Orlando by Virginia Woolf

How do you escape from animal rights? The question is asked often. And depending upon my mood at that time, I will respond with different answers. If irritated (I am mostly), I may snap, “There is no escape!” But if relaxed and in a good mood, I may answer differently.

Moreover, the older I get the more limited my interests become. The fewer options there are to escape. I’m increasingly intolerant of much that’s presented as entertainment or proffered as culture. Watching things on my iPad (there’s no telly in our house) is in decline. If interests are stimulated in the first ten minutes of a program or film, there’s a possibility I will continue to watch. But it’s doubtful. You only get one chance. Also, age demands peace, I find. I used to love music. There was a great pleasure from listening to my favourite artists. Not anymore. Well, I indulge late at night or early morning wearing headphones when sleep eludes. But it’s a quiet life now.

Yes, I read a lot. I sometimes listen to books but I rarely like the narrator’s voice. Podcasts I listen to. A future post about my favourites?

So, who do I read?

There is one name at the top of my list. Virginia Woolf. I make no claims of being an expert. I enjoy reading whatever she writes (novels, letters, diaries, reviews, etc.) and learning about her fascinating life.

So, this is a review of Orlando, the latest novel I read of the dear Virginia.

Yes, it’s a love letter to her close friend (lover?) Vita Sackville West. Yes, the protagonist, Orlando, is male at the beginning at the time of Queen Elizabeth 1 and a female several hundreds of years later to the present. Well, to 1928 when Orlando was published. It’s rich. Like an enormous box of expensive vegan chocolates. Often I had no idea what was going on. But I never felt out of my depth even though I was. It’s a long hot foamy bath in which one luxuriates. (You can tell I’m no Virginia Woolf.)

I’m not sure I would recommend Orlando as the first novel to read if you haven’t read anything by her. Try starting with Flush, the biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s spaniel, who lived from 1840-54.

I want to mention which edition of Orlando I read. It was Penguin Classics, a hardback with a ribbon as a bookmark and detailed endnotes and comments. If I were travelling with a copy of Orlando, I would buy a copy of the regular paperback version. The hardback enriched the reading experience. And too wonderful to beat up en route.

We’re lucky to live in Hastings, East Sussex. To the northeast of us, about 45 minutes drive inland, is Sissinghurst Castle and Garden. This is the home of Vita Sackville West and her husband Harold Nicolson. We visit throughout the year to appreciate the seasons’ impact on this heaven on earth. A similar distance but to the west is Monk’s House, the home of Virginia Woolf and her husband, Leonard. Always a pilgrimage. And not very far away from there is Charleston, the home of Virginia’s sister, the artist Vanessa Bell. Visiting the Charleston farmhouse and garden is to step back in time and experience albeit vicariously the creative impulse of Bloomsbury, the early 20th-century group of writers, artists, intellectuals, and others.