Archive of Weeks 12-13 Forum, on Virginia Woolf's Orlando

Current Forum and Forum Archives for "The Story of Evolution/The Evolution of Stories" (Spring 2005)

alack and alas: the last
Name: Anne Dalke (
Date: 04/08/2005 18:30
Link to this Comment: 14389

Welcome to the last, alas, forum (said the teller of catastrophic stories) about the evolution of stories. We turn this week to Virginia Woolf's 1928 novel, Orlando: A Biography. Read as far as you can get over the weekend, and by 5 p.m. on Sunday please post an account of what this novel has got you thinking--about gender, about genre, about style, about substance, about time (where'd that come from??).

A reminder that you'll also find on the Web Resources page for this course varieties of interpretations both of Woolf's novel and the film Sally Potter made out of it in 1992 (which represents, of course, yet another stage/style/form in the evolution of "literary" stories....)

A. Lack.

Confusion Galore
Name: Nada Ali (
Date: 04/08/2005 21:02
Link to this Comment: 14390

Orlando seems in many ways like a typical character if his time, age and status. Initially, and especially in his relationship with Sasha, illustrates a man who is in search for excitement in the boredom of his duties. This is precisely why I feel he is intrigued and smitten by Sasha. She represents a vibrant young woman with her quick repartee, strong opinions and dangerous liaison with him that become a ³scandal of the court.² (Orlando. Pg. 41) His romance with Sasha is obviously disappointing in the end as it does not work out but at the same time I think it is a defining moment as it shows what type of woman he was attracted to while he was still a man. Iım a little unsure as to how this relationship shapes him but his anger towards her leads him to denounce the female race in a negative sense that was sometimes reflective of their social position and lack of rights. Their freedom was curtailed by the control of their sexuality and how Iıve reached to such an opinion seems confusing also to me. I feel as though Iım finding it difficult to grasp this novel in a deeper sense, while itıs quite an easy read. Getting through the pages is easy but understanding its messages is proving a little difficult for me. Iım hoping the forum will help me understand things that are confusing right now.

Underlying the story is Woolfıs disdain for the English in a period, which seems superficial and dramatic. There is a portion in which she expresses a subtle disdain for their customs, their courts and status oriented focus, which she attributes to the Elizabethan era. Iım not entirely sure how this will play out in the novel but I felt it was important to notice. However in one the reference readings that were put up, I was made aware of the fact that Woolf herself was from an aristocratic household and hence Iım left a little confused about how she is actually using the information.

Orlandoıs transformation into a woman was very sudden and confusing. In an instant we were told that he had become a woman. Up until the age of 30 he had been a man and now in his ambassador position, after a trance, he wakes up as a woman. As I tried to get past it, I found that there were some interesting claims being made by Woolf about sexuality and gender in this day and age. Orlando appears to be physically a woman when Woolf describes his appearance after he awakens from his slumber. She makes the point that his/her face remained the same, as did his memory and identity. Here I felt she was trying to emphasize that gender does not necessarily determine identity and memory. How we are, we think and conduct ourselves has more to do with identity than gender. Hence perhaps going back to Sasha, Woolf presented her as a strong person reflecting her identity as opposed to her gender. Similarly despite the vulnerability of Orlandoıs position, his identity and experiences were still very much a part of her regardless of the change in gender. For example she cannot consider herself as part of the gypsies and identifies strongly with the questions of status and position even when in contact with them.

For some reason, this book while intriguing is also confusing which is why I need to read it some more and figure out exactly how to interpret it. These are my preliminary views that I felt I needed to put down in order to sort out. Excuse me if I sound very confused. Iım still trying to figure out how to interpret this.

Name: Brittany ()
Date: 04/09/2005 00:23
Link to this Comment: 14393

Oh man, so much love for Orlando (the novel, not the character)...

I can't quite say I fully understood this book. I can't even say I understood what was most important about it---its message, as Nada put it. In fact, I was actually pretty unenthusiastic about it up until page 253. The writing style seemed inconsistant to me; Orlando's literary values themselves seemed to change, and that bugged me. (I don't know why I expected they should stay consistent in the first place, considering she lived for such an extended period of time...)

But anyway. So I got to page 253, and this: "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 must leave a great blank here, which must be taken to indicate that the space is filled to repletion." And I thought, "Wow, that sounds sort of Romantic..." My curiosity aroused, I continued for a few pages until I got to page 265 and read this: "she felt that power (remember we are dealing with the most obscure manifestations of the human spirit) which had been reading over her shoulder, tell her to stop."...and I suddenly had a huge English major geek moment.

That's when I started to love the book, because I think I finally, finally realized (on page 265---oi, took me long enough!) that Woolf's writing (not her style, exactly, but the substance of her narration; she occasionally breaks off into little literary tangents that discuss what "good" writing should be)---as well as Orlando's literary attitude---changes to reflect the literary time period Orlando is living in. After reading Orlando do the Eolian Harp thing on 256, I started to go back through the book and try to identify references to specific authors, or themes of specific time periods.

I didn't positively identify too much, though. I'm not sure whether that's because this theory of mine is COMPLETELY off base (and I had an English geek moment for nothing), or my knowledge of English literary history is really, really pitiful (also very likely). For example, that paragraph on page 203 that ends with "(and so on for six pages if you will, but the style is tedious and may well be dropped)." Who is that mocking? And that bit on page 136, is that supposed to be a Masque? And is that uber-long house description on page 106/7 supposed to sound Penhurst-y? (or am I just saying that because Woolf calls it a "tedious" tale and Johnson bores me to death?)

...oh, right, and there was that whole "changing sexes" aspect too. Um. Well, to be honest, that wasn't the aspect of the book that held the most interest for me. But I can say this: Woolf's gradual narrative transition from male to female felt the most convincing of any of the authors we've read so far.

Name: Brittany again ()
Date: 04/09/2005 00:27
Link to this Comment: 14394

I want to clarify that last... I know Orlando's physical transition from male to female was very sudden, but I got the impression that her emotional transition lasted a lot longer. And it's that emotional transition that felt believable to me.

Name: Maureen England (
Date: 04/09/2005 12:25
Link to this Comment: 14396

So far greatly love Woolf's way of writing and telling a story. From the very beginning description of Orlando on page 14, Woolf catches me in the moment of the story.

"Orlando stood now in the midst of the yellow body of an heraldic leopard. When he put his hand on the windowsill to push the window open, it was instantly coloured red, blue, and yellow like a butterfly's wing. Thus, those who like symbols, and have a turn for the deciphering of them, might observe that though the shapely legs, the handsome body, and the well-set shoulders were all of them decorated with various tints of heraldic light, Orlando's face, as he threw the window open, was lit soley by the sun itself."

I think that is just a beautiful introduction to the hero/heroine of the novel. It is also, I think, written in a way to let us see the masculinity of Orlando at that time, but also the beauty which may help us see the woman later. (I haven't quite finished the book yet.)

I also love the passages on Orlando's literary/poetic endevours. From the perspective of someone who wants to be a writer, Woolf has a great way of catching the formulation of a story both in the action of the novel (with Orlando) and with Orlando's own creations.

Name: Haley Bruggemann (
Date: 04/10/2005 00:20
Link to this Comment: 14399

I have just finished Orlando. I really couldnıt put it down and it just begged to be read the rest of the way through (even when I tried to pace myself!)

I was very interested in what inspired the novel. It seemed like such an odd idea to me, but a very effective one. While I was reading the novel I had no idea of it's history. It wasn't until after I had finished that I read about Virginia Woolf's relationship with Vita Sackville-West and how Sackville-West was the inspiration for Orlando. Nigel Nicolson once called the novel the ³longest and most charming love letter in literature² and everything about Orlando seems to refer to Sackville-West (from her noble family background to her early relationships (Sasha) I found it fascinating to compare their lives, just to see how events in Orlandoıs life mirrored those in Sackville-Westıs. I found many similarities just from reading a biography.

I agree that Orlandoıs transition (physical at the very least) was rather abrupt and a little too easily accepted! At first this annoyed me. I tried to imagine waking up and simply accepting that things had changed so very drastically. After a good number of pages of Orlando as woman I was convinced that the quick change worked well within the novel. If it had been any other story, I would have scrutinized it more. The way Woolf wrote the change was smooth, even if it was unexpected. It was easier to move on with the narrative that way. I realized I hadn't dwelled on it too much past the initial shock.

Since we have been talking about writing styles (masculine and feminine) I thought it was interesting that as a man Orlandoıs writing was all but ridiculed, but as a woman her poem ³The Oak Tree² was well-regarded and celebrated. What does this imply about the female voice?

subject of literature in Orlando
Name: Lauren Z (
Date: 04/10/2005 00:21
Link to this Comment: 14400

I've now read the first couple chapters of Orlando, and I am not exactly sure what I make of it. It reads almost like a fairy tale. I am wondering in what ways Woolf's writing style affects our interpretation of the unusual subject matter. Like Britt, I am also enjoying that the concept of literature itself is discussed within the novel. This certainly ties in nicely with our class's ongoing discussion on storytelling. My favorite scene thus far is the one in which Orlando dines with Nick Greene. Greene's comments that Shakespeare will amount to nothing are of course amusing and provocative to the reader. Anyway, I am wondering how important the subject of literature and writing is going to be in the remainder of the novel, as well as how this topic can be related to our unit on gender and hermaphroditism. I remember that Cal felt like he had an important story to share, and I suppose Orlando does as well.

Name: Becky Hahn (
Date: 04/10/2005 10:26
Link to this Comment: 14406

I'm very puzzled by Orlando's transformation from male to female. It doesn't seem to matter much at all in terms of identity ("The change of sex, though it altered their future, did nothing whatever to alter their identity" p. 138 (on a side note, why is Orlando suddenly plural? If the identity is the same, how is he/she now two people?)). I can't figure out what motiviated this change. Did the ladies of Purity, Chastity, and Modesty believe that female is her "true sex" since they speak of Truth? Did Orlando himself/herself have anything to do with the change, or was it just imposed on her? I guess Woolf intended for Orlando's transformation to be ambiguous, although after reading Middlesex and HB, I want to know the details!

A feminist motive is certainly there-- Woolf is trying to show the differences in how men and women are expected to act, are treated, and the "penalties and privileges" of each stereotyped sex. I guess having Orlando live as each is an effective tool to do this, but I'm still caught up in the confusion of the transformation.

Writing in Orlando
Name: L.T.(lt)
Date: 04/10/2005 12:45
Link to this Comment: 14408

I think it's interesting that all three of the hermaphrodites we've read about have been writers, to some degree. I think Eugenides pointed out that writers have to take on both masculine and feminine perspectives, though I couldn't find the exact quote where he referred to it. That makes me wonder - are they writers because they are physically between the two genders, or would they have been writers regardless? I'm not sure which idea I prefer. The second idea would mean that minds aren't inherently masculine or feminine, that there are different patterns of thinking as well as different physical expressions of gender. The first idea could be that their mental ability to write takes a physical manifestation. This is only a literary interpretation of course, that doesn't translate well into the real world.

"And if literature is not Bride and Bedfellow of Truth, what is she?"
Name: Rebekah Baglini (
Date: 04/10/2005 13:32
Link to this Comment: 14411

I'm about halfway through Orlando now, and really loving it.

