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Orlando

Orlando

by Virginia Woolf

Orlando Chapter 6 Summary

  • Orlando goes inside. Her ink pot, pen, and manuscript are on the table.
  • She remembers that she was about to write about how nothing changes, but her servants interrupted her. Then everything had changed very quickly from that point on: she broke her ankle, fell in love, and got married.
  • Look, she thinks, there’s my wedding ring. Then she remembers that she had put it there herself. Now it actually means something, and the annoying tingling in her ring finger is gone.
  • She thinks of the spirit of the age, and worries that her actions (getting married) were in line with its standards and expectations.
  • She still has all these doubts about marriage though, like: If my husband is always on the road, is it marriage? If I still like my husband, is that marriage? If I like my career more than I like my husband, is that marriage?
  • Finally, the most important question for Orlando: If I still want to write, is that marriage?
  • She decides to test it by writing.
  • After plunging her quill into the inkpot with no mishap, Orlando settles down to write.
  • She reads it with a spirit hanging over her shoulder, interrogating her word choice and style. When the spirit learns she has a husband, it passes on.
  • The biographer writes that Orlando has paid a fine to the spirit of the age. While she may have other illegal thoughts and opinions that the spirit did not notice, they have successfully eluded detection and the spirit of the age leaves her in peace.
  • The biographer applauds the way Orlando orchestrated the whole ordeal; she is in quite a happy position. She no longer needs to fight the spirit or submit to it wholeheartedly. The biographer notes that she is still herself.
  • Orlando writes and writes.
  • A year passes.
  • The biographer points out that biographies "must" concern themselves with the subject of life. Since Orlando is sitting in a chair and thinking deep thoughts, the biographer claims that there is nothing to write, since Orlando is engaged in no physical action.
  • So literally nothing happens. The biographer talks about how (s)he wishes a pin would drop or a butterfly would flutter its wings or something, just so (s)he could have something to write. (We really hope you’re picking up on the satire here. Woolf is mocking how traditional biographers only write about actions and not about their subjects' inner thoughts.)
  • Exasperated, the biographer argues that subjects should have more consideration for their biographers. It’s frustrating for the biographer to simply "watch" Orlando sit and think.
  • But then the biographer talks about how, since Orlando is a woman, maybe she shouldn’t be engaged in action. Love is supposed to be a woman’s whole existence. Maybe Orlando is thinking of a hot guy, says the biographer, since as long as a woman is thinking about a man, no one objects to her using her brainpower.
  • Maybe she will write a little love note, since as long as a woman writes little notes, no one objects to her using her pen.
  • You can practically hear the biographer sighing as (s)he says that Orlando did none of the above.
  • The biographer says that Orlando may as well be dead, and proceeds to look outside the window.
  • There are birds outside. A servant crosses the courtyard.
  • The biographer begins thinking about life, asking all the birds what their thoughts are. They don’t have anything particularly compelling to say.
  • The biographer asks every living thing on earth for an answer, but instead tells us readers that we don’t know what life is.
  • The book would have wrapped up at this point had Orlando not finished writing.
  • Orlando is shocked to see that the world had continued calmly during her period of intense writing.
  • The manuscript she has just completed is buried in her shirt and begins to pulse like a living thing. It says to Orlando, "Feed me!" Just kidding. It says to Orlando, "Read me!"
  • Yet all the nature and wildlife that she loves cannot read her manuscript. She must find some human beings.
  • Orlando rings for a servant and asks for a carriage to be prepared for a trip to London.
  • The servant points out that they now have trains.
  • Orlando takes a train and is completely unfazed by the new invention because she’s thinking so hard.
  • She arrives very quickly in London, but doesn’t know where to go. She is confused that everyone is so busy and intent on his or her business.
  • She wanders around London for a while until she gets hungry. Her poem starts doing the weird pulsing thing again.
  • Orlando feels guilty having forgotten about it. (Seriously, at this point, it’s basically her very grown-up child.)
  • The street is completely empty except for one elderly gentleman.
  • Oh look, it’s Nick Greene!
  • She realizes from his attire that his career has really taken off. He’s been knighted, he’s a professor and he’s written a lot. He’s the most influential literary critic of the Victorian era.
  • The two have lunch and Orlando is amazed at how much the man has changed. When he begins complaining about contemporary writers, Orlando is convinced that it’s definitely the same man. He now praises Shakespeare, Jonson, Marlowe, Dryden, Pope, and Addison to the skies, but disparages Tennyson, Browning, and Carlyle. He talks about how writers nowadays write trash in order to pay their bills.
  • Orlando waits for him to shout "Glawr"!
