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Virginia Woolf’s Orlando Essay

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Virginia Woolf’s Orlando


Born in the late nineteenth century, Virginia Woolf’s visionary mind emerged in a social climate that did not cultivate the intellectual development of women. In England’s waning Victorian era, the upper classes of women were encouraged to become nothing more than obedient wives, self-effacing mothers, servile hostesses, and cheerful, chattering tea-drinkers, expectations that Virginia Woolf shunned, renounced, and ultimately denounced in her writings. Beside being born into a patriarchal culture, Virginia Woolf was also born into a family headed by a man who made it clear that he "expected more from his sons than his daughters" (Bazin 4). Although he considered Virginia as "the darling, the pet" (70) of the family, after the death of his second wife, her father Leslie Stephen fell into a deep depression that commanded "demands upon his children for pity and devotion [that] were almost unbearable" (4). Woolf herself wrote in her diary that she would never have been able to produce as much work as she did had her father not died fairly early in her life: "His life would have entirely ended mine. What would have happened? No writing, no books:-- inconceivable" (Gilbert and Gubar 192). Although he "allowed" Virginia to read and write, Leslie Stephen can be attributed with only a little more than genetic contribution to his daughter’s genius.

Orlando is the paragon of Virginia Woolf’s literary genius. Published in 1928, the novel is a fictional biography of Woolf’s friend Vita Sackville-West. The novel is dedicated to Vita and "has been called ‘the longest and most charming love letter in literature’" (Meese 469). This crucial biographical context is often overlooked, a displacement which hinders the f...


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...a Woolf. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. 223-230.

Marder, Herbert. Feminism & Art: A Study of Virginia Woolf. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1968.

Meese, Elizabeth. "When Virginia Looked at Vita, What Did She See; or, Lesbian: Feminist: Woman- What’s the Differ(e/a)nce?" Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. Ed. Robyn R. Warhol and Diane Price Herndl. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1997.

Moi, Toril. Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory. New York: Routledge, 1985.

Walker, Nancy A. Feminist Alternatives: Irony and Fantasy in the Contemporary Novel by Women. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1990.

West, Paul. "Enigmas of Imagination: Orlando Through the Looking Glass." Virginia Woolf. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. 83-100.

Woolf, Virginia. Orlando: A Biography. 1928. New York: Penguin Books, 1946.


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