I appreciated Haley's references to the parallels between Vita Sackville-West and V. Woolf's life and the novel Orlando. I have also found while reading this extraordinary book that thinking about the storyteller herself is critical to thinking about this book.
From what I know about Woolf's life, her works' primary themes, and the period in which she wrote, it's been fascinating to see how Orlando fits into all of these. I've also been feeling like rereading A Room Of One's Own along with Orlando--it seems like in that book Woolf addresses exactly the same issue as in Orlando but in a very different, more straightforward way.

Building off of Lauren T's question about our narrators as writers, i think that what Woolf is doing in Orlando is creating a representation of her theory of the androgynous mind necessary for the writer. Orlando is the ideal storyteller, understanding the perspectives of both male and female with a first hand view of 400 years of history. This all ties back to the theme that we've been seeing since Middlesex and Tiresius of the intersex person's superior--sometimes mystical-- powers of knowledge and perspective. The artistic potential and motivation that is with Orlando from birth is only able to find expression once she is a woman--but note that her literary success is a poem that had its origins in her masculine identity.

I also found it really interesting how immediately comfortable Orlando is in her body, and how as a woman she seems to be immediately predisposed to certain more "feminine" qualities. Is this an indication of how much Woolf felt was determined by biology? Also, something I've been better trying to figure out is the scene of O's transformation and the significance of the three sisters and Truth. The transformation is the manifestation of truth--since it creates a creature that can finally view the world from both genders--which are undermined by the forces of Purity, Modesty, and Chastity, which then must be interpreted as the enemies of truth? I very much liked how the male Orlando never had an encounter with these three sisters, but that they were hovering over the female Orlando's bed at the moment of her birth. I'm also getting the feeling that Woolf feels the androgynous mind not only necessary for the writer, but also necessary to overcoming the oppressive social standards women are held to.

I want to talk about time too...but don't seem to have enough of it at the moment. Maybe somebody else can start that thread. :)

Ideas on Transition
Name: Tonda Shimbo (
Date: 04/10/2005 15:53
Link to this Comment: 14415

I enjoyed the fact that Orlando started out as a man. Even though the story is very different from the previous two in terms of biology and logistics, it was good to have a little change. But I found his transformation to be rather interesting and confusing. After his disastrous affair with the Russian Princess, his deep sorrow and anger seemed to turn him off from women entirely. This made the physical transition particularly convenient. But he had been attracted to the sex opposite his socially determined one at the first, which differs from Middlesex and Herculine Barbin. While I enjoy Orlando, the lack of biological understanding frustrates me after reading Middlesex. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the story pans out.

Response to Orlando
Name: Kelsey Smith (
Date: 04/10/2005 16:15
Link to this Comment: 14416

I have found what I have read in "Orlando" so far to be troubling. Perhaps it is the fact that, like the other two literary hermaphrodites, Orlando has little capacity to exert control over his own life. Perhaps another issue is the time period during which the book is set. As is indicated "The age was Elizabethan; their morals were not ours; nor their poets; nor their climate; nor their vegetables even. Everything was different (26-27)." For this reason, gender was depicted as radically different from how it is in "Herculine Barbin" or "Middlesex."

Another difference is the style of writing itself because the descriptions of metaphors are of a completely different style than the ones used in "Middlesex." For example, "Middlesex" contains many metaphors that are synecdoche for a specific Classical story. My favorite example of that was the description of the task of washing all the windows as being sysyphisian. In "Orlando," by contrast, items are often described in terms of nature and the descriptions can go on for an entire page.

Orlando- First Impressions
Name: ()
Date: 04/10/2005 16:54
Link to this Comment: 14420

Orlando- First Impressions
Name: ()
Date: 04/10/2005 16:55
Link to this Comment: 14421

Name: Laine Edwards (
Date: 04/10/2005 16:56
Link to this Comment: 14422

I am not quite sure what to think yet, there are parts that I really like and I fly through them, and then there are other parts that just drag for me. I found Woolf's description of the duty of a biographer to be interesting - "plod without looking to the right or left, in the indelible footprints of truth" (65) I don't believe that Woolf actually does this, however, as I find that the parts of this novel that don't interest me are her own thoughts on writing, morals, etc.

Woolf's writing style has been a nice change though, from what we have been reading, and the way it changes within the novel are part of why it is so refreshing. Woolf's style of writing about Orlando certainly changes as time passes and Orlando shifts in his/her sex. It brought up the interesting question of how we "write" gender.

There also seemed to be a certain amount of foreshadowing in the text. On page 64 Orlando curses the Russian Princess calling her "faithless, mutable, fickle [...] devil, adulteress, deceiver." Many of these adjectives will later be applicable to Orlando himself as he changes through gender and time.

Another aspect of the text that has me thinking- how exactly do the illustrations function, especially those of Orlando? I'm caught between thinking that they add to the story and thinking that they hinder it in the way I myself imagine Orlando to be.

Orlando and Love
Name: Austin (
Date: 04/10/2005 16:56
Link to this Comment: 14423

In reading the beginning of Orlando, I noticed a common thread between this book as well as Middlesex and Herculine Barbin. In all of these books, the main character (being the hermaphrodite) has had an intense love interest. I know, of course, that most books have the common thread of a love story, but in my opinion, the love stories in these three books are different than other love stories but very similar among themselves. The love is an powerful, passionate, overwhelming obsession with the person whom they love. In each book the main character seems to be almost asphyxiated by their feelings for the other person and no other factors ever influence those feelings. Maybe this is because the books grew out of one another. Maybe this deep sexual need among hermaphrodites is brought about due to the fact that they are so inwardly confused about their sexuality. Or maybe itıs because every great book needs a great love story. Whatever the reason may be, I was intrigued by the fact that this third book had a near identical experience with love as the previous two books.

Who is a hermaphrodite?
Name: Carolyn (
Date: 04/10/2005 17:03
Link to this Comment: 14424

Like with Herculine Barbin, I feel that Orlando has social commentary intertwined with the story. With Orlando, however, I feel less like I am supposed to think a certain way. I think this may be because Woolfe is a more persuasive writerŠ but what does that mean? If I donıt realize that a piece written is a persuasive story, I am less likely to think critically about these ideas. I will absorb these themes of the story and they will influence my thoughts but there seems to be a part missing from this interaction. I think that a persuasive story that argues one particular idea is less generative. The reader doesnıt get to see the flip side of the argument, there are fewer levels and perspectives that are acknowledged and incorporated into the story.
Orlando is a much more ambiguous person than either Herculine or Cal/lie. The transformation of Herculine and Cal/lie into members of the male sex were required a lot of effort and brought/resolved tensions in the story. For Orlando, changing into a woman was a passive thing, after a magical sleep, he awoke and had become a she. I donıt think that Woolfe addresses the issues of what it means to be a hermaphrodism in Orlando. Her book does questions the labels and categories of male and female by having Orlando be able to experience both genders. Orlandoıs reflections explore the two sexes through comparing his/her experiences; however, Orlando does not explore the topic of being either male or female. Orlandoıs change of gender is a plot device which allows the readers to have the story of a man and a women through one personıs perspective, ³she was censuring both sexes equally, as if she belonged to neither; and indeed, for the time being, she seemed to vacillate; she was man; she was woman; she knew the secrets the weaknesses of each.² (p 158) Still, I feel like Orlando is not a hermaphrodite. Before he became a she, there were no feelings of not fitting into the male gender. Orlando, admittedly, had many Œfeminineı qualities (beauty, emotion, a desire to be a writer (but was that as Œfeminineı in the past as it is nowŠ noŠ in some ways, I feel like gender was more restricted in some way, but less so in other ways during the time of Orlando) but he was always a very firm he. After the magical sleep when Orlando awakes a woman, but is still him/herself. ³Orlando has become a woman-there is no denying it. But in every other respect, Orlando remained precisely as he had been. The change of sex, though it altered their future, did nothing ever to alter their identity. Their faces remained, as their portraits prove, practically the same. His memory-but in future we must, for conventionıs sake, say Œherı for Œhisı, and Œsheı for Œheı- her memory then, went back through all the events of her past life without encountering any obstacle. Some slight haziness there may have beenŠ certain things had become a little dimmed; but that was all² (p 138-9). Orlando was a man and then he was a woman. The only reason he did not fit into the category of woman after the transformation was because she remembered his life as a man. For many of the hermaphrodites (here I am thinking of the video we watched) we have discussed in class, they had never fit into sex categories, they had always felt outside of themŠ Orlando did fit into a category and would have remained comfortable thereŠ

Name: Liz Paterek (
Date: 04/10/2005 17:15
Link to this Comment: 14426

I think what I enjoyed most about this book was that Orlando's rapid sex change did not change the character's inner idenitity. I feel like its what I've been saying all along, we are who we are and we are not as defined by our gender as society would have us believe. Yes there are differences but if I were to suddenly change gender overnight I almost feel as though who I am inside would remain constant. I am me, I not my gender in fact more male personality stereotypes than female ones apply to me. I like Virginia Woolfe in that she recognizes the importance of the gender-less mind in writing. An author should be neither male nor female and should only struggle to use the stereotypes of male and female in order to make a point. I almost felt that that was the most important message that I got out of this book and its the one I've been waiting for since I read Middlesex. The exterior is just a body, our mind makes us special and the mind I like to think has more freedom than the body to be whatever it wants or is thanks to the neocortex and its ability to create new stories.

Name: Annie Sullivan (
Date: 04/10/2005 17:37
Link to this Comment: 14427

I don't know if I can write with coherency about Orlando right now... but I am really enjoying it so far... I am interested in the biographer's voice as it seems relevant to many of our discussions in this course about story-telling / truth / gendered voice /perspective. I just love Woolf's description of the biographer's duty: the quest for truth (as quoted by Laine) and the attention to accuracy. I read these 'serious' musings on the biographer's task as parody--as Woolf telling us to think about how we interpret 'fact' and how we characterize 'the narrator' (perhaps mistakenly reading fiction as history). The narrator laments, "It is, indeed, highly unfortunate, and much to be regretted that at this stage of Orlando's career, when he played a most important part in the public life of his country, we have least information to go upon . . . Often the paper was scorched a deep brown in the middle of the most important sentence. Just when we thought to elucidate a secret that has puzzled historians for a hundred years, there was a hole in the manuscript big enough to put your finger through" (115). The Biographer's account of Orlando's life is derived from (often imperfect) historical documents . . I found this obsession with the facticity of her account amusing... especially because her narration is so fictional (plunging into the psychology and emotions of Orlando).

I'm sorry to quote so much from the book, but I really liked the narrator's description of her ideal reading public. She says, "For those these are not matters on which a biographer can profitably enlarge it is plain enough to those who have done a reader's part in making up from bare hints dropped here and there the whole boundary and circumference of a living person; can hear in what we only whisper a living voice; can see, often when we say nothing about it, exactly what he looked like . . . and it is for readers such as these that we write . . ." ( 70). Imagination.. a kind of filling in the blanks. . will always be the reader's task, no matter how "factual" the text. I also liked her description of writing as abridgement. . . a person conveyed through mere sketches and whispers. . . that can only become whole in the reader's mind...

Other things I am interested in, but can't write too much on now are time (internal versus actual chronology, summary, memory), blood (Orlando's steak of commonness), and literature / writing. . . Will keep these in mind.

woolf, laine, annie, and i
Name: Britt Fremstad (
Date: 04/10/2005 18:01
Link to this Comment: 14428

I started a post around five p.m., but had to catch the blue bus... now that I'm back at a computer I see that two people have already commented on what I wanted to say.

