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The novel has been famously described by Nigel Nicolson as "the longest and most charming love letter in literature" - and for good reason. Orlando is dedicated to Victoria Sackville-West, who also provided the inspiration for Woolf's androgynous protagonist. Sackville-West was a novelist and poet, and some of her works were published by Virginia and Leonard Woolf's Hogarth Press. Woolf met her in 1923, and the two had a passionate relationship that lasted for almost two decades. Although Sackville-West's affairs were public and quite scandalous, she was also very much a genteel British aristocrat. For her part, Woolf admired Sackville-West's androgyny, a quality which she famously praises in her work A Room of One's Own.
Unique and fantastical, Orlando is Woolf's most light-hearted work, and it is stylistically perhaps her most straightforward. Eschewing stream-of-consciousness and other more experimental narrative techniques that are found in her To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf often uses a largely unadorned style and a third-person narrator, often to effectively parody the male-dominated writing of the nineteenth century.
Orlando was published in 1928 during one of most daring and impressive periods of achievement and development in English literary history. Indeed, not since the heyday of English Romanticism in the early nineteenth century, have so many enduring and groundbreaking masterworks been produced. Orlando was published two years after Woolf's masterpiece, To the Lighthouse, and six years after that annus mirabilis, 1922, which saw the publication of both Eliot's The Waste Land and Joyce's Ulysses. Forster's A Passage to India (1924), Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (1929) and Woolf's own Mrs. Dalloway (1925) are just a few of the remarkable works of a period which also found artists such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Wallace Stevens in the United States and D.H. Lawrence and W.B. Yeats in Great Britain working at the height of their powers.
Author: Virginia Woolf