Virginia Woolf: Orlando (review)

18839 I have owned Orlando for years and been wanting to read it for even more years but Virginia Woolf is a bit intimidating to me. Even after having read – and really liked – To the Lighthouse, I still find her a difficult author to read. But since Orlando is so short, I thought it would be a rather quick read and decided to bring it and read it on our summer holiday. Well, I was wrong about it being a quick read but I was right to bring it with me on holiday because I have quite a bit of time to read when we’re on holiday and this book just needs that you give it some time. At least it does for me. It’s one of those books that forces you to read slower to grasp it all. Not only is it written in a way that makes you go more slowly, my edition also came with a lot of notes that I had to read because they – or at least most of them – actually added to my understanding of the novel. And add to this that I took quite a bit of notes while reading this, of course it will take several days to read these less than 300 pages.
Now who is this Orlando? Orlando is a young man born during the reign of Elisabeth 1. Or at least he is a young man for the first 200 years or so of his life because after that, he suddenly wakes up a woman. Already now, you should know that this is not a novel – or rather, a historical biography – to be read literally. This is in fact a long love letter to Virinia Woolf’s friend Vita Sackville West and at the same time, it’s a book about history and how it’s dominated by male figures. It’s about gender roles in general, about the genre of biography – and it’s absolutely wonderful. Yes, it’s difficult going and yes, this is one of those books that you really need to work at to really get – and I know that I didn’t get anything near to all that is to get in this novel.
One thing I really liked is, how Woolf plays with time in this book – and with how we perceive time and how we relate a life. Seemingly huge life events in Orlando’s life are only hinted at or maybe just mentioned in brackets and I like that, because it’s not always the so called big events that are the most important to us. But these events are the ones the biographer focus on because they are the documented ones and so, the biographed life gets a bit twisted when compared to the real life. And some people live lives filled with experiences while others are seemingly dead on their feet. ‘The true length of a person’s life /…/ is always a matter of dispute.’ (p. 211)
Oh, and Woolf’s funny too. I love how she got rid of an unwanted suitor by dropping a frog down his shirt! She had tried to get rid of him in a lot of other ways but he just kept on forgiving her because she was just a weak woman and they were alone so no one had to know that she cheated at games for instance. Or this quote: ‘/…/ of what nature is death and of what nature life? Having waited well over half an hour for an answer to these questions, and none coming, let us get on with the story.’ (p. 49) Or this one explaining why Orlando’s writing style has changed: ‘Also that the streets were better drained and the houses better lit had its effect upon the style, it cannot be doubted.’ (p. 77)
The best thing about this book is, that it really makes me want to study, to learn more about Virginia and Vita to be able to understand it more, to get more from it. It makes me want to read and read, to be an intellectual and a snob and go to fancy dinner parties with other people who cares about this book, who wants to spend hours talking about love, time, aging, biographies and how funny Woolf really is. It makes me want to take a class on this author, this book, and learn everything. And it makes me want to read her other books. It’s a sort of treasure map to the promised land, an unspoken guarantee that the more I know the more I will get from reading this – and this will go on forever. Few books makes me feel this way – although The Great Gatsby did recently – and it truly reminds me how diverse and wonderful literature is and how lucky I am to be a bibliophile.

  • Title: Orlando
  • Author: Virginia Woolf
  • Publisher: Penguin Modern Classics
  • Year: 2000 (original 1928)
  • Pages: 273 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5

Related posts (other books read for The Classics Club):

Oh and read this post too over at Délaissé:

I read this one for The Classics Club and for my attempt at reading the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.

The Classics Club – Year One

imgpressSo it’s been a year since I joined the Classics Club. I had decided early on that I didn’t want to join the Classics Club since I had so much going on already and a lot of commitments, both connected to which books I wanted to read and the rest of life.
But people kept on writing about the Classics Club and they seemed to enjoy themselves so much that I started to feel left out. I also love making to-do lists (although not necessary doing what they say) so the whole idea of making a list of books I wanted to read, was very appealing to me.
So yeah, I caved and I joined and I made a list of 50 books that I want to read before September 2017.
And now, a year has gone by and where has it left me. I have read 8 books so far which is not quite as much as I would have liked to. But it has been wonderful books – see the list below.

