Virginia Woolf’s Orlando

“Memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus, the most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one, may agitate a thousand odd, disconnected fragments, now bright, now dim, hanging and bobbing and dipping and flaunting, like the underlinen of a family of fourteen on a line in a gale of wind.”

― Virginia Woolf, Orlando

I have worked with many of Virginia Woolf’s texts, and each one leaves me breathless with its narrative beauty, unique aesthetic and remarkable understanding of the depths of the human mind. Orlando is new territory for me: an ironic biography – or possibly a love letter to Vita Sackville-West – or perhaps imagined autobiography? Critics disagree on how to categorise this book, making it all the more intriguing.

The proposal of Virginia Woolf as a comic genius is not how we usually consider this writer of such depth and nuance. In Orlando, Woolf seeks to probe the limits of gender before gender was understood to be a societal construct – ahead of her time, as always. The central character survives centuries and does the Tiresias – by changing genders, the character gets the unique ability to compare what it is to be male and what it is to be female. As always, reading this work and the discussions that will be provoked – around gender, same-sex love, societal constraints and the search for joy across historical epochs – will illuminate the chaotic world we live in,where gender continues to be problematised and re-considered.


  • One meeting study
  • Recommended edition: Orlando by Virginia Woolf Vintage Classics (October 2016) ISBN-10: 1784870854

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Posted on

September 12, 2017