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Orlando

Orlando

by Virginia Woolf

Orlando Chapter 2 Summary

  • The biographer interrupts the story to talk about the whole genre of biography. Usually, the biographer says, other biographers just zip along from birth to death in a smooth ride.
  • Unfortunately for our biographer, Orlando’s life is anything but smooth. The biographer talks about a "dark, mysterious, and undocumented" event, deciding that the best course is to present the facts and leave us to believe whatever we want to believe.
  • After a short recap of Orlando’s current life situation – his ex-fiancé’s family is ready to kill him, nobody cool likes him, and he’s taken to living in complete solitude.
  • On Saturday, June 18th, Orlando doesn’t wake up.
  • He's not dead. You still have three hundred pages left in your book.
  • Orlando’s servants play the "Wake Orlando Up" game for a whole week, but Orlando remains asleep.
  • After a week is up, Orlando wakes up at his usual time.
  • The only change in his character that we see is a refusal to acknowledge his presence at the Great Frost or the carnival. The mention of Russia, princesses, or ships depresses him. The doctors prescribe him all sorts of remedies, but nothing helps. Finally they decide Orlando must have just had an extra-long night’s rest.
  • The biographer isn't buying this explanation. What kind of sleep puts you out for a week? (S)he (for as we will later learn, the biographer is genderless, which makes using pronouns very frustrating) speculates that the sleep may have been a way to destroy unhappy memories, or that the sleep was really death.
  • Finally we get back to the story. As of right now, it’s not too exciting. Orlando mopes around his big castle by himself, and all his servants roam the property and clean everything.
  • When Orlando wanders off by himself, Mrs. Grimsditch, the housekeeper, tells Mr. Dupper, the chaplain, that she hopes his Lordship is OK.
  • Mr. Dupper answers that his Lordship is probably praying in the chapel because he’s led such a sinful life.
  • Mrs. Grimsditch points out that everyone has sinned, and then all the other servants vouch for how great Orlando is. They all like and respect him; they think he should be out doing aristocratic things instead of spending his time alone and depressed. His servants also enjoy cursing out the Russian princess, because they think it’s all her fault.
  • We find out that Orlando has a thing for death and decay right now. Indulging this interest, he spends time down in his ancestral tombs.
  • After hanging out with the skeletons and rats and other creepy crawly creatures that tend to congregate around tombs, Orlando gripes about how little of illustrious forebears remains; when he takes a skeleton hand he can’t tell if it’s the right or left hand, whether its owner was a man or woman, old or young.
  • Orlando feels the need to make the tomb more orderly. He makes sure all the dead bodies are in the proper place and gets ready to leave.
  • He sees a painting and breaks down sobbing.
  • He continues to cry.
  • He then goes back to his room and his housekeeper is pleased to see that he’s alive.
  • Orlando opens up a book by Sir Thomas Browne and reads.
  • The biographer chimes in and starts talking about identity. Essentially, Orlando is a one-of-a-kind fellow. What makes him particularly unique, however, is his love of literature, which the biographer describes as a disease.
  • The biographer explains that this disease is especially problematic because it causes Orlando to forget about all his wealth and his position in life.
  • Now that he spends all his time alone, he absorbs himself entirely in books and gets confused when his servants ask for instructions.
  • To make matters worse, continues our biographer, this disease (a love of literature) weakens the system and leads to another affliction: attempting to write literature.
  • The biographer curses this disease, noting that it causes people to view wealth and position as completely insignificant compared to the creation of great literature. Writing kills, says the biographer.
  • Luckily, however, Orlando is apparently in great health and will be able to survive the dangers of writing.
  • After reading some more Sir Thomas Browne, Orlando (gasp!) turns to writing. He’s been doing it since he was a boy and has piles of manuscripts: plays, histories, romances, poems, etc.
  • He prepares to start writing, but pauses.
  • The biographer is quick to tell us that this is a seriously important pause.
  • The biographer discusses how Nature is arbitrary.
  • Now the biographer continues on talking about how memory, and how the most ordinary movements can trigger various memories.
  • In Orlando’s case, sitting down to write reminds him of Sasha. All the terrible post-breakup questions flash through his mind: Where is she? Why had she left him? Was she forced to leave? Is she married? Is she dead?
  • Orlando thrusts his quill into the inkhorn and ink squirts out everywhere, prompting yet another memory.
  • Orlando has to think about the image in his brain for a little bit. He knows it’s a man…he knows he saw this man in Twitchett’s room…he can see the man’s awesome eyes…he remembers his inexpensive clothes…
