As a person looks around themselves and their surroundings they can pick up little details about themselves as well as their society. Society has a lot to do with the things that are bought, taken home, displayed. Society depicts what things are fashionable and what’s not. This alludes to the fact that one acquires the ideals of the society around them. Though conforming seems like the best way to make one’s self seem respectable, does it mean that one must lose themselves in order to gain the respect of society? That is the very struggle that presents itself in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.
Orlando is a story about a young man who transcends into adulthood, finding his own path, by becoming a woman who lives through various periods of English history. In the beginning of the novel, which takes place near the end of the sixteenth century, the reader is introduced to this young boy(not quite a young man as yet) playing with the head of a Moor, pretending to actually slay it, much like his father and grandfather had done. As soon as the story opens Orlando is described as a boy at the age of sixteen that would “steal away from his mother and the peacocks in the garden and go to his attic room and there lunge and plunge and slice the air with his blade” (page 13, Woolf). When a boy usually hit the age of sixteen he would have already been called a man for some time, however Orlando seems to be shielded from the average duties of a young man. As he is left behind with his mother, while his father goes off on “massacres”, he struggles with himself to become the dominant, head slashing male, like his father. He tries to conform himself to the ideal male figure that hunts and kills, but instead finds himself taking a liking to writing poetry. He was more involved with love and poetry and not so much concerned with the duties of a man. Orlando [was indeed] masculine and violent in the dashing Elizabethan age (page 131, Blackstone) but also had an inner self that yearned for love and had a burning desire for poetry. It is during this century that Orlando became a courtier for the Queen as well as one of the well dressed noblemen of the time.
At some point in the Queens service, Orlando meets a Russian princess and falls madly in love with her. However his love is short-lived when she does show up to one of the...
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...English history and the English way of life is re-created. The temperament of each age is conveyed in a series of vignettes: the boy Orlando kneeling with an ewer of rose-water before the aged Queen Elizabeth, the Great Frost of James I's reign [where he wakes up not remembering a thing about it], Pope unforgivably witty at a fashionable tea-party”(page 131, Blackstone). As Orlando went through each faze of her life, she constantly tried to measure up to the ways of each society she entered. Every place she tried to fit in made her feel as if she just did not belong. However, when Orlando became a woman she did not lose the sense of her identity, she retained it and instead of being disappointed that every time she tried to conform she continued to press on until she was finally at a place in her life where she was content to be an independent person, living in her own world. She realized that even though she matured over the years, she remained true to herself despite the conditions, and restrictions society tried to place her in.
Blackstone, Bernard. Virginia Woolf: A Commentary. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1949
Woolf, Virginia. Orlando. New York: Harcourt, 1956
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