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Queer transformations

Orlando: A Biography (Oxford World's Classics) - Virginia Woolf, Rachel Bowlby

In tribute to her beloved friend, Woolf allows reality to submit entirely to feeling, spirit and personality, casting Vita Sackville-West as a time-traveller who changes sex at the age of thirty. The result is joyous, riotous, and rings with a deeper truth than 'straight' biography ever could - for who expresses her character entirely in her deeds? Orlando's change of sex and gender places her in female roles, and this is a fruitful transition, as editor Rachel Bowlby notes, expanding her understanding and range of experiences open to her, particularly in terms of sexuality. However, her rights to her property are compromised and intellectuals assume feminine incompetence in discussion with her.

I adore this book, for its subject and for Woolf's unparallelled brilliance in making the language leap and glitter and twist like a fish at play. Her lovely image of the ephemerality of happiness, as a kingfisher flying across a river, captures all the pain and complexity of her protagonist's life. Orlando is a work in the tone of love for a friend; it demands a reader who is simpatico, and I am such a one, I am delighted to be in the company of Vita and Virginia.

"Better was it to go unknown and leave behind you an arch, a potting shed, a wall where peaches ripen, than to burn like a meteor and leave no dust."

"for women are not (judging by my own short experience of the sex) obedient, chaste, scented, and exquisitely apparelled by nature. They can only attain these graces, without which they may enjoy none of the delights of life, by the most tedious discipline"