Subscribe to FII's WhatsApp

Posted by Falguni Chaudhary 

When I read the novel for the first time, I was immediately intrigued to this alternate perspective. Gender performativity, gender fluidity, social construction of gender versus biological sex and androgynous reality of the natural state are some of the key themes explored by Virginia Woolf in the novel Orlando through our eponymous protagonist.

Orlando

Author: Virginia Woolf

Publisher: Hogarth Press

Genre: Biography

Kartin Elise says :

Woolf mocks the masculine sublime but also that through Orlando will celebrate and alternative aesthetic ,an alternate model of self in Orlando that resembles the androgynous model in Woolf’s- Room of One’s Own.”

We witness Orlando’s struggle for identity and transformation over a span of 400 years, there is is a deconstruction of essentialist ideas through his changing in clothing which causes a tearing down of internal and external spaces in Virginia Woolf’s writing. Attraction is not limited to the boundaries of sex and the change of sex does not alter their identity. Clothes are presented as a symbol of extension of our identity and crossdressing allows freedom of actions. Orlando feels oppression of gender conformity during the Victorian period ;he discusses the notions of essential personal identity along with contextual re-defined subjectivity. Woolf openly questions the essential self good against the social construction of norms ; she presses on the ambiguous relations between individual influence and social determinism which prevailed in Victorian era.

In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler argues that the repetitive nature of norms is a self sustaining patriarchal tradition which has helped it to build it’s powerful discourse, thus making transgression of boundaries seem so alien and unnatural. Butler argues that a revolutionary feminist can not exist outside of a patriarchal world completely, i.e, humans are political entities and cannot exist in isolation, free of social and cultural markers of identity.

The narrative of Orlando has post structuralist undertones as the protagonist breaks away from all chains of stereotypes and societal norms to transgress and discover his true identity.

There is a utopian desire to change the system or escape it. Representation of a woman as a political figure is always either locked in or locked out of institutions. The narrative of Orlando has post structuralist undertones as the protagonist breaks away from all chains of stereotypes and societal norms to transgress and discover his true identity. We observe that Orlando continuous to cross-dress even after his sex change. Thus, crossdressing becomes a symbol of liberation and freedom.

Also read: Book Review: Rage Becomes Her: The Power Of Women’s Anger By Soraya Chemaly

The intermingling of conscious and subconscious desires leads to Woolf’s dilemma- Locke’s opposition between the inside and outside through representation of nature and clothing. The philosophy of a fixed personal identity was a prevailing Victorian era. Orlando as a metaphorical narrative is presented by fabrication, sexuality, clothing and writing through which Locke’s essentialist opposition between outside and inside is broken down.

The “truth” of Orlando’s sex is to the essential instability of essence and the reversible nature of this “truth” itself. The sexual determination is also influenced by the fashion of the time which might disguise it and make it seem unintentional in the novel.

The “truth” of Orlando’s sex is to the essential instability of essence and the reversible nature of this “truth” itself. The sexual determination is also influenced by the fashion of the time which might disguise it and make it seem unintentional in the novel.

Two fixed gender identities implies a binary stability which made courtship seem like a less complex affair. Crossdressing is used as a symbol to represent homosexual possibilities. Orlando claims that crossdressing allowed her to “enjoy …the love of both sexes equally.” We observe how change in external appearance had no impact on the self’s internal identification.

However, with clothing comes coercion to previously existing gendered rules of behavior laid down by society. Thus cross dressing provided a platform of internal self expression to Orlando’s sexual-social identity.

Also read: Book Review: Circe By Madeline Miller

The journey of Orlando’s self-awareness had a deep impact on me and paved way to develop a more mature and inclusive perspective, further promoting the idea organically in my primary circle.


Falguni is a freelance PR Professional and Content Writer for online publications. Apart from the daily grind, she takes photo walks to old cities and historic places to capture fragments of narratives for my photo blog. You can find her on Instagram.

Leave a Reply