Chapter Six

Orlando glances at the ring on her finger and wonders whether the age would approve of her marriage. She thinks of how much she wants to write poetry, and she realizes that a great writer must strike a balance with the spirit of her age. Orlando need not submit to the age, she finds that she can remain herself and continue to write.

The biographer now takes a moment to react on the boring nature of her subject, Orlando, who does nothing but think and love. Such occurrences do not satisfy the pen of the biographer for there is nothing to write about if these two subjects comprise Orlando's whole existence. The narrator turns to describe nature outside the window. At this, Orlando rises from her chair and announces that her manuscript, "The Oak Tree" is finished.

Orlando journeys to London in search of someone who will read her manuscript aloud. She comes across her old acquaintance, Sir Nicholas Greene, who is now the most influential critic of the Victorian age. They have lunch together, and Nick Greene, now a knight, tells her how the great Elizabethan age of English literature is over. He says that while Shakespeare, Marlowe, Dryden, and Pope were the best, authors now only write for money. It is clear that Greene himself has grown quite wealthy from literature. Orlando is hesitant to show him her manuscript but it pops out of her dress and Greene asks to take a look at it. He praises her work highly, and tells her she should publish it immediately. He promises to get it good reviews.

After lunch, Orlando goes to a bookshop, buys some things to read, and settles down in Hyde Park. Here, with her attention divided between the sky and her reading, she questions the relationship between life and literature and how to make one into the other. She falls under the illusion that a toy boat bobbing in the water is her husband's ship sinking, and she goes to telegram him at once.

Orlando travels to her house in Mayfair and reads all she can of Victorian literature. She concludes that literature has changed substantially since the Elizabethan period, and that with so many critics it must have become very dry. Then, she looks out the window and the narrator, with poetic language writes of the scene outside. When the action returns to Orlando she has given birth to a son.

The century now changes and King Edward succeeds Queen Victoria on the throne (1901); everything seems to have shrunk and the clouds are pulled back. Orlando reflects on how different this age is from the last one; everyone seems happier, but which a sense of distraction and desperation. Suddenly a light becomes very bright around Orlando and she hears an explosion in her right ear. She is struck ten times on the head; it is ten o'clock in the morning on the eleventh of October, 1928.

Orlando is frightened to be living in the present, unprotected by the future or the past. She jumps in her motor car to go to the store and is amazed by all the new things around; elevators can whisk her through the air, men are flying, and she can hear voices from America. At the store, she orders sheets for a double bed, to replace the royal bed sheets at her home. Then, she smells a familiar scent, turns around, and is shocked to see Sasha entering the store. Sasha has grown fat and lethargic since Orlando has seen her last. Orlando realizes that Sasha is not really there, but that the scent of someone lighting a candle made her think of Sasha. Orlando comes to the realization that time has passed over her; she is now approaching middle age. Orlando sees that everything is connected to everything else; she picks up a handbag and it reminds her of an old woman frozen on the ice. She gets into her car to drive home and the clock once again strikes her on the head, this time eleven times. The present is once again upon her.

Driving home, Orlando thinks about all the different selves which live within her: the young boy who met Queen Elizabeth, the Ambassador, the soldier, the gypsy, the Lady, the woman in love. She tries to call on these selves, because each one is a part of her. She bends her head and ponders deeply; she is now stilled and "with the addition of this Orlando" she is now a single self, a real self. Once at home, she gets something to eat and wanders about the house. She and the house have been together nearly 400 years, and she knows its moods, its weariness, and its ease. She hears that its heart still beats, however far and withdrawn. The house does not belong entirely to her anymore, but to history. There are no more hoards of servants running down the hall or beer being spilled on the floor; Orlando sighs.

As Orlando looks down her great hall, down through time and all of the things that occurred in this hall, she is shaken by an explosion. The clock strikes four, and Orlando sits composed but frightened. The present makes everything look distinct to her, and she is afraid that danger may come with each passing second. She goes outside to her gardens. The sight of her gardener's thumb without a fingernail shocks her from thought to reality. She climbs up a path to her oak tree, which she has not seen since 1588. There, she intends to bury her bound book of poetry (which is now in its seventh edition) beneath the tree as a tribute to what the land has given her. But her dedication seems silly now, as she remembers how Greene compared her to Milton and handed her a large check. She wonders what fame and fortune have to do with poetry. She decides not to bury the book, and leaves it at the foot of the tree.

As she looks out over land that was once hers, she remembers Rustum, the old gypsy, asking her what the importance of her antiquity could be compared with nature. She knows her husband's ship has sailed around the tip of Cape Horn and is coming home to her at last. She cries out "ecstasy!" and "Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine!" Now that the wind is calm, she knows he will return to her. The house is prepared, just as it was over 400 years ago, for the coming of the dead queen (Elizabeth). Nothing has been changed, Orlando says. It is night, and the first stroke of midnight sounds. She hears an airplane above, and she bares her breasts to the moon, waiting for Shelmerdine. Shelmerdine, now a fine sea captain, leaps to the ground. As he does this, a wild bird springs up and Orlando exclaims, "It is the goose...the wild goose!" The twelfth stroke of midnight sounds on Thursday, October 11, 1928.


The reemergence of Nick Greene serves a comic function as this novel draws to a serious close. More than two centuries later, Greene is exactly the same as he has always been. He is the product of Woolf's attempt to poke fun at know-it-all Victorian literary critics who decide what is worthy literature and what is not. When Orlando goes up to her old oak tree to bury her bound poem beneath it, she realizes the difference between being famous and being a poet. She sees that they have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Poetry is "a voice answering a voice." It has nothing to do with fame, or even with the actual oak tree; it is her personal victory, regardless of what the critics may say.

In the final chapter, which recounts Orlando's experiences in the twentieth century, Woolf adopts a stream-of-consciousness style. Gradually, everything grows more internalized as Orlando realizes that reality and age are subjective. The external is no more real than the internal, and therefore is no more worthy of time and description. Woolf's stream-of-consciousness writing mirrors the thoughts of Orlando, her protagonist. Thus, the scenes which occur at the very end of the novel, where Orlando goes up to her tree, looks out over her home, welcomes back a dead queen, and heralds the return of her husband, may be a product of her imagination. But the reader is left with the message that imagination is just as essential to life as 'fact.' It is only upon maturity that Orlando is able to realize this.

Time, too, is a subjective quality. In this novel, where one day can be described in thirty pages, but entire decades are brushed over in a moment, time seems an unreliable measure of experience. Orlando is finally able to recognize at the end of the novel that she is not defined by the moment in which she lives. Though the present time beats her over the head as she crouches in fear, her discomfort results form the fact that she has not yet discovered what she is in the present. And what Orlando finds is that she is a composite of many selves, many experiences, and many times. She cannot exist in isolation; just like scents and memories (which remind her of experiences past), she sees the interconnectedness of everything. It is a fallacy that things or people may exist in individual realities. Orlando exists in a continuum. When the clock strikes twelve, Orlando finally reaches maturity and understands the unity of her life.