What strikes me most about the novel, thus far, are Virginia Woolf's frequent references to her role as a biographer. At the beginning of chapter 2 she comments that "...the first duty of a biographer... is to plod, without looking to right or left, in the indeliable footprints of truth..." She goes one to say that "[Biographers] simple duty is to state the facts as they are known, and so let the reader make of them what he may."

This made me think about Mayr's claim that he holds the "truth" about the
history of man. (The idea that some of that "truth" comes from fossils is also intriguing since Woolf writes about "footprints of truth.") Our class did not like how Mayr insisted his ideas were truth. Will we accept Woolf's comment that she is trying to tell the truth/get the facts before us? I think Annie commented that Woolf is being satirical with her statement. I don't know what I think yet.

I've only gotten to the part of the book when Orlando meets the poet, Mr. Greene. I noticed Orlando, upon meeting him, immediately tried to catagorize him...BUT "Orlando, for all his knowledge of mankinds was puzzled where to place him. There was something about him which belonged netiehr to servant, squire, nor noble." The description of the character's idiosyncrasies goes on... All the same, "they went to dinner." Too bad things like that don't happen more often.

Annie and Laine

Name: Britt Fremstad (
Date: 04/10/2005 18:04
Link to this Comment: 14429

ignore the two names at the bottom of my last posting. they were the two people who mentioned biographer's voice.

woolf and gender
Name: Maria ()
Date: 04/10/2005 20:32
Link to this Comment: 14431

I was interested by Liz's comment above about "the gender-less mind in writing." My impression was that what Woolf considered necessary for the creative mind was not that it be ungendered and able to draw on whatever gender would be useful at the time. I thought that Woolf was speaking to a state that was characterized not by the absence of either gender in the mind of the author but rather the presence of both. That it is the coexistence of traits that are associated with both males and females--and the interaction between them-- in a single mind that allowd for the creation of new ideas, that sparks creativity and originality. I personally like this notion because taken to a broader level, I think it is an interesting illustration of this idea that it is in the interaction between diverse elements that one ultimately sees the most original and generative results. Hurrah for heterogeneity...

Name: Jessica (jfrosenb)
Date: 04/10/2005 21:06
Link to this Comment: 14432

I've had an influx of Virginia in my life this month, reading Mrs. Dalloway and A Room of One's Own for another class. I read The Hours last week and watched the movie of it this afternoon. So what's most striking to me about Orlando right now is Time in the novel. (In Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf tells the story of a single day in the life of a woman and those around her.)

I didn't chart it out (though I'm sure some literary critic somewhere as) but it seems like Orlando moves through more time as a woman than as a man (century time, not age time). My thoughts are really unfocused about this right now, but this novel has me thinking about the evolution of women (though maybe that's from The Hours), the more things change the more they stay the same.

I also like being reminded of how briefly we've been here. That's been happening plenty in this class, but I think I've been keeping evolution time and real time on seperate planes in my mind. Like there are the eons that Mayr and Dennet and Grobstein dealt with, and then there is the real time that Dalke and Barbin and (even)Eugenides live in.

But Woolf's story of Orlando is so magical to me because why not? Its so seamless, and it makes me wonder why we don't allow different ages for everyone. There are dog years, you know? We acknowledge that some things age at different speeds. I think on some level I believe, and Orlando has me believing, that you can age a century in the course of four seasons changing, or that it will take hundreds of seasons changing for someone to get a year older.

Rereading this posting, especially seeing how other people have written about Orlando, I realize that I don't think of this book as the story of a hermaphrodite, I think I read Orlando as a woman who went through a tomboy phase. Not even. She seemed to have an expression of gender that was read as male as a boy, and she was just a boy who grew up to be a woman. Maybe that's just as likely as anything else, as a boy growing into a man or a girl growing into a woman. In literature, at least, why not?

First Reactions to Orlando
Name: Kate Shiner (
Date: 04/10/2005 23:28
Link to this Comment: 14438

I am very much enjoying Orlando so far, I find Woolf's storytelling style lush and enchanting. One person mentioned that the novel seems like a fairy tale, I can see this and it also seems to have elements of magical realism, i.e. in the passages concerning The Great Frost. At times the style seems very tongue-in-cheek, which Annie commented upon regarding the truth-seeking comments about the biographer. However at the same time I do feel there is some essential truth being sought or explored, and that Woolf does not take this task lightly. This truth-seeking seems very un-"plodding" however, it allows itself more freedom for fancifulness and obscure metaphor within the narrative than any of our previous books.
I am also struck by how aware I am of the differences between Woolf, the biographer, and Orlando. These distinctions are purposefully reinforced by Woolf and seem to somehow lend a depth and credibility to the novel. This may be related to the idea of the unreliable narrator we discussed with respect to Middlesex.

I am also struck by Woolf's fascination with extremes and opposites. She relates this to the age and the weather as much as Orlando's temperament. I think this passionate way of seeing the world may be characteristic of the adolescent state in which we first view Orlando, but the way it seems to take over the landscape is enchanting. Once again I see the Hegelian dialectic at work, thesis and antithesis coming together to create a synthesis, a great story. Maria's comments about how the writer must be able to embrace not neither sex but BOTH sexes seems somehow related.

Woolf's style
Name: Ghazal Zekavat (
Date: 04/11/2005 01:30
Link to this Comment: 14442

I've also enjoyed reading Orlando so far. This is my first experience with Virginia Woolf, and I'm really pleased with her writing style.‹I agree, very "lush." I love how she's writing as a the biographer; it allows her to have a very specific purpose in her writing. I also love that she can be so involved and so removed from the story at the same time. She even comments on her own writing style p. 78 "...who has so much to answer for besides the perhaps unwieldy length of this sentence..." I have to say, I read that sentence over and over because I was so impressed that she had the skill to pull off such a lengthy sentence. I find Woolf's writing style inspiring‹she's very different from what I'm used to reading. I'm curious how much her style of writing impacts my impression of the characters. I find her writing to be almost report-like, including especially when she notes things to herself.

Name: Maja Hadziomerovic (
Date: 04/11/2005 03:27
Link to this Comment: 14444

First I would like to agree with what seems to be a trend in most of the opinions on style and say that I am really enjoying Woolfıs writing. The time-course of the novel, however, really gets to me. I like the idea that was brought up earlier about different perceptions of time and how theyıre often so difficult for us to grasp because weıre so used to our own perceptions of time that itıs difficult to imagine it in a different spatial context. Internally, thatıs one of the main issues that Iım wrestling with in this book.

Woolf, however, does a very good job at categorizing the eras and the anarchies and breaking it down temporally. I feel like she does this in an attempt to narrate the story as neatly as possible and to organize a fundamentally chaotic existence like Orlandoıs. This book is also an example of how society innately compartmentalizes everything from history to identity and gender.

expanding the geek moment
Name: Anne Dalke (
Date: 04/11/2005 16:42
Link to this Comment: 14457

I passed Brittany's English major geek moment by Michael Tratner, who responded,

Brittany is absolutely right: there are certainly throughout Orlando parodies of styles of specific authors and of certain "eras"--the book is set up to create lots of English Geek Moments as people recognize the various styles and parodies. I would encourage Brittany and others to go hunting up parodies of various authors and lots of nasty comments about them as well. I looked for an article that discusses some of the stylistic parodies and came up with this one (available online through infotrac):

Caroline Webb. "Listing to the right: authority and inheritance in 'Orlando' and 'Ulysses.' Twentieth Century Literature , Summer 1994 (40, 2): 190-205.

This article starts by noting that Woolf in her diary said of Orlando, "Satire is to be the main note--satire & wildness.... My own lyric vein is to be satirised. Everything mocked." And then the article focuses on Woolf's preface which gives credit to a whole list of authors and so partly gives a clue to the styles Woolf is going to parody. And finally, something Brittany may find interesting: a passage from the article which examines the Masque scene which Brittany identified as a literary parody of the age in which Orlando is living at that moment:

The masque scene, appropriate to the period, features the three allegorical sisters Purity, Chastity, and Modesty circling Orlando with their veils in the effort to conceal his/her naked and disturbing sexuality; their ritual pleas are foiled by the trumpet cry for Truth. The scene is handled with just that seriousness with which the Preface has treated its scholarly pretentions. Here the ritual dance of goddesses is presented without comment, framed only by the present-tense state direction / description of their movements. . . .

The Sisters become distracted and wail in unison, still circling and flinging their veils up and down.

"It has not always been so! But men want us no longer; the women detest us. We go; we go. I (Purity says this) to the hen roost. I (Chastity says this) to the still unravished heights of Surrey. I (Modesty says this) to any cosy nook where there are curtains in plenty." (136)

The masque defeat of the sisters, itself formally characteristic of such a production, is underscored by a moment of twentieth-century humor. The virtues' goals are surprisingly banal, and Chastity's words engage in a literary play that sharply questions her claim to value. The lofty "still unravished heights," with its Keatsian overtone, is undercut by the banal "of Surrey"; this is no bride of quietness but a partner of the estate agents, involved in the urban Londoner's flight to an, idealized countryside. As with the ironies of the preface, this phrase takes force from the identity of its elements: the phrase "still unravished heights" is a Romantic description and a suburban sales pitch in the same moment, indeed is commercially successful because of its elevated metaphor. It is unsurprising then that Modesty's goal implies a self-interpretation much more superficial than the association with Purity and Chastity would suggest; the traditional hierarchy of virtue is subverted here as thoroughly, and as modestly, as is the traditional hierarchy of authority by Woolf's Preface.


Gender and Time Ambiguity
Name: Nada Ali (
Date: 04/11/2005 21:09
Link to this Comment: 14474

A random thought just occurred to me. It may seem obvious to some, but it was an epiphany for me. Isnt is possible that Orlando didnt necessarily undergo a physical transformation but rather a mental one. Perhaps, in his mental state of mind, he became a woman. While, it is entirely possible and evident in the book that he underwent a physical change but in some ways viewing it as a mental change makes his transformation more realistic and reassuring. Perhaps, Woolf was trying to illustrate the continuum of gender by rejecting its physical property. Perhaps, its similar to the Brain Sex ID test which gives the brain a gender as opposed to a person. Well that may not be entirely true but I think its something I want to play with in my head.

Another interesting thought was trying to consider the more abstract notion of time. Time essentially as a landscape instead of a linear construction. While this is hard to grasp, I feel like Woolf is threatening us by taking us into a place where time becomes a greater or even irrelevant concept. Perhaps time is a personal construction. We control the way we feel time. I think we all do but always in a linear manner. Perhaps there is another way in which to understand it. As I read on Im going to try that and then Ill post and let everyone know how it felt:) Im sure everyone else understands it better than myself, but I think Im getting somewhere!

Name: Jessica (jfrosenb)
Date: 04/11/2005 22:58
Link to this Comment: 14482

I cannot believe I am actually adding this to our dialogue, but my father (who uses this joke in virtually every social situation requiring mindless chatter) will be thrilled. Though I could have told it shorter, I was raised to believe that this joke is better the longer it takes to tell. I claim no legitimacy to the biology of this pun.

So the zoo was having a problem with the porpoises. In the wild, porpoises are always monogamous. But something was going wrong at the zoo and the porpoises were gallivanting all over the place. Kids would come one day and see porpoise Mary with porpoise John, the next day, porpoise John would be with porpoise Sue, and so on. Many disturbed children, big problem.

The zoo calls in an expert who studies the situation and finally concludes that in the wild, porpoises occasionally eat a seagull, and somehow, in eating the seagull, it changes the brain chemistry of the porpoises, or something, and keeps them happy together.

