Elizabeth Bowen on Orlando

Happening upon a comment elsewhere regarding the book noted above, a comment I heartily endorse and agree with, I also found this while sorting through my many books:

from "Orlando"
in The Mulberry Tree
Elizabeth Bowen

Virginia Woolf's Orlando was first published in London in October of 1928. I remember, the book was regarded with some mistrust by one generation--my own, at that time 'the younger'. We, in our twenties during the '20s, were not only the author's most zealous readers, but, in the matter of reputation, most jealous guardians. Her aesthetic became a faith; we were believers. We more than admired, we felt involved in each of her experimental, dazzling advances. Few of us (then) knew the still-conservative novels of her first period; a minority had informed itself of The Mark on the Wall and Kew Gardens, hand-printed and issued in 1919 by the original Hogarth Press. She broke full upon us, it would be correct to say, with Jacob's Room, 1922, on which followed Mrs Dalloway, 1925; then, while we were still breathless, To the Lighthouse, 1927. What now, what next? Next came Orlando. It was Orlando's fate to come hard on the heels of the third of those masterpieces, of which each had stimulated a further hope. We regarded this book as a setback. Now, thirty-two years later, I wonder why this should have been so.

And I can respond, that it is a common enough reaction.  Once immersed in the world that Woolf had fully discovered and fleshed out in the three novels named, it is an oddity to be dragged back to this one by a trifle as ordinary and mundane as Orlando.  And yet, that really is the reaction only in proximity--because even though Orlando is a lark, a frolic, a bon-bon, a trifle, Woolf's trifles exceed in skill and dexterity some of the finest writing of lesser, much-lauded writers.

So, take heart those who come down from the heights of the Lighthouse to discover Orlando.   It is my sincere belief that Orlando requires a season and a space of its own.  It does not play well with others.

Comments

  1. Steven - Thank you very much for posting that passage and your own thoughts. It is quite a relief to know that my own reaction to Orlando is not uncommon. I shall look forward to returning to the book in its own time.

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