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NA200412 - WOOLF, V.: Orlando (Abridged)
Virginia Woolf was born in 1882, the daughter of editor and critic Leslie Stephen. The early deaths of her mother, stepsister and brother left her prone to bouts of depression, which continued throughout her life. After teaching for a time at a college for workingwomen in south London, she began writing reviews for The Times Literary Supplement and was drawn into a group of radical writers and artists later to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. Here she met the socialist intellectual, Leonard Woolf whom she married in 1912 and together they founded the Hogarth Press, whose list included such influential literary figures as T.S. Eliot and Katherine Mansfield.
Through her early essays and articles and later her novels, Virginia Woolf gained a reputation as a feminist and modernist and was particularly interested in the effects of social and historical forces on individual lives. Her major novels include: Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), A Room
of One’s Own (1929) and The Waves (1931). In 1941, overcome by fear
of another attack of depression, she drowned herself.
In 1927, when Virginia Woolf was planning Orlando, she described her book as an ‘escapade’ and ‘a love letter’. It was an ‘escapade’ because she needed a ‘writer’s holiday’: she wanted to write a book about history, biography, the meaning of time and sexual ambiguity. But it was to be wild and fantastic and it was to be a ‘love letter’ to the aristocratic, sensual and charismatic Vita Sackville West, upon whom the character of Orlando is based. It was Virginia Woolf’s romantic fascination with Vita that led her to write the book with such speed and exhilaration. Vita Sackville West was openly bisexual, enjoyed cross-dressing and conducted a passionate and public affair with Violet Trefusis.
But this is no ordinary fictionalized biography. For Orlando, time is elastic: we follow him through three centuries, from the court of Queen Elizabeth I to the London of Charles II; into the gloom of the nineteenth century; and finally to the bustle of London in the 1920s.
Not only is time elastic… Orlando also defies the constraints of anatomy: he is first male, then female; a tortured writer, then a man of action; an intellectual and a woman of fashion. Orlando is all of these and none of them. Here is a unique and dazzling character that travels through time and space and becomes a complex synthesis of diverse incarnations. This immensely lyrical work ends with a final epiphany, in which we are left with one of the most unforgettable creations of twentieth century literature.
Notes by Heather Godwin
A frequent reader for Naxos AudioBooks, Laura Paton trained at LAMDA where she won the St. Phillip’s Prize for Poetry and the Michael Warre Award. She has toured the UK extensively in productions as varied as The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Oscar Wilde’s Salomé.
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