So the porpoise keeper is going to go into the porpoise cage to feed them these seagulls. Except this damn poorly constructed zoo, you have to walk through the lion cage to the porpoises. They feed the lions a big meal, and the lions eat it, steaks and everything and, predictably, the fall asleep. Zookeeper goes into the cage with a bucketful of seagulls, he walks over the first lion (itıs a small lion cage)Š no problem. Second sleeping lion, fine. He goes to walk over the third lion, the thing jumps up, knocks him to the ground, spills the bucketful of seagulls everywhere. Why'd the lion do it? What was the zookeeper guilty of?

He was transporting gulls over staid lions for immoral porpoises.

Name: Nada Ali (
Date: 04/12/2005 00:09
Link to this Comment: 14484

Response to Jessica... hehehehehhehehe..

Name: Jane (
Date: 04/12/2005 13:53
Link to this Comment: 14517

To jessica hehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehe

Where I begin to see that I am really bad with puns (no pun intended)
Name: Carolyn (
Date: 04/13/2005 10:35
Link to this Comment: 14538

Okay, so I see Jessica in the computer lab and she asks me if I had read her joke on the forum. I hadn't, so I went onto the forum and dutifully read through it... then I got to her joke... and I didn't understand it... and by the time I had browsed through the forum, Jessica had already left the lab.

I don't know why I have such trouble with puns. Before Monday's class, I was under the impression that puns were, at maximum length, only one or two words long. I was okay with these short/compact/brief puns but when they get longer, I get lost. Why do I have this difficulty (especially when the BBC gender test really emphasized a strong 'female' ability in language... and the test categorized me as a female...)? Now, I am not even sure I understand the definition of the term pun... I am frustrated (not unlike my forays in the myths and humanities background of 'Middlesex') by my lack of English/Classics-ness...

Anyway, would somebody 'translate' Jessica's joke? Or she can explain in class tomorrow. I would appreciate it. It is funny, once I realize that their is an alternate meaning, I cannot stop myself from seeing the both interpretations but before I am aware of the other possibility, I firmly believe that there is only one view... What does that say about the tendency to label?

Anyways, I will leave you will my own contribution to your collection of groan inducing jokes...

A brief pun (I think):

Two men walked into a bar. You think one would have ducked.

I hope this works...
Name: Carolyn (
Date: 04/13/2005 11:19
Link to this Comment: 14539

While reading Woolfe, especially during Orlando's time with the 'Gypsies' (the image/appreciation of nature), I was reminded of William Blake... and, seeing how Blake is one of my favorite poets and because it is beginning to be so nice outside, I decided to post a poem. The forum could use a little spring color... I hope this works, it is my first attempt to post a picture.

And I included my favorite poem... because (even if others don't see it) I find myself thinking back to it no matter what my stream of thought...

Taking William Blake further, I found this cool site which (not unlike this course) linked the humanities and the sciences together. Labyrinth (Minotaur), DNA, matter, spirit, dreams, the tree of life...

These concepts and images drew me back to a post that Anne did earlier in the semester. She wrote about Mobius Strips... in my mind, DNA has a very Mobius-like structure. What story is embedded in the structure of our DNA? A continuous story of genes and evolution, a catastrophic story of nucleic acids and mutations?

Woolf's Genius
Name: Nada Ali (
Date: 04/13/2005 22:47
Link to this Comment: 14559

The most fascinating thing about Woolf is her ability to force the reader to use their imagination. It gives the reader the freedom to think within their own context as opposed to the rigid and spoonfed style of others. Hence resistance to such a text is minimal as this class has shown. As confused as some may be, including myself, almost everyone likes the book. This book assumes nothing and allows one to explore everything.

I like the idea that time is frozen or reconceptualized in this book. It shows that time is a relative concept and not as linear as it is often viewed. Woolf's genius lies in her ability to tease the reader, by challenging conventional patterns of thought about writing styles, time, conciousness, sexuality, gender and memories. It takes a very remarkable person to be able to write without the progression of time or the notions of gender boxes.

Another thing, I do find her humorous. I caught myself laughing earlier.

Name: maria ()
Date: 04/14/2005 02:15
Link to this Comment: 14562

Woolf has long been one of my favorite authors, but I hadn't read Orlando before this class and had forgotten how wonderful it is to get lost for the first time in a book that you love. One of the things that I always loved about Woolf was her ability--and I don't know if this is true for anyone else--to create a space of the mind, a space that I can mentally wander through without any sense of impatience because there's just so much there to think about. Part of this is that as a person who has spent large portions of her life reading I enjoy the 'literature geek' aspect of the book, I like the amusing references that Woolf makes and her ability to be both playful and profound. I can get lost in this book in a way that I rarely do anymore in literature and I'd forgotten how good it feels. It's a bit like coming in from the cold.

Orlando: performance, gender bending, writing
Name: Anne Sullivan (
Date: 04/15/2005 00:33
Link to this Comment: 14579

I mentioned in Wdnesday's class how remarkably pictorial this book is. Aside from playing with our sense of time, the 'photographic' quality of Woolf's writing also speaks to the book's theatricality. . . I was thinking about about the pictures and photographs embedded within the text - - and how the presence of Vita's literal image turns fiction into fact, and back again (as photographs demand 'posing') It seems like this kind of performativity, and constant role changing, invades the text.

I absolutely loved the exchange between Orlando-turned woman- and the Archduchess, turned man (the ArchDUKE Harry!). Woolf's narration of the moment in which Orlando realizes this transformation is just wonderful. Orlando is fuming, "a plague on women. . . A more ferreting, inquisiting, busybodying set of people don't exist" (171) Orlando's gross gender stereotyping is interrupted when she turns around to find a heap of clothing on the floor; "she was alone with a man." Their comical exchange thereafter parodies the rituals of courtship .. or rather the hyper-masculine attempts to "woo' a lady. This masquerade is framed by the game of "fly loo," in which Orlando "tricks" the duke into believing she has duped him. The layers of performance are endless. This scene is echoed later in the book when the cross-dressing Orlando walks alone one evening and picks up a young woman, nell. After much ceremony (the young woman "hanging lightly yet like a suppliant on her arm" (207)), the two arrive in Nell's parlour whereupon Orlando reveals her disguise and they spend the evening (in relief) enjoying one another's company as only women can.

These scenes of delightful performance, however, are countered by passages that lament Orlando's lack of control . . or her sense of confinement within one gender role. After the scene with the Archduke, for example, Orlando lapses into despair. . and the 'biographer' begins a discussion regarding Orlando's gender evolution. The biographer expains how 'clothes wear us;' they mold our habits and hang as ornaments that define our (gender) identity not only for the outside world, but for ourselves as well (180-181) . .

The book is filled with similar contradictions and interruptions such . . In terms of gender, I think the suggestion is that Orlando is not constant, she evolves and devolves; she performs and then performs her own performances (if that makes any sense) . . Although it is insisted that Orlando is the "same person" before and after her gender transformation, this does not necessitate a constant self. This is perhaps not contradictory but liberating.

Another thing I want to comment on is Woolf's lovely description of society as both 'everything and nothing.' Society depends on the proper mixture of ingredients (people) which are individually meaningless. Her descriptions of the empty chatter and ceremonial pomp of 'societal' gatherings are truly amusing. I found it interesting that Woolf offers this very astute description of 'society' after making a disclaimer regarding the 'biographer's' capabilities: "To give a truthful account of London society at that or indeed any other time, is beyond the powers of the biographer or historian. Only those who have little need of the truth, and no respect for it--the poets and the novelists--can be trusted to do it, and this is one of the occasions where the truth does not exist. Nothing exists" (184). The disparate tasks of delivering truth and of perceiving the world's nuances are neatly relegated to biographer/ historian and poet/novelis, respectively. I think this is a statement that Woolf wants to challenge in "Orlando.'

There are so many things I want to talk about and so many that I don't quite understand. One thing that interests me (but will save until I have more to go on) is the intertextuality of Orlando. This book heavily satirizes and parodies canonical literature, and the historicization of literary figures. . . I think there is a tension in this. She seems to be questioning the consumption of literary history, but 'parody' is also a kind of consumption.

Are No Stories New?
Name: Anne Dalke (
Date: 04/15/2005 09:24
Link to this Comment: 14582

And so we arrive @ our final week's discussion of Orlando. By 5 p.m. on Sunday, post here your thoughts on finishing Woolf's book: reflections on the specifics of the novel itself (as per Annie, above, on its pictoral, performative, and parodic qualities)--or reflections on aspects of our more general task--understanding the evolution of stories--which this novel illuminates.

As goad? prod? I offer a review from this morning's New York Times (4/15/05), entitled "The Plots Thins, or Are No Stories New?"--an account of new book which recycles, magpie-like, a number of highly familiar ideas. In The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, Christopher Booker argues that there are

only seven basic plots in the whole world--plots that are recycled again and again in novels, movies, plays and operas....

  1. Overcoming the Monster,
  2. Rags to Riches,
  3. The Quest,
  4. Voyage and Return,
  5. Rebirth.
  6. Comedy and
  7. Tragedy....
[The first five] can really be placed under the larger umbrella of Comedy: ...all have happy endings, all trace a hero's journey from immaturity to self-realizaiton, and all end with the restoration of order or the promise of renewal....Only in the seventh plot type, there a deviation from this fundamental pattern. Here, the hero or "held back by some fatal flaw or weakness from reaching that state of perfect balance...doomed to fall short of the goal because in some way they are stuck in a state of incompleteness or immaturity." Despair, destruction or death is often the end result.

Okay, so: how are we going to get out of THAT black hole? (Or are we?)
Looking forward to your assistance....

Name: Maureen England (
Date: 04/15/2005 10:29
Link to this Comment: 14584

There are obvious circular plot lines, but I don't think any of them is diminished from its repetition. Namely, in the end when Orlando once again speaks of the sun on the "heraldic leopard" (pages 14 and 317) and when Orlando throws herself under the oak tree, feeling it's roots beneath her (pages 19 and 324). But these are just repetition of action. There are also reacurring themes in the book, such as rebirth, passion, wit, and levity but each seems to be not only changed somewhat in how Orlando has changed (her ideas of wit before and after spending time with poets and oraters for example) but also in how the world around her has changed. This, in fact, is life. While there are reacurring themes in life, each is made unique by the person they act upon and the times they act in.

Also, in class on Wednesday, we spoke a little bit about the layers of the book. I said something about the character of Orlando being interesting because, although the book is the "biography" of one person, Orlando is nevertheless, many characters. He/She goes through various different personas. While I was finishing the book, I found a section which supports this. In chapter six, as the story is coming to a close, Woolf writes, on page 309 about the "selves" of Orlando. She says, "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 forsix or seven selves, whereas a person may well have as many thousand." It then continues with more detailed descriptions of the "selves" we have seen in Orlando throughout the book.

I also really like from 308 on, I think those pages are a great way to end the book (which I may say more about next week since I don't want to ruin the end for anyone not finished).

Where metaphor, metonymy and metaphysics meet
Name: Eileen Talone (
Date: 04/15/2005 15:01
Link to this Comment: 14593

"the most successful practitioners of the art of life ... somehow contrive to synchronize the 60 or 70 different times which beat simultaneously in every normal human system so that when eleven strikes, all the rest chime in in unison, and the present is neither a violent disruption nor completely forgotten in the past" - p. 305.

