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Virginia Woolf


Important Quotations Explained

Nature, who has played so many queer tricks upon us, making us so unequally of clay and diamonds, of rainbow and granite, and stuffed them into a case, often of the most incongruous, for the poet has a butcher's face and the butcher a poet's; nature, who has so much to answer for besides the perhaps unwieldy length of this sentence, has further complicated our task and added to our confusion by providing...a perfect rag-bag of odds and ends within us...[and] has contrived that the whole assortment shall be lightly stitched together by a single thread. Memory is the seamstress and a capricious one at that.

This quote is found in chapter two and is written in the voice of the narrator- biographer. It is the narrator's reflections on the strange acts of nature, which seems to craft people in odd and unusual ways. In real life, things do not fit so well together as they do in a perfect Victorian romance novel. It is not always the most beautiful who are destined for success; perhaps, the poet with his beautiful words, has an ugly and incongruous face. Nature is surprising and is accountable for much that seems out of place in the world.

In this passage, the narrator suggests that those of us who are confused about our identity should change the way we view life. Nature provides no easy order, and trying to make the world neat and orderly eventually leads only to annoyance and frustration. There is no realm of imagination separated from a realm of fact; "rainbow and granite" are stuffed into one case. Everything (internal and external, fact and imagination) is linked together by our memory, and we will grow to "understand" when we realize that neither memory nor history can be easily ordered and divided.

Up to this point...documents, both private and historical, have made it possible to fulfill the first duty of a biographer, which is to plod, without looking right or left, in the indelible footprints of truth... on and on methodically until we fall plump into the grave and write finis on the tombstone above our heads.

This passage, written in the voice of the narrator-biographer, provides the opening to chapter two. It is a part of Woolf's larger parody of the biographical genre. As a biographer, it is the narrator's duty to progress in a logical fashion, relating simply the facts, and letting the reader decide for himself what he will make of it. Here, the narrator claims to rely on documents and letters to piece her story together. But she regrets to inform the reader that this period of Orlando's life is dark and mysterious, without documents to describe exactly what happened when he was alone in his rooms.

This passage, of course, challenges the whole theory of biography, especially the idea that there is a single truth to a person's life. Woolf was highly critical of such a theory. She felt that the internal life, that which could not be determined by letters and documents was just as important as the external. When describing a person's life, "plodding without looking right or left" would be the worst path to take.

It is these pauses that are our undoing. It is then that sedition enters the fortress and our troops rise in insurrection. Once before he had paused, and love with its horrid rout, its shawms, its cymbals, and its heads with gory locks torn from the shoulders had burst in....Now again he paused, and into the breach thus made, leapt Ambition, the harridan, and Poetry, the witch, and Desire of Fame, the strumpet; all joined hands and made of his heart their dancing ground. Standing upright in the solitude of his room, he vowed that he would be the first poet of his race and bring immortal lustre upon his name.

This passage, in the narrator's voice, describes Orlando in chapter two. Here, the narrator introduces what will become a familiar theme: that men often mix fame and poetry in their minds. The narrator thinks it is a mistake to write for the purpose of fame and fortune. The actual writing, she suggests, is "one voice to another" and it has absolutely nothing to do with criticism or praise. But here, young Orlando does not understand that fame and ambition should be kept separate from his poetry. It takes him hundreds of years before he comes to the understanding that his poetry is for himself.

Different though the sexes are, they intermix. In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the male and female likeness, while underneath the sex is the very opposite of what it is above. Of the complications and confusions which thus result every one has had experience; but here we leave the general question and note only the odd effect it had in the particular case of Orlando herself.

In this passage from chapter four, the narrator draws a general statement from the particular situation of Orlando. She suggests that gender identity is not fixed, but can change throughout life independently of biological makeup. The novel explores many permutations of this idea. Woolf believes that sexes are intermixed, that though an individual may seem a woman, she really has the qualities of a man, and vice versa.

This idea applies not only to the literal gender of individuals, but more broadly to the gender roles within society. Once Orlando becomes a woman, she realizes all the opportunities and rights that are now closed to her. Though she feels no different at all, society treats her differently because of the clothes she wears. Encouraging the equality of gender roles is a point that Woolf makes in many of her novels.

Orlando then for the first time noticed a small cloud gathered behind the dome of St. Paul's. As the stroke sounded, the cloud increased, and she saw it darken and spread with extraordinary speed. ... Height upon height above the city was engulfed by it ... With the twelfth stroke of midnight, the darkness was complete. All was dark; all was doubt; all was confusion. The Eighteenth century was over; the Nineteenth century had begun.

This quote, in the voice of the narrator, closes chapter four. As Orlando looks up, a cloud overhead gradually increases, covering the entire city of London and enveloping it in darkness. The imagery here is fantastic. Orlando feels that the nineteenth century is dark, smothering and shrouded from sunlight. The period was known for its strong moral undertones; the Victorians strongly enforced their ideas of right and wrong. The appropriate sexuality was limited to relations between a husband and wife, and as Orlando looks around, everyone seems to be married. The dark cloud symbolizes the suffocation and limitation that Orlando and Woolf feel as a free spirits and as a women.

This passage, which draws a strict line between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, also challenges the idea that "ages" can be so easily delineated. As the clock changed from December 31, 1799 to January 1, 1800, the world did not change completely. Such an idea is found in history books which seek to draw order from dates, which are relatively arbitrary. Woolf knows this, and so includes this very important passage in her novel.

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by inkmage93, November 02, 2012

At the end of the summary, "pais" should be "pays."


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Orlando ages 20 years - not 36

by SandyinSB, July 06, 2016

The book starts with Orlando age 16. That is when Queen Elizabeth shows favor to Orlando, willing him to never age. Some 300+ years later, the book ends as Orlando is age 36. He ages only 20 years


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