Characters

Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine, Esquire

Characters Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine, Esquire

Like Sasha, Shel is most important in the novel for the effect he has upon Orlando. Shel allows Orlando to conform to the "spirit of the age" by sweeping her off her feet and acting as her husband. Orlando feels lost in the nineteenth century, as if she cannot fit in unless she is attached to a man. While Shel fills this traditional void in Orlando's life by finding her and marrying her as in the Victorian romance novels, he ends up being much more to Orlando than merely a husband. In Shel, Orlando finds someone like her, an individual not defined by his gender. Orlando cannot believe she has found a man who is at once boldly courageous and "as strange and subtle as a woman." Shel combines positive qualities of both genders, and is in fact, compatible with Orlando. Such compatibility is possible because Shel is not a flat, single self. His very name implies the multi-faceted aspect of his personality and his experiences. Orlando chooses to call him "Mar" when she is in a dreamy, amorous mood, "Bonthrop" when she is in a solitary mood, and "Shel" when she is in no mood at all. That Shel challenges all labels and categories, and that he is a complicated person, make him acceptable as Orlando's husband.

Shel is mostly a fantasy character, but some critics have seen resemblances between him and Vita's husband Harold Nicholson, who was likewise openly bisexual. In real life Vita called Harold "Mar" just as Orlando calls her husband the same name.