she took with her from the bookshop, but she is continually distracted. She sets off to walk again, thinking angrily about how authors are expected to write like other authors. In her heightened emotion, she looks at a toy boat floating on the Serpentine and mistakes it for her husband’s ship on Cape Horn. The boat sinks and Orlando yells “Ecstasy!” (255.) She runs off to send Shelmerdine another wire about the toy boat, repeating the words she is going to send over and over. The experience shows her that stuffy authors and literature do not matter as much as sudden, vivid life experiences.

Orlando goes back to her house and finds hundreds of books have been delivered from the bookshop. She carries a few to her room and begins to catch up on Victorian literature. In short, Orlando discovers that noblemen no longer fund authors’ writing and that the literary world is now full of dinners, lectures, and special events. Orlando looks out the window and sees someone playing a barrel-organ. The biographer follows the barrel-organ player and lapses into a strange, stream-of-consciousness description of the instrument's music, the sights around the city, and the nature of happiness. Suddenly, the barrel-organ player stops playing, and Orlando is shown to have just given birth to a baby boy.

Orlando looks out the window, but the biographer assures us that there is much to describe because time and technology have progressed again. Orlando marvels at carriages moving without horses and sees King Edward, the successor to Queen Victoria in 1901, stepping out of one. Orlando has entered the 20th century, and she notes that the climate has changed again: "No longer so thick, so watery, so prismatic...the sky seemed made of metal...everything seemed to have shrunk" (262-3). Further changes to society include electric lighting in houses at night, the thinness of women, and the lack of top hats and beards on men. Family sizes and vegetation return to the smaller sizes of the eighteenth century, but everything seems to Orlando desperate and tense.

Suddenly, Orlando feels as if she were struck ten times. There is no actual impact: instead, it is a clock striking ten o'clock on October 11, 1928: "The present moment" (264). Orlando is momentarily shocked, and then she realizes she is late for something. She runs downstairs, gets into her motorcar, and drives off. She drives quickly and speaks aggressively, saying modern phrases like "Why don't you look where you're going to?" (265). She arrives at Marshall & Snelgrove's and takes out a list of things to buy, including boys' boots, bath salts, and sardines. She gets into an elevator and briefly considers the magic of being shown a completely different scene every time the doors open. She gets out on the last floor and, seeing that bath salts will be nowhere to be found, looks instead for bed sheets. While a man goes in search of bed sheets for her, she looks at the makeup on display and notes that, although she is 36, she is still very youthful and attractive. When the man comes back, Orlando thinks she sees Sasha, the Russian princess. Orlando regains composure and goes back down in the elevator, but as she descends she imagines that she is going back in time. As people from 1928 move around her, she sees the day that the Great Frost melted.

As Orlando gets back in her motorcar to drive home with her mind still partly in the past. The biographer notes that many people go through life with their minds in many different time periods simultaneously, such that "the present is neither a violent disruption nor completely forgotten in the past" (270). Orlando is clearly not so skilled at blending the present and past, because, when the clock strikes, she feels as if "the present again struck her on the head. Eleven times she was violently assaulted" (271). She drives quickly away from London while yelling aggressively, only calming down when she gets out into a more rural area. She calls her own name hesitatingly, and the biographer explains that Orlando, like everyone else, is made up of many different selves. The self Orlando was calling does not appear, so Orlando tries calling upon another one. The biographer says that Orlando is seeking to be one self or to access her "true self" (274) that controls and contains all the others, but she instead launches into a conversation between selves. The conversation is hard to follow since Orlando bounces between selves and topics, but the narrator tries to explain what is going on in parentheticals. During the conversation, Orlando notes that her book, "The Oak Tree," was very well received, meriting seven editions and a prize. She muses disparagingly about fame and then thinks of the poor poet she saw at age 16. Suddenly, the Orlando she had originally been calling (the true self that unifies all of the other selves) emerges, and Orlando becomes calm and silent.

Orlando arrives back at home, and, after directing a servant to take in her things, moves around the house remembering the people who have populated the rooms. The clock strikes four; the images of people and events from the past turn to dust, but Orlando does not lose her composure. Taking her dogs, she goes outside; she watches Stubbs, the gardener, for a while and is repulsed by one of his fingers lacking a nail. Deep in thought, she walks up the hill to the oak tree, losing track of time again. When she gets to the oak tree, she flings herself on the ground, and her now-famous poem falls out of her jacket onto the ground. She thinks about burying it, but then says that a symbolic celebration would be meaningless. She thinks about how fame, prizes, and money say nothing about the worth of a poem, and she leaves it lying on the ground. She looks out at the landscape and sees the landscape of Turkey; she hears the voice of the old gypsy in her ear telling her that her possessions are worthless compared to the vastness of nature.