  • She asks herself how Greene has changed. He’s become an old and stogy, basically, whereas when he was younger, he was much wittier and far more flippant.
  • Orlando is disappointed. Yet again, her ideal of literature is smashed. She is so disappointed, in fact, that her shirt burst open and "the Oak Tree" falls out.
  • Greene immediately picks the poem up and asks if he can read it.
  • He’s very impressed and happy that it contains no homage to the modern spirit. He wants to publish it.
  • When Greene asks about royalties, Orlando misunderstands. She thinks he means royalty as in the Buckingham Palace.
  • Greene is amused and corrects her.
  • He takes off with "The Oak Tree," promising to get it published.
  • Orlando walks away, feeling a weight lifted.
  • As she walks, the question of life pops into her head. As soon as any interesting thought pops into her head, she immediately wires to her husband. (That would be using the telegraph.)
  • She goes to the nearest telegraph office and writes about life, literature, Greene, and then sums it up by writing "Rattigan Glumphoboo," which is supposed to encapsulate the entire experience. She sends her message in perfect confidence that Shel will understand.
  • She leaves the telegraph office and walks into a bookstore, which is a complete novelty to her. All her life, Orlando had dealt in manuscripts written in the author’s own hand. She is shocked that you can put the entire works of Shakespeare in your pocket.
  • She tells the astonished bookseller to send her everything he considers important.
  • She goes to Hyde Park and turns her telegraph into a senseless song: "life literature Greene toady Rattigan Glumphoboo."
  • She flings herself under a tree with a bunch of papers and attempts to understand what the masters say about prose composition. She still puts all literature on a very high pedestal.
  • Yet life continues to rage about her in all its colorful glory. Orlando feels conflicted between Life and Literature.
  • The literary critics, Orlando decides, make her think she ought to copy someone else’s style.
  • Tears come to her eye and she pushes a little toy boat around with her toe.
  • Greene’s article in particular haunts her mind. Orlando doesn’t know that she can continue writing.
  • She gets frustrated, swears, and creates a huge wave that engulfs the little toy boat.
  • Then she freaks, because she thinks of the toy boat as her husband’s ship, and waits breathlessly to see if the boat will make it out.
  • The boat withstands the waves, and Orlando is ecstatic. She wants to send Shel a message at once and tell him all about it.
  • She decides to forget about all of with the articles and rules of writing; it’s ecstasy that matters while writing.
  • She starts talking out loud as she waits for carriages to pass, and reflects that she would probably not be talking nonsense in the middle of the street if she lived with her husband in the regular, recommended, Queen Victoria way.
  • Unfortunately, traffic is heavy, so Orlando is left alone in the street talking nonsense.
  • When she finally gets home, she finds the house completely crammed with books. Her order from the bookshop has arrived.
  • She reads through it, and the biographer decides to cram all of Orlando’s conclusions into a tiny paragraph.
  • Read the paragraph. Orlando has many conclusions about literature. The biographer unfortunately deemed Orlando’s most important conclusion as taking up too much space, so it is omitted.
  • After she comes to her grand conclusion, Orlando looks out the window and thinks.
  • She flinches a bit, and the biographer expresses the wish for Purity, Chastity, and Modesty to make another appearance because we’re obviously in delicate waters again. Sadly, the three ladies are busy elsewhere.
  • The biographer seizes upon the organ-grinder down the street as a diversion, and then launches into a stream of consciousness discussion of life.
  • The organ-grinder stops playing suddenly and Orlando gives birth to a son.
  • Orlando looks out the window again.
  • The biographer hastens to tell us that this is a different day. In fact, the view has changed quite a bit. There are now horseless carriages (cars), and the weather has substantially changed since King Edward has ascended onto the throne, replacing Queen Victoria.
  • Orlando is also amazed at how electricity is capable of flooding entire rooms with light.
  • Everything is shrinking – women’s bodies, the size of families, etc. Ivy no longer overruns everything.
  • Orlando is startled when the clock strikes ten o’clock on the eleventh of October, 1828.
  • Orlando is overcome by the present moment. She’s late for something (we don’t know what), so runs out of her house and jumps into her car.
  • She drives sharply, not acknowledging the various sights around her.
  • She arrives at a department store and stands on the ground floor sampling all the sights, sounds, and smells. She believes that the "fabric of life" is now magical – in contrast to the eighteenth century, when technology was relatively more primitive, her belief in magic is renewed.
  • She takes the elevator and after the doors open, sees and smells even more delights. She is reminded of the merchant ships in the time of Queen Elizabeth and is flooded with memories.
  • She looks at her shopping list but doesn’t see any of her needed items in the store.
  • Orlando is about to leave, but accidentally says out loud the last item on her list: "sheets for a double bed."
  • She says this to a man behind the counter, who happens to sell sheets for a double bed.