- the notion of no verb tenses but human tenses: I today, I one month ago, I tomorrow. The idea that it is not the action that has taken on different meaning but the actor. "the museum would be the same, but you'd be different somehow. like your line partner would be absent, or you'd overheard your parents fighting or you'd seen a gasoline rainbow in the street, but you'd be different somehow"- Holden Caulfield.

The most compelling part of Orlando- and by compelling I mean for the first time I was not able to put the book aside, as I had frequently before- was Orlando's "unstuck in time"(to use the idea from Slaughterhouse Five) last pages, through London, stores, Thames, the country, his old manor, her husband landing with the stillness at midnight. It took that long for the book to fully lose itself and become the insanity it had been hinting at.

I wasn't sure about its "internal fairy tale logic" (Jessica), taken for granted like the "and he begat Josephat, and gave up the ghost when he reached 900 years" longevity of the Bible, or the magic-realism of the old matriarch in 100 Years of Solitude. Since others reappeared- the poet Greene, and I think Sasha, but I wasn't sure if she was just a vision/ memory (and I know, the point was the location of relativity in perception, that comprehension is an illusion to reconcile oneself to the terror of the present, its scentlessness and silence, its brevity and potential, but then that's a presumptuous start to a sentence, to write "the point" as though I was not just grabbing at the air to pin the tail on anything, or that points exist) - I resigned myself to the book's existence outside of "real time", or that Orlando's long life would be explained, however fantastically, through some quality in him/her.

Is it about gender, time, the mysteries of perception and reality as seated in the back of the mind? Yes and it's also about English literature and society, and about love. And poetry. What do I have to say about it? It felt long because of Orlando's long life, like multigenerational stories, and it felt like a staire on British society, esp. literary society, it reminded me of the one brother inthe Sound and the Fury who was obsessed with time. I'm not even sure if I liked it that much, because maybe I only allow myself to really feel for things I think I understand. I don't know what's going to happen to Shel and Orlando, if she loves her children, why she won't die. While I appreciated many lines and descriptions, really felt them, I didn't feel in on the book's logic.

Actually adressing metaphor and metonymy
Name: Eileen (
Date: 04/15/2005 15:35
Link to this Comment: 14595

"Nothing is any longer one thing" - Orlando to herself, p. 305.

"Everything was partly something else, and each gained an odd moving power from this union of itself and something not itself so that with this mixture of truth and falsehood her mind became like a forest in which things moved; light and shadows changed, and one thing became another" -p. 323.

Sasha was a fox in the snow, an emerald, a pineapple, something beyond words, nothing in English. "when communication is established there is nothing left to say" - p.14, about Orlando's silence when she feels the union of her infinite selves settle into a cohesive true Orlando, the one whom she was seeking, calling her own name.

I guess the ultimate love story was between the world and the mind, the love of a person trying so hard to find mening, to disassemble the pre-fab meanings given them, to hear voices in nature, to make sense and not avoid the landmines of memory and revelation that come unwelcomely:

"Was not poetry a secret transaction, a voice answering a voice? ... What could have been more secret, she thought, more slow, and like the intercourse of lovers, than the stammering answer she had made all these years to the old crooning song of the woods...?"- p. 325.

The end is not an end, it is a still life of Orlando and her lover ("life, a lover") embracing at night, the time when reality shapeshifts freely ("en la noche sin luz, fuimos igual"- Neruda), with the date and year announced. The power of memory and metaphor to distort relaity, or truthfully, reveal reality as the thinly spread agreement it is, it smalleability and openness to constant, personal revision which is simultaneous and therefore varied beyond one person's comprehension. Life life life the bird answered Orlando's question.

Moments of comprehension, or of love, or complete communication, are followed in silence (in Orlando''s life). "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 reaons we leave a great blank space here, which must be taken to indicate that the space is filled to repletion"- p 253, after the meeting and love of Shel and Orlando.

Name: Jessica (
Date: 04/16/2005 17:10
Link to this Comment: 14615

So there are only seven stories, so new? It doesn't alter our need to tell & read them or even, for me, the way we tell them & read them. To look at my life on the macro level Booker does, very few days are any different from the others; realizing that, I take just as much joy in living each day, because while the plots may be the same, I am different.

I am different every day of the week and each moment of the day, I am many people at once, as Virginia Woolf allows me to be. Most of me has had trouble wrapping my mind around this class, which will not stay stagnent in my mind, even some days when I want it to.

Woolf saves me.

"Though Heaven has mercifully decreed that the secrets of all hearts are hidden so that we are lured on for ever to suspect something, perhaps, that does not exist;
... (there I am, trying to figure out whatever, anything, everything, this class)

...still through our cigarette smoke, we see blaze up and salute the splendid fulfilment of natural desires for a hat, for a boat, for a rat in a ditch;
.... (I'm walking out of class, crossing Merion Green)...

Hail! natural desire! Hail! happiness! divine happiness! and pleasure of all sorts, flowers and wine, though one fades and the other intoxicates; and half-crown tickets out of London on Sundays, and singing in a dark chapel hymns about death, and anything, anything that interrupts and confounds the tapping of typewriters and filing of letters and forging of links and chains, binding the Empire together."

Booker's right about the plots, but so much of what I'm taking from this class is the uselessness of most classification (Mayr would be horrified). I will continue, of course, with the alluring secrets of the heart. Thanks to Woolf for her extremely useful way of helping me go outside.

orlando and gender
Name: alexandra mnuskin (
Date: 04/16/2005 17:13
Link to this Comment: 14616

Iıve been thinking a lot about the male and female in the books we have read, specifically in Orlando. It occurred to me that from the three accounts of trans-sexuality, Orlando is the only who has ever experienced life as both a man and a women. Both Callie and Herculine Barbin are convinced that they were actually always boys, and that really it was just a mistake present at their birth that assigned to them the wrong gender. In a sense therefore, there is not any middle ground, a Middlesex to be precise. Orlando is the only one of the three who has the advantage to have been both an actual man and an actual woman. However, even in Orlando, although she can perceive the thoughts and feeling of the other sex, after having been both male and female, at one time, Orlando is one or the otherŠnever both. Here again we have a distinct divide between the male and the female. Even when we were watching the hermaphrodite video in class, my mind was subconsciously classifying each person into one group. Perhaps even now our imagination has not yet reached the point where we can imagine someone of a ³middlesex².

Upon Finishing the Book
Name: Nada Ali (
Date: 04/17/2005 00:10
Link to this Comment: 14624

Like Annie, I agree that the book is very pictorial. From descriptions of the time with the gypsies to Orlandoıs return to the London to her social gatherings, Woolf is almost painfully descriptive. Not only is she descriptive, but also writes as though she is flowing in and out of consciousness often suspending time after which she ends the moment abruptly. For example, when Orlando falls in love with Sasha he is mesmerized by his thoughts after which his bubble is literally burst when Sasha asks him to pass the salt. I think that is exactly where Woolfıs humor lies. Her ability to give more importance to Orlandoıs mind as opposed to what is happening outside of his mind is what makes this book unique. This book is, if I may say so, a journey through the mind of Orlando but at the same time it does not lack the vivid descriptions of other characters.

Underlying this story is a critique of society and all its benefits and shortcomings are illustrated throughout the book. Even Orlando is seen as an individual who is typical of his position in the way he conducts his social life. Woolf, critiques this often subtlety illuminating the frailty and superficiality of these relationships. At the same time, we can see the character mesmerized by social events. Hence this is an interesting insight into how individuals behave in certain status associated social events behave especially in England in that time period.

Woolfıs intention in writing this book is both obvious yet perplexing. While it is clear that she is writing with a certain intention, it isnıt entirely clear to me what this intention is. Perhaps, her intention is to mock the writing style that publishers in those days insisted upon. Perhaps she is trying to step outside the gender boxes prescribed by society. Or maybe she is mocking society and all its frivolity. I think itıs a combination of all the above categories. I would however add the way in which she plays with the concept of time, paying close attention and page space to descriptions of a single moment while dedicating little space and attention to what we would consider important events. This is perhaps her genius. Her ability to leave the important events such as Orlandoıs transformation, marriage and birth of her son to our imagination. She doesnıt spoon-feed her reader but instead allows them to use their own imaginative faculties to try and comprehend what happens. Her entrance into trancelike descriptions is also an interesting writing style that again ventures into the mental aspect of Orlando as opposed to his physical world. Woolf is writing in many ways the story of Orlandoıs brain rather than his external life. Orlandoıs internal being and self (or part of self) is what she chooses to capture as opposed to a timeline of her lifeıs events. Perhaps it is the inner self that is misunderstood because in many ways it is the most difficult to understand for other people.

Overall an interesting book with many layers. It is not for the lazy reader. There is something inherent about this book. What it is, is perhaps our different selves and our acknowledgement of them that is most interesting to us as readers.

Spiraling towards the present?
Name: Brittany ()
Date: 04/17/2005 12:03
Link to this Comment: 14625

Not really sure how I want to phrase this... I've been rereading the last few chunks of Orlando and now, more than ever, I feel that Woolf wrote the book extremely intentionally---dream visions and all. I think it might be only her immense talent as a writer that makes it *seem* like the last half of the novel spirals off into a hallucinogenic stream-of-conscious. It's done so well she *must* have written that way purposefully.

Also, the whole conversation about time we were having on Wednesday... (or was it Monday?) How every person has multiple "clocks" ticking away inside them at once, and each "clock" is in a sense a different self? It just struck me that book ends on a single, identifiable moment in time: the last strike of midnight on a specific day. Reading the last pages through, it felt to me (I don't know why), that everything up to that point was an accelerating temporal spiral. The dreamy, yet pressing, incoherence of the last few pages seemed somehow like all of Orlando's different "clocks" racing to try and synchronize, to balance themselves. Like on page 322 she says, "I can begin to live again... the little boat is climbing through the white arch of a thousand deaths." And later, on page 323: "everything was partly something else, and each gained an odd moving power from this union of itself and something not itself so with this mixture of truth and falsehood her mind became like a forest in which things moved... it must be about half past four... she forgot the time." And the climax--well, the *end*--of the book comes with "the twelfth stroke of midnight, Thursday, the eleventh of October, Nineteen Hundred and Twenty-eight." It's as if, for one second, all of Orlando's internal "clocks" synchronized, and for just an instant, her multiple selves meshed completely into one.

I remember in discussion on either Mon or Wed how we talked about time as both multiple streams (Orlando's different internal "clocks") and time as a pool (or a landscape, with past/present/future happening simultaneously). Forgive me for the dopey analogy (I can't seem to find a better way to articulate this; curse lazy Sunday mornings), but the last half of the book felt like a convergence of many tributaries, the speed of the water accelerating and the stream growing as each branch joined up to the river, and then the final toll of midnight at the book's end was an enormous waterfall into the "pool" of eternal present. (But I don't know if that "moment" was intended to last; had Woolf chosen to write past this point, I think the pool would have branched into streams again, because one of her themes in this book is that we *can't* be a single person all the time, even most of the time---in fact, heck, maybe it takes a good 300 years to sort out our different internal clocks/selves to such a degree that we can even experience a single moment of "abolute present." Of living in the pool, as it were.)