The clock strikes again, signaling some nighttime hour, though Orlando doesn't know which, and the image falls away. Darkness comes and Orlando's imagination is able to run wild, conjuring images of Sasha, Shakespeare, and Shelmerdine's boat. She shouts her husband's name and it falls out of the sky.

Looking at her own house, Orlando sees that "all was lit as for the coming of a dead Queen" (291). A Queen steps out of a chariot, and Orlando tells her that the house has not been changed. The clock strikes midnight and Orlando hears an airplane coming near. She believes that Shelmerdine is on the airplane, and she bares her breast to the moon. Her pearls glow in the moonlight and the airplane comes to hover over her head. Shelmerdine jumps out of the plane and a wild bird appears over his head. Orlando cries that the bird is "the wild goose" (292). The book ends with a clock striking the twelfth stroke of midnight on Thursday, October 11, 1928.


One of the most important metaphors in Orlando comes in Chapter VI when Orlando compares the beliefs and behaviors she harbors from earlier centuries to "contraband" (235). Though Orlando has stopped feeling so outwardly out of place in the 19th century, she still carries the beliefs and private behaviors she has accrued since the 15th century, especially those from the 18th century, a period that was formative to her ideas of her womanhood and place in society. This metaphor aptly describes the work adults and elders must do to adapt to new times, and could also be applied to people who transition to a new culture. While adapting outwardly is possible time and effort, it is more difficult to completely eradicate deep-seated thoughts and feelings.

No matter Orlando's internal baggage, it is clear that her speech and behavior have been greatly affected by the customs of the 19th and 20th centuries. Woolf makes clear that Orlando is comfortable driving, an important sign of female independence in the 20th century. Furthermore, when she yells aggressively out the car's window, she demonstrates the breaking of some archaic social norms in England regarding female demeanor. The publication of her work by Nick Greene is also significant, since in earlier chapters Orlando commented that her writing and intellect were not valued because she was a woman.

Nick Greene's reemergence as a character is interesting for a number of reasons. Woolf continues her parody of literary critics who disavow all contemporary writers as lacking skill or doing their work merely for profit by showing how Nick Greene now venerates the authors he once criticized and uses the same criticisms on a new generation of writers. Because Orlando's writing style was heavily influenced by the authors she read and spent time with in earlier centuries, her writing now has a flair for which critics are nostalgic. Woolf adds to this parody the fact that one who once criticized Orlando's lifestyle as lavish is now, as an old man, enjoying a wealthy, high-class life. This shows that Nick Greene was putting on an act for himself and others by romanticizing the relative poverty he lived in while producing his works. Finally, the fact that Nick Greene is still alive to meet with Orlando multiple centuries after first staying at her house demonstrates that it is not only Orlando who is affected by the non-realistic time-scale in the novel.

The final scene of Orlando is full of wild, confusing, and jumbled images from Orlando's life. Orlando hears the gypsy from Turkey telling her that her wealth, lands, and possessions are worthless, something that she did not want to believe upon first hearing and has clearly ruminated on ever since. Like in a dream, Orlando sees the images of important things from her life—the faces of Sasha and Shelmerdine— mixed with less important things—Shakespeare and the toy boat. This flooding of emotions and visual and auditory stimuli is reminiscent of one's life flashing before one's eyes before death. It could be speculated that Orlando is implied to die during this scene, or simply that she is passing into a new phase of her life, much like her rebirth in Chapter III.

Woolf ends Orlando with the sentence "And the twelfth stroke of midnight sounded; the twelfth stroke of midnight, Thursday, the eleventh of October, Nineteen hundred and Twenty Eight" (292). Ending the story in this way reminds the reader of the fact that the story must be, at least partially, fantasy. Orlando was a young boy in the mid-1500's, so he would be over 400 years old at the end of the book. This quote also underscores the importance of time as a theme in the novel. It is clear that, to Orlando, time and aging are not experienced in a uniform manner, so the reader's focus can be on the effects of particular periods and events on Orlando's maturation.