Richard Adams: Watership Down. (5 stars)

Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey (4 stars)

Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone (4 stars)

Alexander Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo (5 stars)

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby. (5 stars)

Victor Hugo: Les Misérables. (5 stars)

Toni Morrison: Beloved (5 stars)

Virginia Woolf: Orlando (5 stars)

So yeah, it has been amazing books. Only two of them got below 5 stars – and I’m thinking now that I might have been a bit harsh because I remember them both very fondly. It has just been such amazing reads so I’m really looking forth to the next 42 books on my list. I’ll try to get a lot read during this next year so I’ll be on target with my reading of this list.
So while that has been good, what hasn’t been as good is my general participation level in the club. I have participated in one of the monthly memes, just one. And that is a bit shabby. I’ve never really explored all the wonderful reviews I know has been written for the club by it’s members – and I hope to explore that more during the next year too.
So what I can conclude after this my first year is, that I have read some wonderful books but if I’m not participating more in the various club activities, I could just as well have made a list completely on my own and not be in a club. And that’s a shame. So my goal for the next year is to read many, many more wonderful books from my list and to try and be an active member of the club.

Oh and I promise I’ll write the last reviews soon – it’s a bit shameful that I have only written 4 reviews out of 8 when I loved all the books and really want to convince everyone else to read them!!

Related posts:

The Classics Club: April Meme – Question #9


So I’ve been a member of The Classics Club for a while now and I’ve been a very bad member. I haven’t participated in any memes and I’m not sure I’m on track with my reading either. I’ve read two books from my list since I joined in September 2012: Victor Hugo: Les Misérables and Toni Morrison: BelovedBoth were extremely good.

Anyway, back to the case in point. This month’s meme:

“Who is hands-down the best literary hero, in your opinion? Likewise, who is the best heroine?”

When I first read the question, nothing really popped into my head. But after reading this post on the BookerTalk blog, I got inspired and suddenly knew who I wanted to showcase as a hero.

None other than Jean Valjean from Les Misérables. Jean Valjean starts out as a nice man trying to help out his family by providing for them. But when he has to steal bread for them, he is put in the gallows and ends up staying there for so long, that he forgets his family and is a changed man when he eventually gets out. He is a broken man, a man with no good in his soul anymore.

But then he meets a man. An old bishop who is a giver. When he has the chance to put Jean Valjean back in the gallows, he doesn’t. This changes something in Valjean and even though he performs one more crime, the bishop’s good deed has put him on a new path.

When we next meet him, he is a mayor doing everything in his power to do good. And even when he again becomes down on his luck, he continues on this path of doing good and helping – particularly in the case of the young daughter of Fantine.

Valjean is very much a hero. He does everything to do good and even though he’s viewed as the lowest of all, he continues striving to improve himself – and succeeds.

A heroine from classic literature can be found in the same book. Fantine. Fantine is a woman who goes from being the belle of the ball to being very much down on her luck. It does seem that I like my heroic characters to be the type who face adversity with dignity and strength, doesn’t it?

What makes Fantine a heroine in my book, is that she is willing to do everything to take care of her child. And not just do everything in the sense that she feeds or clothes her. No, Fantine knows that she is not able herself to take care of her daughter so she finds her what she thinks is the best possible foster home and does everything to pay for it – including selling her hair and teeth. Fantine is an amazing mother even though she doesn’t mother her child herself.

The book was wonderful and amazing. I haven’t watched the recent movie yet but Anne Hathaway’s performance of I Dreamed a Dream makes me cry every time.

Related post:

Toni Morrison: Beloved (review)


‘Nothing was in that shed, he knew, having been there early that morning. Nothing but sunlight. Sunlight, shavings, a shovel. The ax he himself took out. Nothing else was in there except the shovel – and of course the saw.’ (p. 185)

Even though Sethe has lived eighteen years in freedom, she is still haunted by her past. She is haunted by what happened on the farm where she was a slave, what happened with her children, what happened to her husband and her fellow slaves at Sweet Home. And most of all, she is haunted by the ghost of her baby girl, the dead baby who is living in the house with Sethe and her daughter Denver. The dead baby on whose grave only one word is written: Beloved.

