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by Virginia Woolf

Orlando Chapter 5 Summary

  • The cloud remains over London and the rest of the British Isles, making the climate damp.
  • England changes. Shrubbery takes over. The damp creeps into people’s hearts. Men and women are divided. Women continually bear children.
  • All in all, it’s not a very fun time to be in England.
  • Orlando holes up in her house at Blackfriars and pretends that none of this is going on, but eventually she too must accept that the times have changed.
  • She heads to her country house where the Widow Bartholomew has succeeded Mrs. Grimsditch as housekeeper.
  • The entire house is damp and dark. Widow Bartholomew asks if it’s true that the Queen is pregnant, only she asks the question in the most roundabout way possible (by asking if the Queen is "wearing crinoline, "because pregnancy was not openly talked about at this time.
  • The Widow Bartholomew tells Orlando that the muffins are keeping hot in the library.
  • Orlando goes to the library and remembers when Queen Elizabeth was in the room. The memory of the Queen causes her to jump to her feet.
  • She trips and falls back into the chair, blushing as she thinks about purchasing crinoline. She blushes again when she thinks of buying a bassinette (which is a kind of baby bed).
  • The biographer notes that as Orlando's blushes come and go, it seems as if the spirit of the age is blowing upon Orlando’s cheeks.
  • Finally her cheeks remain one color. Orlando feels herself up looking for something like a locket to hold onto, but instead draws out her travel-worn manuscript of "The Oak Tree."
  • She turns to the very beginning. The date is 1586; she realizes she has been working on it for almost three hundred years. She reads the rest of the manuscript and decides it’s about time to finish it off.
  • We get a rundown of the evolution of her writing style: gloomy, amorous and florid, sprightly and satirical, prose, drama.
  • Despite all these changes (sex changes included, we assume), Orlando reflects that she has remained the same. She has always been meditative, has always loved animals and nature, and always loved the country. She notes that the house has also remained the same since the days Queen Elizabeth was in power.
  • As soon as she notes this, Basket the butler and Bartholomew the housekeeper come in to clear away the tea.
  • Orlando attempts several times to write poetry, but her pen refuses to follow.
  • She decides that it’s the presence of her servants, but as soon as she thinks this, her pen starts writing. That’s right, her pen, not her.
  • The poem is weak. Orlando is disgusted, but after she dips the pen in the inkhorn, it writes some more.
  • Then she accidentally spills ink over everything she’s written. She stops cold, disgusted and confused by what just happened.
  • Suddenly her body starts tingling all over, finally concentrating in her left hand – more specifically, in the second finger of her left hand. It tells her that she’s missing something.
  • When Bartholomew comes in, Orlando spots a ring on the woman’s left hand.
  • Orlando asks if she may look at the ring, but Bartholomew gets all huffy and defensive. It’s her wedding ring, and it will stay put.
  • Orlando begins to see wedding rings everywhere. The world seems full of couples.
  • Her finger continues to tickle, so Orlando buys a wedding ring and puts it on her tingling finger.
  • The tingling gets worse and Orlando feels as though she is poisoned.
  • She realizes that she must yield to the spirit of the age and take a husband, even though she has no interest in such things.
  • Orlando was fine in the Elizabethan era and the eighteenth century because the spirits of the age did not conflict with her natural inclinations.
  • The Victorian era, however, conflicts with her natural temperament and breaks her. This is a bummer, considering that Orlando is over three-hundred years old and it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.
  • To make matters worse, the crinolines are difficult to wear and she is becoming increasingly "womanly" (afraid of ghosts, etc.). She decides that she wants someone to lean on, but no one comes to mind.
  • The Archduke is married to someone else and settled in Romania, and no one else is eligible.
  • Orlando needs to find a husband. When the porter opens the gate for her, she muses that she needs someone, if even a porter, to lean on.
  • A feather falls from the sky and Orlando grabs it. She loves wild birds' feathers. More and more feathers fall and she follows them, walking further than she has in years. She thinks that she wants to follow the feathers to the end of the world.
  • She runs and trips (clumsy, remember?) and breaks her ankle.
  • But it’s cool; she’s unfazed.
  • She lies in the bog and decides that she can marry nature. This translates into an acceptance of death; she wants to lie in the bog and become part of nature.
  • She listens to nature all around her, and then hears the sound of a horse. She sits up.
  • A man is on the horse and declares that she is hurt.
  • Orlando counters that she is dead.
  • They get engaged. That was fast.
  • They have breakfast the morning after. The man tells Orlando that his name is Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine, Esquire. She tells him her name is Orlando.
  • Both of them say they could have guessed the other’s name.
  • Since they are lovers, despite the fact that they met so recently, they already know everything important about each other.
  • Over breakfast, they tell each other the unimportant stuff, like where they live, whether or not they have money, how they spend their time, and so on.
  • Shel is on his way to join his brig at Falmouth, but the wind is blowing the wrong way. She tells Shel that she’s passionately in love with him.
  • Simultaneously, Shel accuses Orlando of being a man and Orlando accuses Shel of being a woman. The next line: "Never was there such a scene of protestation and demonstration as then took place since the world began."
  • Shel is destined for Cape Horn. He spends his time engaged in the awesome adventure of sailing around Cape Horn in the middle of a raging storms.
  • They continue having lovey dovey time. The biographer even leaves a great blank space on the page to signal their attachments.
  • Some officials show up with papers calling the earlier lawsuits mostly in her favor. The important points are good news: Orlando is indeed a woman and her property is entitled to her heirs.
  • Although she is noble again, she is significantly poorer than usual since winning the lawsuits required a great deal of her money.
  • Orlando starts receiving invitations to parties again, among other things that the biographer puts into parenthesis to show how little importance they had in Orlando’s life.
  • Shel and Orlando go hang out in the woods. They watch leaves fall.
  • Orlando asks her fiancé to tell her about Cape Horn. She calls him "Mar," meaning that she is in a "dreamy, amorous, acquiescent mood, domestic, languid a little, as if spiced logs were burning, and it was evening, yet not time to dress, and a thought wet perhaps outside, enough to make the leaves glisten, but a nightingale might be singing even so among the azaleas, two or three dogs barking at distant farms, a cock crowing--all of which the reader should imagine in her voice."
  • Shel tells Orlando about Cape Horn, and she is capable of inferring meaning from his stories.
  • Shel is shocked at her ability and asks if she’s definitely a woman. Orlando asks if Shel is definitely a man.
  • Both are shocked to find that "a woman could be as tolerant and free-spoken as a man, and a man as strange and subtle as a woman."
  • They prove their manliness or womanliness by having lots of sex. Outdoors.
  • After talking and loving and sitting under falling leaves, Orlando gets up and strolls away after calling her husband "Bonthrop." We learn this means she desires solitude. More than that, it means that she desires death. For Orlando, saying "Bonthrop" meant saying "I’m dead."
  • After wandering in the forest alone, Orlando picks up an autumn crocus and pairs it with a jay’s feather. Then she calls her husband "Shelmerdine."
  • He hears her and calls to her. Orlando goes back to sit with him.
  • We learn they do this for eight or nine days.
  • On the tenth day, leaves begin to fall and Orlando pales. The wind has changed. Shel – the biographer says it’s more appropriate now to call him Bonthrop – leaps to his feet and runs through the woods and to Orlando’s chapel.
  • A very old Mr. Dupper marries the two quickly.
  • As the storm rages, no one hears the vows being made. The two put on their rings, and Shel rides off.

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