The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Things too well known

Posted on: December 3, 2009

It was difficult to choose an excerpt to properly display Woolf’s humour although they all carry an irreverence I found particularly appealing. She deals with poets very badly in this novel; I’d love to know which ones in particular ticked her off. Anyway, it’s the sort of humour that, with another writer, could have palled very quickly and earned nothing more than an eye roll. Or maybe that will be your reaction and I’m easy, but I always go for a good clichés jab. Here is our 16 year old Orlando putting his genius to paper.

He was describing, as all young poets are for ever describing, nature, and in order to match the shade of green precisely he looked (and here he showed more audacity than most) at the thing itself, which happened to be a laurel bush growing beneath the window. After that, of course, he could write no more. Green in nature is one thing, green in literature another. Nature and letters seem to have a natural antipathy; bring them together and they tear each other to pieces. The shade of green Orlando now saw spoilt his rhyme and split his metre. Moreover, nature has tricks of her own. Once look out of a window at bees among flowers, at a yawning dog, at the sun setting, once think ‘how many more suns shall I see set’, etc. etc. (the thought is too well known to be worth writing out) and one drops the pen, takes one’s cloak, strides out of the room, and catches one’s foot on a painted chest as one does so. For Orlando was a trifle clumsy.

He was careful to avoid meeting anyone….There is perhaps a kinship among qualities; one draws another along with it; and the biographer should here call attention to the fact that this clumsiness is often mated with a love of solitude. Having stumbled over a chest, Orlando naturally loved solitary places, vast views, and to feel himself for ever and ever and ever alone.

So, after a long silence, ‘I am alone’, he breathed at last, opening his lips for the first time in this record. He had walked very quickly uphill through ferns and hawthorn bushes, startling deer and wild birds, to a place crowned by a single oak tree. It was very high, so high indeed that nineteen English counties could be seen beneath; and on clear days thirty or perhaps forty, if the weather was very fine. Sometimes one could see the English Channel, wave reiterating upon wave. Rivers could be seen and pleasure boats gliding on them; and galleons setting out to sea; and armadas with puffs of smoke from which came the dull thud of cannon firing; and forts on the coast; and castles among the meadows; and here a watch tower; and there a fortress; and again some vast mansion like that of Orlando’s father, massed like a town in the valley circled by walls. To the east there were the spires of London and the smoke of the city; and perhaps on the very sky line, when the wind was in the right quarter, the craggy top and serrated edges of Snowdon herself showed mountainous among the clouds. For a moment Orlando stood counting, gazing, recognizing. That was his father’s house; that his uncle’s. His aunt owned those three great turrets among the trees there. The heath was theirs and the forest; the pheasant and the deer, the fox, the badger, and the butterfly.

He sighed profoundly, and flung himself—there was a passion in his movements which deserves the word—on the earth at the foot of the oak tree.

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

16 Responses to "Things too well known"

heh. You know Woolf wrote Orlando for Vita Sackville West, yes? And Vita was a pretty famous poet of the time. Won awards for a poem called “The Land.” Orlando is supposed to be modeled after Vita and no doubt there is much gentle making of fun which Woolf could do since the two were lovers. Vita was delighted with the book, but who wouldn’t be delighted if one’s lover wrote such a wonderful book for them? 🙂

Had to laugh when I read this and also go ‘Awwww’ … Would I get my Virginia Woolf? Hmmm…

How fun to encounter this on your blog! I love Orlando – particularly that wonderful scene where there’s a big carnival on the Thames after it freezes over.

i know i don’t get here enough. sometimes communicating is hard for me. but i wanted to give you a sure smile for the holidays, and the warmest of warm wishes.

lily (lotusgreen)

Are you back? sporadically? Would love it. Hi to you!

Ha yes, good to see you back.

Been reading a bit of Woolf lately too, from The Common Reader. She’s brilliant. She says a literary work in translation is like a man who had been in an accident and lost all his clothes. Outrageous and wrong, but very funny.

I miss our book chats over on Shelfari, which has changed so much since we last talked about David Treuer, whose Little I still have not read. Just passing through to wish you time enough at last to read to your heart’s content.

Hi! I read and feel at home. I love Orlando!

I missed you. I just checked to see if you were active yet on your blog and I am so happy!
Glad to read your posts again!

I’ve read over many of your current posts and I had been wondering if you were interesting in swapping website links? I am always wanting to swap links with personal blogs about comparable readers! I look forward to hearing back from you soon.

Your blog is really nice and great! So, I’ve added your blog into my blog. Could you please consider to add my blog into your blog?

Have a nice day!

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I am not sure I have proud of the efforts of a literary blogger this well in a while. So, get back and when you can, we would be waiting. Take care and do keep being great. Best wishes, S’

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