Name: Becky Hahn (
Date: 04/17/2005 12:09
Link to this Comment: 14626

I'm trying to figure out how and why time functions as it does in Orlando, but I'm also wondering if there even is any logic or greater meaning to find. I vacillate between feeling that there is something deeper to understand, or that it's random (unconscious associations) and intentionally so. I like how the sky changes in each new era (for example during King Edward's reign it becomes metallic (p. 296)) but I don't really understand why the sky is changing. There are certainly cyclical elements-- Orlando returns to her old house, to the oak tree, but something is changed about everything that is revisited. It is impossible to catch the same moment that she experienced in the past. The definite existance of a unrepeatable past prevents this story from existing in the block-universe concept of time (that is, if I really understand the concept). So what is the conception? Most people in her world live "normal" life-spans, although Nick Greene and Sasha show up hundreds of years later within her extended life, so the timescape is not entirely in Orlando's head (or is it? did she just imagine them returning? or does that not have to do with anything?)

Maybe I'm being too logical and trying to find explanations where there aren't and shouldn't be any. Maybe I should just allow it to exist as the world of the unconscious mind. But time is definitly cental in this story, and I'd like to understand it. Time allows Orlando to go through many, many changes. I like the idea of a multitude of selves (2052?) that can change from moment to moment. She can play with different genders and images, returning to some but always with something different. By escaping the barriers of conventioal time, she escapes other societal barriers as well.

Finishing Orlando
Name: Austin (
Date: 04/17/2005 13:03
Link to this Comment: 14628

Upon completing this book, I found myself a little confused. In spite of that,I enjoyed Orlando overall. The importance of time in this book, and how she travelled through centuries as the same inner person, was a little confusing to me. I understand the book was fantastical and enjoyed that Orlando travelled through time, I am just unsure what Woolf's purpose of doing this was. A part of the book I enjoyed was how Woolf discussed with herself in certain points of the book. She'd have a little dialogue with herself and would even poke fun at herself or the story. I found this to be a very different style than many other books, yet endearing to Woolf. Towards the end of the book, I found the idea of the many inner personalities to be interesting too. There were many parts of this book that were not as straightforward as I may have wished them to be, but overall it was an interesting read that I must confess I did catch myself laughing at in a few different places.

Name: Ghazal Zekavat (
Date: 04/17/2005 13:50
Link to this Comment: 14630

This posting is in response to the discussion we were having regarding the 'block universe' and the structure of time. I found this really interesting website about Einstein's (and some other physicists') views on the existence of time(check it out here). Einstein basically says that time doesn't exist--that there is no division between past and future (ie. there is no now.) This sounds to me a lot like the block universe theory. It's strange to think that everything is already laid out; I'm not sure I buy it. I'm just confused how destiny fits in to everything. If everything already exists somewhere, then maybe there is no destiny because there's no final point to reach. Are these theories suggesting that everything is already predetermined? Another idea to think about is that these theories suggest that every "moment" exists forever. (I think I like that)
Okay, sorry about the randomness of this posting!

Name: Jennifer (
Date: 04/17/2005 13:57
Link to this Comment: 14631

I was looking at the basic plots that Anne posted and thinking about how they are used in telling stories. Do the basic plots limit the way we could look at stories? Many stories seem to be a combination of elements from multiple plots. I donıt know. Placing a larger thing into single categories seems problematic.

One of the things that I found interesting with Orlando is that she/he remained the same person, and yet wherever I stopped and started again always felt like a separate person in a separate story. I guess it was because I interrupted the flow of the story by inserting breaks. However, I did always see how Orlando was the same person.

Name: Liz Paterek (
Date: 04/17/2005 13:58
Link to this Comment: 14632

I was talking in class about the paper that I'm writing which is potentially getting done today. Anyway, I was wondering about the concept of the genderless mind that Woolfe seems to aim for and whether this means that we create some new intermediate that loses the special nature of male and female or where it reshuffles the deck of charactristics into a blend so that a person is a person, defined by both genders at once. I like the latter concept because it feels less forced. We should not remove who we are from the pages to create somethign that doesn't sound conventional. A good genderless writer to me is someone who is born mixing the mind of gender characteristics. It seemed clear to me that gender of the mind hadd little if anything to do with the physcial body. Woofle for instance, seems to not have a definable or even guessable gender whereas as Herculean seemed extremely conventionally "feminine" and Cal seemed more conventionally "masculine" despite descriptions of family. However, Herculean had no male/female gender as the author at all so he/she should have been the genderless one. So then I thought the mind must be the result of nurture, nature and perhaps a little bit of free will thrown in and that that had the potential to generate minds that different. Then I began to think perhaps genderless means outside of the box and different from conventional societal norms. Perhaps this gives a perch from which to view the world, where one can observe without feeling overly involved and can create realistic characters that mimic, not oneself , but others in society.

Time and Biography in Orlando
Name: L.T.(lt)
Date: 04/17/2005 15:06
Link to this Comment: 14635

The way Woolf plays with time in Orlando made it very difficult for me to read. I think, looking back, I may have been trying to apply logic that wasn't there. It isn't so much that time doesn't pass at the same rate as it is that Orlando doesn't always move with time. Sometimes the ideas of the time period affect Orlando, but sometimes she separates herself from them and exists in a bubble of timelessness. I'm sure there's some point to the way time works in the novel, but I can't really grasp it.

One aspect that I thought was particularly interesting was that, even though time isn't constant, the story is told through a biographer. Even though it's fictional, I'd expect a biography to be more consistent in its movement through time. Instead, the biographer's voice draws attention to the odd nature of time by describing Orlando's passage through it.

Only seven plots
Name: Laine Edwards (
Date: 04/17/2005 15:13
Link to this Comment: 14636

Regardless of whether or not there really are only seven plots that keep repeating themselves, is that all we really look for in a story, the plot? I feel like there are so many other elements that go into a good story and certainly plot may be the basis for those, but it is definitely not what "makes" a story.

As Jessica said, "while the plots may be the same, I am different" and the same can be said for stories of all kinds. Aren't the plots of "Middlesex", "Heculine" and "Orlando" all essentially the same thing? The three stories, however, are extremely different in style, time period, symbolism, and characters even.

Although it having only seven repeating plots may seem like a misfortune, I think there can be many positives to it. It leads to a greater comparison between different works, it establishes a sense of familarity for a reader, it can even increase the ability of a reader to track the evolution of stories by looking at their "plot lineage". Overall, I agree with Maureen that the repetition of a plot does not diminish it's meaning or value, but instead provides more freedome and a greater license to examine a work beyond simply it's plot line.

Name: Michael Heeney (
Date: 04/17/2005 15:37
Link to this Comment: 14637

In response to the idea of block time versus standard time, I think that Woolf struggled with two kinds of time in her novels. The first is the objective, historical, masculine, linear sense of time that we think of as a "timeline", where events progress with a clear transience and shifting nature. The second is the subjective, internal, feminine, circular kind of time that exists in the psyche, and is always solid and unchanging, that I think we identify as "block time". In Orlando especially I felt there was a large conflict between these two gendered notions of time, like with Orlando's subjective experience staying rather constant even when historical time has transformed her into a different gender and radically altered the landscape of her life. Though ultimately by the novel's close, I felt that Woolf had Orlando achieve a synthesis of these two ideas of time, which is in keeping with her idea of the ideal writer possessing an "androgynous mind" that combines both the masculine and feminine principles. Like in the last few pages, Orlando was able to have all those different images in her head from different times (i.e "Shakespeare...a girl in Russian trousers..." on 327) but still retain a sense of progressive historical time by always being reminded of the chiming church clock.

Name: Haley Bruggemann (
Date: 04/17/2005 15:53
Link to this Comment: 14639

I very much enjoyed Orlando. I loved the character him/herself and the beautiful imagery Woolf created. I admit that during my initial read I did not always pick up on some of the satire, but now, in my new understanding of it, I find it brilliant. I was circling passages and underlining things far more than I expected I would be. I was really struck by the beauty of some.

As for the story issue, I have often thought about the recycling of stories and have come to the conclusion that yes, some stories may be fixed and set. But this does not box out creativity and individuality. These stories will always be around, and some small part of them will be passed on to the next "generation" of stories. I'm not sure if I agree with the statement that only seven basic plots exist. People reinvent stories all the time. We mix genres and categories constantly too. Nothing is really ever exactly the same as what came before. Does turning an old plot upside down make it something new, or is it still considered a reworking of something old?

I prefer the term reinvention of stories to recycling of stories, because I think each author or creator always adds something new to a story, something different and something truly unique. So how can the plots stay the "same"? Different people add different things. I think the seven plots statement is too close to the idea of categorization for me, as it was for others. Why must we categorize everything? Why must stories or plotlines also be forced into a category?

Another pun
Name: Kelsey Smith (
Date: 04/17/2005 16:20
Link to this Comment: 14640

I found this one on the internet at

Adam was hanging around the garden of Eden feeling very lonely.

So, God asked him, "What's wrong with you?"

Adam said he didn't have anyone to talk to.

God said that He was going to make Adam a companion and that it would
be a woman.

He said, "This pretty lady will gather food for you, she will cook for
you, and when you discover clothing, she will wash it for you."

"She will always agree with every decision you make and she will not
nag you, and will always be the first to admit she was wrong when you've
had a disagreement. She will praise you!"

"She will bear your children, and never ask you to get up in the middle
of the night to take care of them."

"She will NEVER have a headache and will freely give you love and
passion whenever you need it."

Adam asked God, "What will a woman like this cost?"

God replied, "An arm and a leg."

Then Adam asked, "What can I get for a rib?"

Of course the rest is history......................

Name: Eleanor Carey (
Date: 04/17/2005 16:22
Link to this Comment: 14641

I very much enjoyed Orlando. I was struck by the manner in which Orlando moved from male to female and believed it to be natural and real in a way that I did not believe Cal's transition from female to male or that or Herculine Barbin. I must imagine that this is simply due to the way that Virginia Woolf addresses the issue of Orlando's becoming a woman. It may, however, even be in part because of the different uses of time in Orlando, which can make Orlando's time as a man smaller and that time as a woman all that there is, or make the transition only a second in which a few things about Orlando changed... I guess I'm not sure why it worked for me, or why I eventually forgave the different uses of time which initially bothered me as I became impatient with particular moments stretching for pages and with many years going by without much concern for anything that may have occurred in them.
This is the first I have read of Woolf's work, I shall have to seek out more.

Second Orlando response
Name: Kelsey Smith (
Date: 04/17/2005 16:32
Link to this Comment: 14642

I can't say that I ever enjoyed this book much. It is true that there are lovely discriptions that extend over multiple pages, but I found myself wanting more to occur in terms of plot and less in terms of description. As I read, I found myself thinking--repeatedly--"Okay, I've got my mental picture. You can stop conveying information that I've grown tired of reading."

The suicide bothered me as well because it indicates Orlando's inability to accept herself. It seems an unfortunate method of conflict resolution.

Drowning in the stream of consciousness
Name: Carolyn (
Date: 04/17/2005 16:54
Link to this Comment: 14643

As Orlandoıs story progressed, I got more and more lost. I couldnıt follow what was happening. Everything seemed so abrupt yet there were hints and foreshadowing about the events. Middlesex had the same foreboding thought we called it backshadowing because, from the time frame of the narrator, the events had already happened. Even with its allusions and descriptions, Middlesex, had a clearer plot, a more definite, if temporally displaced, series of events. I could follow Middlesex, I knew where I was and when I was. Orlando was so metaphoric and metonymic that I would get lost in the words or held back by them. It was hard for me to focus on what was going on in the book, the words would just wash over me and lose their meaning as more words came. As the book temporally caught up to the narrator, it became even more confusing. It was a jumble of metaphors metonymically connected and I could not untangle them. I would understand the meanings (or at least my interpretations of them) underlying some of the metaphors but I at the same time I had no idea what was going on in the action (or lack there of) of the book. Orlando was disorientating to read. It made me dizzy and confused.