After reading this novel, I had a conversation with my boyfriend about whether any of us could ever seriously hurt or even kill our daughters to prevent them from suffering a worse fate. It’s difficult to imagine a situation where we would have to make that choice – and even if it ever happened, I think we would both always hope that something would happen that would save them and that by killing them, we would take away any chance, however remote, of them ever leading a happy life.

Not so for Sethe. After living in slavery for years and finally escaping with her baby, after having sent her three oldest children to safety earlier, she will do anything to ensure that none of her children will ever have to suffer through what she suffered as a slave – even though she had it easy for much of that time. But of course, that’s not the point. What is the point is that when you are a slave, someone else is so much in charge of you that they can take everything from you, not just the few possessions you have or your family, but yourself too. ‘That anybody white could take your whole self for anything that came to mind. Not just work, kill, or maim you, but dirty you. Dirty you so bad you couldn’t like yourself anymore. Dirty you so bad you forgot who you were and couldn’t think it up.’ (p. 295). And as a mother, you can’t let that happen to your children, can you? So instead, you choose safety by handsaw… and you protect your children best way you can. Even if it’s a gruesome way.

So what makes this book such an outstanding novel is not the story itself even though it is inspired by real events. It’s not the characters even though they stand out from the pages. It’s the writing. The way Morrison uses words is the true star of this book and the skillful way she tells much, but not all. You are not always sure what’s going on, sometimes you have to go back and reread a passage several times, but it’s always devastatingly beautiful. You have to use your imagination to piece it all together – and somehow, that makes it worse. The narrative is not told in a straight and linear way, you jump back and forth as Sethe remembers more and more of what she has hidden away but which the arrival of another slave from Sweet Home awakens in her again. I was confused several times while reading this book and then, towards the end, when she uses different POVs, different voices and even wrote parts in prose poem style, I was even more confused. But it’s a good confusion. It’s the kind of confusion that shows you that there is something here that’s worth coming back for, that you need to read carefully and concentrated and definitely more than once.

Toni Morrison is a Pulitzer winner and a Nobel Prize recipient – and rightly so, if I am to judge by this book. If the rest of her books live up to this standard, I’m impressed! I am not sure if she will become a new favorite author because I think her books might be too devastating – on the other hand, it was such a joy to read a book where an author was so much in command of her abilities and everything was just right. This is a novel you just have to read – there’s no way around it.


You are my sister

You are my daughter

You are my face; you are me

I have you found you again; you have come back to me

You are my Beloved

You are mine

You are mine

You are mine (p. 255-256)

  • Title: Beloved
  • Author: Toni Morrison
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • Year: 1987
  • Pages: 324 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5

My Classics Club list

So as I wrote a couple of days ago, I have decided to join The Classics Club. Below you’ll find my list of the 50 books I pledge to read before September 2017. It’s a bit scary to create such a list because my intention is to try and stick to it and actually get these books read. I started with listing the books I already own that qualify for this club – 25 books in all (one of these is a reread). And then came the trickier part – going through my wish list of 1000+ books and determining the last 25 books…

There was some titles I immediately knew I wanted to include – like Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451 and Dumas The Count de Monte Christo. But then I just went through my wish list, added the books I felt for. I have to admit that apparently, not that many classics have spoken to me. I only ended up with a list of 55 novels – so 30 novels out of my 1000+ wish list are what I determine classics…! That’s just sad! If I had known that, I probably would have joined The Classics Club a lot sooner to get more recommendations…!

But anyway, here’s my list. I haven’t paid attention to making sure both men and women are included or that all the authors aren’t ‘old white men’  but I still have a bit of everything, I think. The last to be included was Ernest Hemingway – I’ve been putting of reading him for so long, him being this big game hunter who drank too much, but I’m slowly coming to the realization that I might actually still like some of his works… So I kicked Mervyn Peake off the list and added Hemingway.