  • The biographer butts in to point out that if Orlando really wanted to get rid of this memory, he could.
  • Instead Orlando pauses and continues to think.
  • The biographer tells us to look for pauses, because they really mess people up.
  • In this case, Ambition, Poetry, and Desire of Fame leap into Orlando’s heart. He swears he'll be the first in his family to become a great poet.
  • Orlando thinks about fame and his family's legacy. His ancestors killed a lot of people, thinks Orlando, but they’re rotting in the tombs, dead and forgotten. Poetry, however, is immortal.
  • Pretty soon, Orlando decides that killing people is much easier than writing great poetry. The biographer details part of the excruciating process a writer experiences of loving his poetry, hating it, revising it, tearing it up, being in inspired, then not inspired, etc.
  • Orlando becomes confused. Is he a great writer or is he an idiot?
  • To answer this question, he invites a real poet to his house.
  • Orlando gets excited, imagining poets must be these amazing, beautiful, heavenly creatures.
  • Remembering that he doesn’t fit well in upper class society due to his love of books, his clumsiness, and his Napoleon Dynamite-esque tendencies, Orlando happily views his differences as proof that he is more poet than nobleman.
  • The chosen poet is a man named Nicholas Greene, who shows up at Orlando’s castle looking very humble indeed.
  • To further highlight just how humble Greene is, the biographer talks about the sheer history of Orlando’s castle, comparing the plain poet to all the noble people and beautiful ladies and powerful royalty who usually visit Orlando.
  • The poet's appearance disappoints Orlando.
  • The poet looks quite ordinary.
  • Orlando’s dog enjoys biting the poet.
  • At dinner, Orlando feels awkward, given that he lives in a castle, has lots of servants, and eats really expensive food for dinner.
  • Orlando is about to start telling Greene about his great-grandmother Moll who liked to milk cows. While this would have been a valiant attempt at the "I’m just like you!" conversation, Greene beats him to it and starts talking about how the Greene name is really quite a noble one.
  • Then Orlando gets to talk about his great-grandmother who liked to milk cows.
  • Finally, at the end of dinner, Orlando brings up the subject of poetry.
  • Immediately Greene launches into an extended rant.
  • Orlando tentatively tells the poet about his literary aspirations.
  • The poet changes the topic of conversation to his health.
  • He ends by saying that poetry is dead in England.
  • Orlando brings up Shakespeare and a couple other writers that are kind of a big deal.
  • Greene trashes them, saying that only the Greeks produced great literature. Back then, he claims writers respected "La Gloire," which means "glory." Greene argues essentially that Gloire (he pronounces it "Glawr") should motivate writers rather than the need to pay the bills. He sees no hope for the future of writing in England, and tells Orlando that a pension of three hundred pounds a year is necessary to write for "Glawr."
  • Greene proceeds to entertain Orlando with stories about the greatest writers of their day.
  • Orlando realizes that poets aren’t some sort of heavenly, exalted race. Instead, they really like to drink and hit on women. Orlando laughs and laughs.
  • The biographer tells us that time passes and Orlando feels very conflicted about his guest. He likes Greene, despises him, admires and pities him at the same time.
  • Greene is incredibly witty and knowledgeable about a vast variety of topics, but he’s not educated the same way as Orlando.
  • Greene brings the old castle to life. Although the servants don’t particularly like him, they laugh at his jokes and enjoy his stories.
  • Orlando concludes that Greene disturbs the peace of the house. He believes he’ll never again be able to sleep sound with Greene in the house.
  • At the same time, Greene decides that he has to leave because, as far as we can tell, his surroundings are too nice. He misses his life in London.
  • Convinced that his literary career will be ruined if he continues staying with Orlando, Greene decides to leave.
  • When they part ways, Orlando finally asks for Greene’s literary opinion. He gives the poet a play called The Death of Hercules.
  • Greene is not pleased, but cheers up remarkably when Orlando promises to pay him a pension.
  • As soon as Greene leaves, Orlando gets all sad, but he’s relieved at the same time.
  • We learn that the poet's visit to Orlando's castle lasted six weeks.
  • Greene returns home and finds everything pretty much the same. His house is in chaos, which is apparently the exact environment he needs for writing.
  • He sits down and writes a huge spoof of Orlando. He includes excerpts from The Death of Hercules that illustrate the wordy nature of Orlando’s prose.
  • Greene publishes the spoof in a popular pamphlet that eventually makes its way to Orlando.
  • Orlando is very upset. He rings for his footman and tells the man to dispose of The Death of Hercules in the most awful place in the grossest trash can possible.