Anne wrote about Christopher Brookerıs idea that there are only seven basic story plot. I think it was a cop out to say that the last two plots are comedy and tragedy which I consider genres rather than plot. Still, I was wondering how love fit into these seven stories. For me, the most satisfying part of Orlando was her(his) relationship with Shel. When Orlando met Shel, the book seemed to lose all comprehensibility. I couldnıt follow what was happening anymore. The only parts that really made sense to me were the parts when Orlando talks about Shel. Those passages were so beautiful yet at the same time they were terrible. Like the triumph of the sinking toy boat which puts Orlando into Œecstasyı. In our section group, somebody (I think it was Eileen) talked about how Orlando and Shelıs love seemed to transcend words. They made up their own language that was one of true communication, a Œcypher language which they had invented between them so that a whole spiritual stat of the utmost complexity might be conveyed in a word or twoŠı (p 282). Nothing was hidden from each other yet. at the same time, their language is incomprehensible (Rattigan Glumphoboo). It is like a language of emotionŠ I was lost and drowning in Orlando's/Woolfe's stream of consciousness...

Feminism and Virginia Woolf
Name: Lauren Z (
Date: 04/17/2005 17:01
Link to this Comment: 14645

I will say, that for the most part, Orlando has been an enjoyable read. I will admitt that the plot, and some of the descriptions were bewildering, but they did spark some interesting discussion, no denying that. I just wanted to comment on a discussion that we had in Anne's section yesterday on the distinction between first and second wave feminism. This isn't a subject I know much about, so the discussion was enlightening for me. I think I remembered Anne grouping Woolf with the second wave of feminism. Some passages in Orlando, however, make me think of the so called "third wave" of feminism that we're currently in, wherein there is no "real" difference between the sexes at all. I also consider this the direction in which Paul has taken our class. From an Orlando passage on page 189: "Differnt though the sexes are, they intermix. In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the male or female likeness, while underneath the sex is the very opposite of what it is above." Woolf goes on to describe how in regard to her tender heart and other aspects, Orlando's behavior was distinctly feminine, while in others such as the short amount of time she needed to get dressed and her love of agriculture, her behavior might be considered masculine. These passages seem to suggest to me that sex doesn't exist at all in Woolf's world. Though, there do seem to be a lot of conflicting signals within the novel.

P.S: Sorry to keep focusing on gender.

Nihim novum sub sole
Name: Eileen (
Date: 04/17/2005 17:03
Link to this Comment: 14647

I t has been years sinec I trandslated Latin, and maybe I should have at least looked it up online, but I remember being really taken with the Latin saying "nihil novum sub sole" there is nothing new under the sun.
I felt it fit nicely with the idea that space goes ever onand on in the oscillating universe, which collapses in on itself and begins again, in the eye blinks of Vishnu/ Brahma/ Kali (I also forget the exact names for this concept as well), but the idea of mutation and growth and let's get down to it, continuity, a hugely borrowed but at least comprehensible idea of cycles, circles, none of the terror of infinity (although the cyclw is supposed to be infinite).

I put this out here in respponse to Anne Dalke's "are there no new stories?" goad. I mean, it's said that each of us represents a new possibility, but if we can only express what is in us, and we are not essential beings of the 18th century, and not complete products of our upbringing in a Freudian view, but fence sitters once more, little amalgams of genetic programming, choiecs we make, societal input from the people and worlds that raised us. If we are individuals who will never be free of the history that built our environment, it follows that we will have an atavistic draw toward an imagined cultural memory, to the scabs picked open again and again throughout the ages, whether theyare memes or just questions that occur to every sentient being.

Dwelling on similar themes, returning to ideas of the possibility of rebirth, of destiny, of tragedy (born of the conflict of desires and destiny), seems so natural since we all have inherited this world with the questions already posed, with pre-fabricated problems, and with the continuation of the way things are into the indescribable present.

Time in Orlando
Name: Rebekah Baglini (
Date: 04/17/2005 17:17
Link to this Comment: 14649

This is going to be a very disconnected and possibly confusing posting. But then again, it's about a book which could easily be called disconnected and confusing, so I hope you'll understand.

I'm also really interested by the topic of time at the end of Orlando. I think Brittany's image of tributaries--the different "clocks" all simultaneously operating inside Orlando--converging and unifying at the end of the book is really interesting. I got a similar impression of unity of time and self, although I think the unity comes from a change in Orlando's own perspective.
Throughout the novel, both Orlando's indentity and the passing of time have seemed highly subjective and unreliable, with gender changing instantaneously and whole eras passing in a few pages. My impression of what happens to Orlando at the end of the book is an embrace of the subjectivity of all her internal "clocks", all of her selves, all her memories and all the eras she's lived through. Throughout the book there are many references to imagination v. fact--"rainbow v. granite"(p 78)--subjective v. objective. Orlando has been trying to define herself in terms of what she perceives to be the factual, the objective, world outside of her; her ongoing concern with society, her attempts to fit in with the mores and styles of the eras she lives through. She seems always to be trying to reconcile herself with this idea of the "present." For me, the end of the book represents Orlando's realization of the interconnectedness of everything: she stops trying to draw lines between the real and the imagined, between the present, past and future--even the narration of the story, formerly told by the mock-biographer figure, morphs into Orlando's own stream of consciousness, the division between them (the storyteller and the story) erased.

Psychopathis Sexualis
Name: Arshiya Urveeja Bose (
Date: 04/17/2005 18:58
Link to this Comment: 14652

This weekend I read parts of a book called "Sexual Metamorphosis - An Anthology of Transexual Memoirs" edited by Jonathan Ames. The first chapter is a case history of Richard von Krafft-Ebong's famous 19th century study of human sexuality, Psychopathia Sexualis. This case study is an autobiography - a letter written to Krafft-Ebing by a Hungarian doctor who believed that he had changed overnight into a woman. In his letter the doctor lists the principal changes the he observes in himself and they include 1) feeling of having a woman's genitals 2) the periodicity of a monthly molimina 3) the passive female feeling during coitus 4) after that a feeling of impregnation and so on. On one occasion, the doctor is talking about alcohol and says "The indisposition after intoxication that a man who feels like a woman is much worse than any student could get up. It seems to me almost as if one's feelings like a woman were entirely controlled by the vegetative system." I found this fascinating, especially linked to the neocortex-frog brain model.

Can we uncover this idea further ?

time, dichotomy, language
Name: Kate Shiner (
Date: 04/17/2005 22:29
Link to this Comment: 14659

The idea of "block" time versus "standard" time in Orlando as Anne presented it and Michael discussed it in relation to category intrigues me and makes me want to further expand the dichotomous category chart I wrote on the board on Wednesday. Michael groups "block" time with "subjective, internal, feminine, circular" categories and "standard" time with "objective, historical, masculine, linear" categories.

For those who weren't there, I was trying to explain everything I wanted to touch on in my paper and decided that everything relevant I've been thinking about lately fit into a dichotomous chart that looked something like this (but was actually a chart, haha):

feminine |masculine

non-categorization |category

eastern |western

circular |linear

other |self

After reflecting more on Orlando and in general, and in light of our recent discussions, I feel "block" and "standard" time belong on the chart as well, along with an enormous number of other categories.

Here is a tentative revised version, although some of the placements and implications are unsure and uncomfortable for as I'm sure they are for many of you:

feminine | masculine

non-categorization |category

eastern |western

circular |linear

other |self

block time |standard time

passion |reason

relational |self-referential

interdependent |independent

liberal |conservative

I've been questioning what it means that I feel like I can make a chart like this. In my last paper I suggested that our brains require us to categorize things in a Hegelian way, first coining a term to define what IS (thesis) and then creating the antithetical opposite term from everything that it is NOT. I believe these categories are essentially imperfect reflections of true experience, but the best we can do is to question the categories, trying to gain a hermaphroditic perspective, and refine them further.

But what is truly interesting to me is that I've noticed that whichever categories are the "antitheses," or afterthoughts of the first, tend to be less well-defined and more free and/or ambiguous. They also seem to be associated with qualities of mystery, magic, danger, and/or immorality.
In the chart I constructed, which reflects some of my own cultural experiences (not that I necessarily condone them), all of the antitheses are on the left. I found myself struggling to find terms with more positive connotations for the left side (i.e. interdependent instead of dependent).

There are things others might add (i.e. subjective on the left and objective on the right) that I don't agree with because they seem not only derogatory to the left side but contradictory to other categories I've already placed (in this case relational vs. self).

I think (but would like to investigate more to be sure) that in other cultures the very opposite placements may ring true for some of these binaries, and that many of them may not exist at all.

Are the antitheses best grouped under the general term female and the theses under male? I wonder whether gender is the truly all-encompassing dichotomy and why. I also wonder if there are cultures where the male is instead the antithesis, and I suspect that there are. The Aztec creation story, among others, has all male humans emerging from the prototype of a female (as opposed to Eve being made out of Adam's rib).

And finally I wonder whether I have become too obsessed with the Hegelian dialectic and in fact there are cultures and people who find some other way to make sense of their experience than by using these types of rigid dichotomies. Right now I'm thinking that one way to do this is to have the kind of experience reflected in love scenes in HB and Orlando.

It is when Barbin is walking with Sara, about to leave her, that she most defiantly challenges category:

"Doesnıt the truth sometimes go beyond all imaginary conceptions, however exaggerated they may be?² (87)

A similar passage in Orlando (first quoted by Eileen in the forum) occurs after the meeting of Shel and Orlando:

"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 space here, which must be taken to indicate that the space is filled to repletion." (253)

Both of these quotes describe the experience of lovers who feel that the poignancy and truth of the moment is somehow beyond language and category.

Orlando vs. narrative
Name: Tonda Shimbo (
Date: 04/17/2005 23:20
Link to this Comment: 14660

Woolf's Orlando is a very flowery, image dependent narrative which, though beautifully written, can sometimes seem to drag on for those of us with not quite so long an attention span. I especially had a hard time with her very long sentences and never-ending paragraphs in that there never seemed to be a good place to take a break. It might be nicer if I hato d a couple days to just sit and read it, but I have things to do and places be as everyone else here does as well, and so I end up having to stop at the end of a paragraph which may or may not have been the best place to stop, and then picking it up again later only to be completely lost.

As far as the story goes, Orlando's character seems to follow the narrative, which seems to be an effective style. S/He will go into hiding for weeks on end, or have some extended thought that lasts the length of four written pages, only to suddenly realize she's changed her mind and ramble on for another four. Don't mistake me - I really enjoy Orlando - Woolf's assembly of words and emotions is unlike anything else; I just have a difficult time paying attention sometimes...

P.S. Sorry for the tardiness of this post... I lost track of time and for some reason thought today was Saturday... until now :-/

tick tock... tick tock...
Name: Maja Hadziomerovic (
Date: 04/18/2005 02:49
Link to this Comment: 14664

One of Virginia Woolfıs points in the book seems to be that there is more than one person in each body, that each individual has, at least potentially, many selves. I find this point very interesting. Perhaps it could explain the fluidity of human nature and our compatibility to a whole spectrum of different societies.

