by Virginia Woolf
Orlando Gender Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
The difference between the sexes is, happily, one of great profundity. Clothes are but a symbol of something hid deep beneath. It was a change in Orlando herself that dictated her choice of a woman's dress and of a woman's sex. And perhaps in this she was only expressing rather more openly than usual--openness indeed was the soul of her nature--something that happens to most people without being thus plainly expressed. For here again, we come to a dilemma. Different though the sexes are, they intermix. In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the male or female likeness, while underneath the sex is the very opposite of what it is above. (4.48 – 4.49)
This is arguably one of the most important passages of the novel. Woolf says that we all have male and female qualities. Only the gender of clothing remains absolute – the gender of human beings is actually quite plastic. Although Orlando could have stuck to male clothing, (s)he had shifted to more female qualities and sought to express that in her choice of clothes.
For it was this mixture in her of man and woman, one being uppermost and then the other, that often gave her conduct an unexpected turn. The curious of her own sex would argue, for example, if Orlando was a woman, how did she never take more than ten minutes to dress? […] And then they would say, still, she has none of the formality of a man, or a man's love of power. She is excessively tender-hearted. She could not endure to see a donkey beaten or a kitten drowned. Yet again, they noted, she detested household matters, was up at dawn and out among the fields in summer before the sun had risen. […] Though bold and active as a man, it was remarked that the sight of another in danger brought on the most womanly palpitations. She would burst into tears on slight provocation. […] Whether, then, Orlando was most man or woman, it is difficult to say and cannot now be decided. (4.50)
Although Woolf portrays Orlando as having an androgynous mix, she still assigns various qualities to either gender.
As that is not a question that can engage the attention of a sensible man, let us, who enjoy the immunity of all biographers and historians from any sex whatever, pass it over, and merely state that Orlando professed great enjoyment in the society of her own sex, and leave it to the gentlemen to prove, as they are very fond of doing, that this is impossible. (4.90)
So the biographer is asexual. Would it change anything if the biographer did have a gender? If so, what?