Here’s the list – deadline: September 2017:

  1. Richard Adams: Watership Down. (Own collection)
  2. Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart
  3. Jane Austen: Northhanger Abbey. (Own collection)
  4. Paul Auster: The New York Trilogy. (Own collection)
  5. Frank L. Baum: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
  6. Karen Blixen: Out of Africa. (Own collection)
  7. Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451
  8. Frances Hodgson Burnett: A Little Princess
  9. William Burroughs: Naked Lunch. (Own collection)
  10. A.S. Byatt: Possession. (Own collection)
  11. Lewis Carroll: Alice in Wonderland. (Own collection)
  12. Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking Glass. (Own collection)
  13. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: Don Quixote (Own collection)
  14. Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone
  15. Charles Dickens: Nicholas Nickleby. (Own collection)
  16. Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities. (Own collection)
  17. Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Idiot. (Own collection)
  18. Fyodor Dostoevsky: Crime and Punishment. (Own collection)
  19. Theodore Dreiser: An American Tragedy
  20. Alexander Dumas: The Count of Monte Christo
  21. Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose. (Own collection)
  22. George Elliot: The Mill on the Floss
  23. Sebastian Faulks: Birdsong
  24. F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby. (Own collection)
  25. Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows. (Own collection)
  26. Graham Greene: The Power and the Glory
  27. Graham Greene: The End of the Affair
  28. Alex Haley: Roots
  29. Thomas Hardy: The Mayor of Casterbridge
  30. Thomas Hardy: Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  31. Ernest Hemingway: A Farewell to Arms
  32. Frank Herbert: Dune. (Own collection)
  33. Victor Hugo: Les Misérables. (Own collection)
  34. Henry James: The Portrait of a Lady
  35. Christopher Isherwood: A Single Man
  36. James Joyce: Ulysses. (Own collection)
  37. Mario Vargas Llosa: Conversations in a Chatedral
  38. Gabriel García Márques: One Hundred Years of Solitude. (Own collection)
  39. Carson McCullers: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
  40. Toni Morrison: Beloved
  41. Marcel Proust: In Remembrance of Things Past. (Own collection – I’m not sure if the edition I’m reading is being published and I don’t know if the last volume is finished in 5 years but I’ll try to finish as much of it as is published.)
  42. Salman Rushdie: Midnight’s Children. (Own colletion)
  43. John Steinbeck: Of Mice and Men
  44. J.R.R. Tolkien: Lord of the Rings. (Own collection – reread)
  45. Evelyn Waugh: Brideshead Revisited. (Own collection)
  46. Thornton Wilder: The Bridge of San Luis Rey
  47. Edith Wharton: The Age of Innocence
  48. Virginia Woolf: Orlando. (Own collection)
  49. Richard Yates: Revolutionary Road
  50. Émile Zola: Thérèse Raquin

Related posts:

On not joining the Classics Club…

The Classics Club is a huuuuuge thing in the blogosphere at the moment. Everybody has joined, it seems. Lists are posted all over and bloggers are committing to reading 50, 100 or even more classics over the duration of 5 years. The club was started by Jillian from A Room of One’s Own but when the club grew from 0 to 170 members in 5 short months, it was decided to give the club a new location, it’s own home so to speak.

And I have not joined.

I have been staying away from it. Carefully avoiding to check out the blog or even read too many posts about it. It’s not because I don’t feel one should read the classics. I do. It’s not because I don’t like the people behind the blog. I do – and I’m impressed with the amount of work they put in their blogs and in The Classics Club. It’s not because I don’t like being inspired by other readers, reading reviews, being part of a community. I love all three things. So why didn’t I join The Classics Club immediately?

First of, I felt that 50 books or more in 5 years are a lot to decide on. I also felt that I already were committed to so much, too much, that I simply couldn’t put the amount of effort and dedication in to it that it required. Or at least, that I would require of myself. There’s no point in joining a group or a challenge and then not participating. And I really didn’t feel I had the time…

But … I’ve caved… Even though I tried to stay away, I just couldn’t. So I’m going to sign up. I’m going to make a list of 50 books, 50 classics, and sign up to read them during the next 5 years. I’m going to start out by listing the classics already on my shelves – and then add books from my wish list. And I’m going to participate as much as possible in the various events, memes and more. I still have a lot of “required” reading in 2012, challenges I’ve signed up to before signing up for this, so I’m not going to be able to read a lot of classics this year but hopefully next year will see me reading quite a few classics!

I’m kind of excited about this. I’ve tried so hard to stay away – but deep down, I think I knew that it would only be a matter of time before I would join to be able to play with all the cool kids 😉

I’ll post my list tomorrow or the day after.