chapter  7
10 Pages

Orlando

Revising Orlando: A Biography in the early months of 1928, Woolf described the book in her March 18 diary entry as “all a joke; & yet gay & quick reading I think; a writers holiday” (D3: 177). The “joke” lies in Woolf’s effort to write a fanciful biography based on the life of her friend and intimate Vita Sackville-West in which her subject first appears as a shy youth of sixteen during the English Renaissance and eventually matures into a capable, thirty-six-year-old modern woman. Spanning over three centuries and changing its subject’s sex at some point during the Restoration, Orlando is nonetheless more than a jeu d’esprit that celebrates the personality, interests, and aristocratic heritage of Sackville-West. The book may also be viewed as an informal social history of England from the Renaissance to 1928 that portrays-and satirizes-the nation’s changing values, mores, gender roles, and tastes over the centuries. In addition, it provides an irreverent history of the development of English literature and its modes of production during these years. As a self-conscious biography, Orlando can be considered an extended, albeit fanciful, meditation upon the problems facing biographers or historians in writing about a historical subject.1