Orlando

University of Sussex & Society of Authors

In a Hairpin post on tattoos a couple weeks ago, at least two ladies mentioned having a semicolon tattoo. I adore a semicolon, but don’t think I’d get a semicolon tattoo unless it was joining two independent clauses selected for some particular and personal resonance. Still, I respect the choice. Power to the semicolon! Virginia Woolf agreed:

Anyone moderately familiar with the rigors of composition will need not to be told the story in detail; how he wrote and it seemed good; read and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; cut out; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good nights and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them; saw his book plain before him and it vanished; acted his people’s parts as he ate; mouthed them as he walked; now cried; now laughed; vacillated between this style and that; now preferred the heroic and pompous; next the plain and simple; now the vales of Tempe; then the fields of Kent or Cornwall; and could not decide whether he was the divinest genius or the greatest fool in the world.

Here I feel for Orlando, but at times Woolf is not so generous to him. There are times when I am supposed to laugh at him.

Sunk for a long time in profound thoughts as to the value of obscurity, and the delight of having no name, but being like a wave which returns to the deep body of the sea; thinking how obscurity rids the mind of the irk of envy and spite; how it sets turning in the veins the free waters of generosity and magnanimity; and allows giving and taking without thanks offered or praise given; which must have been the way of all great poets, he supposed (though his knowledge of Greek was not enough to bear him out) for, he thought, Shakespeare must have written like that, and the church builders built like that, anonymously, needing no thanking or naming, but only their great work in the daytime and a little ale perhaps at night – “What an admirable life this is,” he thought, stretching his limbs out under the oak tree.

Oh, Orlando. At this juncture he is thirty. I am still weighing my view of the way Woolf alternately makes Orlando sympathetic and maddening and won’t know what to make of it until I come to the novel’s end. Along the way, though, there are the fabulously long sentences.

Note: I was going to read this book forever ago, but am only now coming to it. So it goes.

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