  • We learn that Grimsditch and Bartholomew (Orlando’s housekeepers) have both died, and Louise is the new housekeeper. Louise noticed that the sheets on the royal bed have a hole.
  • While the man goes to fetch the sheets, Orlando powders her nose. She is now thirty-six, but looks about the same as she did when she went skating with Sasha.
  • The man returns with the sheets.
  • From another department, a Sasha-look alike comes in.
  • Orlando cries, "Faithless!" as she remembers the day Sasha left her. Now Sasha is fat and covered in furs.
  • The shopman continues trying to sell things to Orlando, but she only wants to buy bath salts.
  • As she stands in the lift, Orlando again leaves the present moment. She remembers a pot breaking against a river bank.
  • Assistants keep trying to help her.
  • She leaves the store, still not absorbed in the present moment.
  • Tears come to her eyes, along with visions of Persian mountains.
  • The biographer points out that the people who are most successful at life can take the sixty or seventy different times that beat within us and manage to synchronize them when the clock strikes.
  • She is recalled to the present moment by the striking of the clock – it is now eleven o’clock. She goes back to her motorcar and sharp driving.
  • As she drives very quickly, she sees only snapshots of her surroundings – two friends about to meet, for example.
  • Orlando lights a cigarette and calls her own name.
  • The biographer asks: since sixty or seventy different times beat within us, how many selves do we have?
  • It is perfectly natural, therefore, for Orlando to call her own name. She is seeking a different self. However, sometimes the self you want does not come.
  • The biographer describes the various selves that constitute an individual as being built on top of one another.
  • The self that Orlando was calling does not arrive.
  • Orlando metaphorically shrugs her shoulders and tries another self.
  • The biographer talks about the limitations of biography, and how biographies are usually considered complete when they have captured six or seven selves, but that people really have several thousand selves. The biographer lists a couple of the different selves Orlando may have been calling.
  • Unfortunately, the one she wants eludes her.
  • Orlando says that she is a thirty-six-year-old woman in a car, but that she is also a million other things as well. She lists some of those things.
  • She starts thinking about fame. Orlando has achieved great fame – "The Oak Tree" has been printed in seven different editions; she has won many prizes.
  • She continues thinking of fame, and then hums a little nonsense song.
  • She stops abruptly, thinking of the poet she saw in Chapter One. (Remember? The shabby one?) She stares ahead for ten minutes. The car is almost completely still.
  • The impossibility of using words to capture emotions haunts her.
  • The Orlando she was calling finally decides to show up at this moment.
  • She enters the park.
  • After the self that she wanted makes an appearance, Orlando becomes a whole real self. She stays quiet.
  • She arrives at her house in the country, and directs the porter to carry her things in from her car. This is a perfectly ordinary request, but it is now full of meaning.
  • She eats, pours herself some wine, and proceeds to walk around her house, followed by her dogs.
  • She visits all the rooms. They are her old friends. Memories flood her mind.
  • The clock strikes four and all her memories flee.
  • She remains unfazed – very different from her reaction in London. She goes out to the garden.
  • The elk-hound chases a rabbit and Orlando suddenly realizes that a great deal of time has passed. (Like, two hours. Not a century.)
  • She takes a fern-lined path to the oak tree. She flings herself upon the ground.
  • Her poem "The Oak Tree" pops out of her jacket. Orlando wishes to bury it, but realizes that the dogs will probably dig it up. She wants to give a little speech over her book, but it sounds silly when she rehearses it in her head.
  • She realizes for the first time that fame has nothing to do with poetry. She asks, "Was not writing poetry a secret transaction, a voice answering a voice?" She sees poetry as a secret, intimate process.
  • She leaves her book on the ground and checks out the view. It’s beautiful, yet suddenly she can see the Turkish landscape quite clearly and hears the voice of Rustum asking if she really needs hundreds of bedrooms.
  • The clock chimes. The Turkish landscape disappears. Orlando is once more in the present.
  • She looks into the darkness and believes she can see Cape Horn and her husband’s ship.
  • She cries, "Ecstasy!" which means that she is quite jubilant.
  • She calls her husband’s full name as she stands under the oak tree, and the name falls out of the sky like a feather.
  • He is coming. It is near midnight. The moon rises. Everything is lit for the arrival of Queen Elizabeth. Orlando curtsies to the dead Queen and invites her into the house.
  • The first stroke of midnight sounds.
  • In the calm, Orlando can hear the roar of an aeroplane. It’s Shel.
  • Orlando bares her breasts to the moon and the pearls around her neck begin to glow.
  • The plane bursts out of the clouds and hovers above her head. Shel jumps to the ground. A wild goose springs up into the sky.
  • The twelfth stroke of midnight sounds. It is Thursday, the eleventh of October, 1928.

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