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Orlando,

A Biography


 
 

a high-brow lark!

   

 

On the big screen again in New York and LA, Sally Potter’s now classic Orlando (based on the novel by Virginia Woolf) in a digitally re-mastered version.  The opulent, intelligent, sweeping film stars a younger Tilda Swinton (who is also being talked about at the moment for her turn in the equally sumptuous I Am Love).  We say read the book, or see the movie, and better yet, do both!

 


Tilda Swinton as Orlando

 

“The taste for books was an early one. As a child he [Orlando] was sometimes found at midnight by a page still reading.  They took his taper away, and he bred glow-worms to serve his purpose.  They took the glow-worms away, and he almost burnt the house down with a tinder. To put it in a nutshell, leaving the novelist to smooth out the crumpled silk and all its implications, he was a nobleman afflicted with a love of literature.”

 


The original film poster, 1993

 

Virginia Woolf, in her 1928 novel Orlando, A Biography, created strange alchemy from fact, fantasy, and history.  We follow aristocratic Orlando (who is blessed with eternal youth!) through almost 400 years - beginning in the reign of Elizabeth I.  Orlando leads a life of adventure and passion, always in love with books, but also falling in love with the daughter of the Russian Ambassador, and later, going native when sent to the Turkish court in Constantinople as Ambassador himself under King Charles.  And halfway through the journey to the 20th century wakes up to find that he has been transformed into a woman.  As Lady Orlando he continues his fantastic adventures, befriending famous English writers.  There are the limitations imposed by the new gender, but as a woman, Orlando finds true love with Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine.  “Towering dark against the yellow-slashed sky of dawn, with the plovers rising and falling about him, she saw a man on horseback...”

 

The whimsical prose is musical but always precise, it drifts and dances, always to the tune of an original and fantastic imagination.  A mischievous imagination, for it is Woolf’s most playful work.  Conrad Aiken writing in 1929 in the Chicago Dial said, '...she [Woolf] is pulling legs, keeping her tongue in her cheek, and winking, now and then, a quite shameless and enormous wink.'

And Arnold Bennett, writing soon after the book's publication, called it ‘A play of fancy, a wild fantasia, a romance, a high-brow lark.’ (He meant this to be a detraction, alluding to its artifice, its subtle snobbery, but we think, since he makes the detraction sound so tempting, so like praise, that perhaps, he was, in his own fashion, winking....?)

 

See: Orlando, now playing in NYC

 

See it on DVD: Orlando

 

Read: Orlando

 

Tags: literature  film  books   england    language  love

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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