Virginia Woolf, born on this day in 1882, in Kensington, London, was one of the most important modernist 20th century authors and also a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device. Orlando: A Biography was first published on 11 October 1928. A high-spirited romp inspired by the tumultuous family history of the aristocratic poet and novelist Vita Sackville-West, Woolf’s lover and close friend, it is arguably one of her most popular novels; Orlando is a history of English literature in satiric form. The book describes the adventures of a poet who changes sex from man to woman and lives for centuries, meeting the key figures of English literary history. Considered a feminist classic, the book has been written about extensively by scholars of women’s writing and gender and transgender studies.
Virginia Woolf was institutionalised several times and attempted suicide at least twice. Her illness may have been bipolar disorder, for which there was no effective intervention during her lifetime. In 1941, at age 59, Woolf died by drowning herself in the River Ouse at Lewes.
To mark her birthday today, we recommend Sally Potter’s (The Roads Not Taken, The Party) 1992 adaptation of ORLANDO (1992), starring Tilda Swinton in the title role.
In 1600, nobleman Orlando (Tilda Swinton) inherits his parents’ house, thanks to Queen Elizabeth I (Quentin Crisp), who commands the young man to never change. After a disastrous affair with Russian princess Sasha (Charlotte Valandrey), Orlando looks for solace in the arts before being appointed ambassador to Constantinople in 1700, where war is raging. One morning, Orlando is shocked to wake up as a woman and returns home, struggling as a female to retain her property as the centuries roll by.
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