Virginia Woolf has created a character that is liberated from the restraints of time and sex. More than the fluidity of Orlandoıs sex, this non-conventional issue of time boggled my mind. In the conventional concept, time is divided into the Œpastı, the Œpresentı, and the Œfuture.ı With this widely accepted model, time has a distinct present moment and is Œmovingı forward into the future. Block time, on the other hand considers all points in time to be equally valid frames of reference. ŒPastı and Œfutureı are considered directions instead of states of being. Is it true that in reality there is no passage of time? Does the tick of a clock mean anything beyond being a consistent measure between events? If block time is indeed the more appropriate theory of time, then how would we explain the idea of free will. If future events are on the same plane as paste events that would make them as immutably fixed and impossible to change, thus eliminating the possibility for free will.

Name: ()
Date: 04/18/2005 17:13
Link to this Comment: 14690

Ooops!...My Orlando post
Name: Kelsey Smith (
Date: 04/18/2005 17:27
Link to this Comment: 14691

In class today, I realized that in my posting yesterday, I realized that part of the time I was writing about HB instead. Such is life at the end of the semester.

Orlando and other things
Name: Anjali Vaidya (
Date: 04/18/2005 21:46
Link to this Comment: 14706

One thing in class today which made Orlando much less perplexing to me was the idea that Virginia Woolf was unconsciously writing Orlando as herself- beginning with a tomboyish childhood and then turning into a woman at puberty. Orlando as a man, in the beginning, does seem somewhat childlike- idealistic and naive, passionate and easily hurt and easily delighted. And then as a woman she matures and becomes more realistic and disillusioned. The book also completely perplexed me until I realized from class last week that I could stop looking for a point. It helped a great deal to think of it as just a jumble of stream of consciousness associations.

I also wanted to mention a somewhat random thing which just happened to me walking on the path between Pem West and Thomas, which doesn't have to do with Orlando but it has to do with things we were talking about earlier in the semester so I'll mention it anyway. I was staring up at the cherry blossoms, and suddenly the branches looked for all the world as though they had no support from that angle- as though they were dangling freely from the sky. And the first thing I thought was, "Ha. A skyhook." And the more I thought about it, the more the comparison fit: those branches filled with cherry blossoms looked completely unreal outlined against the night sky. I could imagine some invisible being up there holding them up, until I looked down a bit- and shifted my perspective to see the entire tree... So the wider our perspective is, the more knowledge we have, the more cranes we see- and yet cranes taken by themselves look like skyhooks. And something as real and solid and bleak as those cherry trees were a few months ago have now produced these unreally beautiful cherry blossoms- a phenomenon which I could easily believe were produced by a miracle and attribute to skyhooks if my perspective were not wide enough to know better...

Name: Ariel Singer (
Date: 04/18/2005 22:10
Link to this Comment: 14707

I was fascinated by the way that the movie Orlando portrayed, or interpreted the book. Even though the actress who played Orlando was nothing like I imagine the character to look, she was still compelling, and somehow I managed to mesh the two pictures, one mental and one visual, into a new Orlando. I think that this happens often when one person views a picture of a scene that they already have a mental image for. I was wondering if this amalgamation is perhaps a trait unique to the human brain (going back to the storyteller idea). I realize that there is no way to test this, but it would be very interesting if one of the features that defined the human brain was its ability to take two images, one mental and one physical, and create a new whole in their head, is this not just creating a new story? Also if we create these amalgams every time we look at the world around us, do we ever view an image to which we cannot create a relationship for ourselves? So are our associations the cranes which we use to build what we often think of as true unprecedented creative ideas, or skyhooks?

Our class under the tree...
Name: Carolyn (
Date: 04/20/2005 15:57
Link to this Comment: 14749

In our section today, we talked about stories without meaningsŠ
I am still frustrated by the lack of meaning that I found in Orlando (whether intentional or not) and todayıs discussion really helped me to pin point the cause of my struggles with the novel.

In our section we also talked about nirvana and about Carrollıs poem ³Jabberwocky². All of this (metonymically) linked together in my head (and I should also mention the influence of the sunshine through the trees) and made me think of a song. When a class mate called attention to the verb tenses in ³Jabberwocky² I was reminded of the Joni Mitchellıs ³Chelsea Morning². I have been walking around listening to it while I am reveling in the sunshine and warmthŠ The descriptive quality of ³Chelsea Morning² and ³Jabberwocky² and the feelings of satisfaction and enjoyment that I get when hearing them are at odds with my dislike of ³Orlando². We also talked about time in our section, the time frame of the book as well as the time frame of its readers. Why am I more willing to indulge in description for descriptions sake, to let the words run over and through me, to dip my toes into anotherıs stream of consciousness, when it is only for a brief amount of time? I guess, in a way, I feel cheated by ³Orlando² because I invested my time into a book and I didnıt get a meaning out of itŠ I have had to construct my own without guidance (as point out in our section, thus isnıt necessary for someŠ for me it is thoughŠ and I was upset that Woolfe didnıt help guide meŠ). By the same token I wasnıt trustful enough of Woolfe. I stress meaning too much, I didnıt let go and ride through her descriptions. I did learn something from the book. I am very rigid about interpreting things and giving them meaning. I wish, however, that I could have learned something more specific something external and general rather than internal and specific. I wish I could have connected more to the bookŠ there is so much in it that eluded me.

Oh well, I can assuage my frustrations with the lyrics to ³Chelsea Morning²Š it really is a great songŠ especially when you are walking through the sunshineŠ

³Chelsea Morning² Lyrics from

Woke up, it was a chelsea morning, and the first thing that I heard
Was a song outside my window, and the traffic wrote the words
It came a-reeling up like christmas bells, and rapping up like pipes and drums

Oh, wonıt you stay
Weıll put on the day
And weıll wear it ıtill the night comes

Woke up, it was a chelsea morning, and the first thing that I saw
Was the sun through yellow curtains, and a rainbow on the wall
Blue, red, green and gold to welcome you, crimson crystal beads to beckon

Oh, wonıt you stay
Weıll put on the day
Thereıs a sun show every second

Now the curtain opens on a portrait of today
And the streets are paved with passersby
And pigeons fly
And papers lie
Waiting to blow away

Woke up, it was a chelsea morning, and the first thing that I knew
There was milk and toast and honey and a bowl of oranges, too
And the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses
Oh, wonıt you stay
Weıll put on the day
And weıll talk in present tenses

When the curtain closes and the rainbow runs away
I will bring you incense owls by night
By candlelight
By jewel-light
If only you will stay
Pretty baby, wonıt you
Wake up, itıs a chelsea morning

Name: Anne Dalke (
Date: 04/21/2005 17:42
Link to this Comment: 14769

I'm particularly interested in Carolyn's desire to "kill Virginia Woolf" because I am, like her (Carolyn, not Woolf) an incessant maker-of-meaning. As I told my students, my friends are often telling me that I should stop searching for significance/trying to construct meaning WHERE THERE IS NONE. So it seems particularly noteworthy to me that our shared exploration of "the evolution of stories" is ending w/ a story which explicitly--@ least on some levels (granting here some space for a parodic function)--refuses to "make meaning" in a way that would satisfy either Carolyn or me. This puts me in mind of a comment Mike Tratner made, when I was looking for suggestions for some "beautiful texts" for the other course earlier this semester:

I have always regarded The Waves by Virginia Woolf as the most beautiful text....the book seems to favor the sheer beauty of words over any imagined scenes those words are describing; the book is sensual as opposed to intellectual--and for that very reason, is the most obscure, hardest to read, and hence regarded as the most intellectual of Woolf's texts. At the same time... The Waves is about the dangers of beauty, both as a gendered concept that particularly restricts women to being sensual as opposed to intellectual...and as a general quality that soothes and assuages rather than disrupts and presses for something more--beauty is a form of consumption rather than a form of production.

Offered this text, my co-teacher replied,
so, i started reading waves. huh? but it has had the weird effect of leaving in my head this rhythm of waves coming in. the words actually do that!'s kinda cool, but mind-boggling if you're trying to extract the meaning from the text. ????

So, what do you think? is this where we "end"? With words that make no meaning...?

There's a Working Group on Language meeting tomorrow (Friday) morning, April 22nd, at 9:30 am. in room 264 of the Park Science Building. We'll be talking (among other things) about the degree to which language originally was/currently is a representational structure, meant to communicate information among us, and/or whether it began? still can be? doing something else.

Join us if you can, for another discussion interminable.

Your Turn!
Name: Anne Dalke (
Date: 04/21/2005 21:18
Link to this Comment: 14773

Schedule for Your Turn @ Teaching "Evolving Stories"

Monday, April 25

Wed, April 27

Name: Iva Yonova (
Date: 04/23/2005 20:48
Link to this Comment: 14795

reading orlando was the hardest and most tidious thing i ever had to do... i find myself totally spacing out and reading without actually comprehending the things i read.... and in this aspect i totally agree with Lauren that virginia wolf has been extremely "stingy" with verbs... i remember reading/trying to read (unsuccessfully) a room of ones own and i found it impossible to get any meaning out of the text.... so all i know about virginia wolf and her work is what my profs. have been telling me... now its easier in class because there seem to be quite a few people who actually understand what's going on in the book and there is actually a discussion in class while when i was reading a room of ones own it was primarily the prof. lecturing...
i was also talking about it with a friend of mine who is an english major and she said that she feels really guilty being an english major and not knowing virginia wolf because every time she started reading her she fell asleep....
yet when somebody actually explains me her ideas i totally admire her as a writer and a thinker..

Orlando and the Film
Name: Maureen England (
Date: 04/24/2005 19:30
Link to this Comment: 14801

Since watching that clip of the film in class, I've been really glad that I didn't watch the film before reading the book (as often I'd been interested in seeing it). Loving the end of the book the way I do, the film representation fell extremely flat for me. For such a pictoral book, it is surprising how different an interpretation of the book the film is, or at least the end. I love the lines, "as if her mind had become fluid that flowed round things and enclosed them completely." (page 314)and "proved that when the shirvelled skin of the ordinary is stuffed out with meaning it satisfies the senses amazingly" (page 315) and "the great wings of silence beat up and down the empty house" (page 319). Also, the beautiful imagry of the striking clock as Orlando walks through her house and remembers her past and her life.

One question, was I the only one that got the impression that Orlando dies in the end? It's just that that whole last section seemed like a goodbye. I could almost imagine the ghostly like prescence of so many memories, so much time in the halls of the house as Orlando walks through it one last time. It just seemed fitting too, that Orlando die in the end. But dying not so much as an end, but as a new beginning, carrying on the theme of rebirth in the novel.

related matters ....
Name: Paul Grobstein (
Date: 04/24/2005 19:52
Link to this Comment: 14802

Have a look at "Fundamentalism and Relativism" for a discussion, with public on-line forum, of matters in outside world informed by our course. You're welcome to join in there, AND/or here, of course.

Name: Iva Yonova (
Date: 04/25/2005 00:34
Link to this Comment: 14831

last night I was doing some research on 5 alfa reductase deficiency and i found something interesting: there are actually two 5 alfa reductase deficiencies: one of them is mutation on the 5th chromosome - 5 alfa reductase deficiency type 1 and one on the 2nd - 5 alfa reductase deficiency type two. the one that actually results in the 5 alfa reductase deficiency syndrome is the type 2 which is the mutation on the 2nd chromosome. the type one is very mild and usually phenotypicly unexpressed but the type 2 is the one that causes ambiguous genitalia. it was very difficult to go through the article so i am not absolutely positive that i understood correctly but feel free to check it on emedicine at

ps sorry but it wouldnt let me post as html

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