  • He tells the footman to travel to Norway and buy some excellent elk-hounds because he is "done with men."
  • The footman comes back in three weeks with the elk-hounds.
  • Orlando lets the dogs sleep in his bed and talks some more about how he is "done with men."
  • Still, however, he pays Nick Greene’s pension.
  • The biographer notes that Orlando is now about thirty and has suffered a variety of not-so-great experiences with love, ambition, women, and poets.
  • After reading Greene’s unflattering pamphlet, Orlando burns all of his literary works except for a poem called "The Oak Tree," which he has been working on since he was a boy.
  • Now he trusts only elk-hounds and nature.
  • It's June now and Orlando delights in all that nature can offer. He throws himself underneath his favorite oak tree and feels perfectly content.
  • The oak tree becomes his favorite hangout.
  • We learn that Time is very strange – an hour can feel like two seconds or two days.
  • Although Orlando engages in other activities, such as running his vast estate, his time spent thinking under the oak tree seems to take up most of his days.
  • Under the oak tree, he ponders deep questions such as: What is love? What is friendship? What is truth? The answers to these questions are inextricably bound to his entire past, which infuses the present moment.
  • Time sometimes passes extremely quickly (in months and years) or extremely slowly (in seconds and minutes).
  • All this thinking gets him nowhere. He can’t get beyond images from his past. When he wants to think of love, for example, he thinks of Sasha.
  • At this point Orlando adopts an anti-metaphor stance in his writing. He says exactly what he means, such as "the sky is blue."
  • Yet he soon decides that this statement is inaccurate. Orlando looks up and realizes that the sky is "like the veils which a thousand Madonnas have let fall from their hair."
  • Neither description gets at the truth of what the sky looks like, so Orlando becomes depressed.
  • In the biographer’s opinion, Greene’s spoof hurt Orlando as much as Sasha’s rejection.
  • Orlando continues to think and attempts to write poetry, but the image of the sneering Nick Greene haunts him.
  • Orlando finally says, screw the Nick Greenes of this world, I’m going to write to please myself.
  • He then launches into an extended description of Fame. We’ll summarize it for you: fame limits you, but obscurity frees you to seek truth.
  • Orlando realizes that his life is actually pretty great. He's determined to enjoy it and forget about ambition and fame.
  • Orlando looks at his house from his position under the oak tree.
  • He realizes that his house is huge.
  • Yet despite its massive size, Orlando sees a singularity of purpose in the building. The house was built using a single idea. Orlando realizes that even though his ancestors are now obscure, each of them added something new and wonderful to the house.
  • He decides he should contribute something to the house as well.
  • Orlando realizes that there’s really nothing to add to the house. The building itself is already nine acres.
  • He decides to redecorate instead, and throws himself into buying new (and expensive) furniture, carpets, silverware, art, etc.
  • He finishes and the place looks perfect, but definitely rather strange without any people.
  • Orlando invites over everyone he knows for a couple of raging parties.
  • When all his guests are having fun, however, Orlando ducks out and hides in his private room to work on "The Oak Tree." At this point, his writing style is much less wordy and much more sparse and efficient.
  • One day while he works on the poem, a very tall lady passes underneath his window.
  • Orlando is weirded out. He’s in his private room, remember?
  • Three days later, the same woman passes by. After it happens for a third time, Orlando follows the woman.
  • When he looks at her, he’s immediately struck by how similar she looks like to a hare. She is both timid and very, very forward. She introduces herself as the Archduchess Harriet Griselda of Finster-Aarhorn and Scand-op-Boom in the Romanian territory.
  • They talk for a while. Well, she talks for a while and Orlando nods and tries to keep up with the conversation. He eventually invites her in for a glass of vino.
  • At the end of their conversation, Harriet tells Orlando that she will visit again.
  • Orlando avoids her studiously for the next four days. Finally, she is unavoidable.
  • When she fits a piece of armor to his leg, Orlando is completely overcome with passion and has to leave the room.
  • The biographer tells us that, although Orlando thinks he is in love, what he feels for the Archduchess is actually just lust.
  • Harriet proceeds to stalk Orlando. He runs away by asking King Charles to send him as an ambassador to Constantinople.
  • Nell Gwyn, the King’s mistress, is present when Orlando makes his request. She thinks it’s a shame that such a hottie (Orlando has especially good legs) should leave the country.
  • Orlando leaves the country.

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