by Virginia Woolf
Orlando Life, Creation, and Existence Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
Having asked then of man and of bird and the insects, for fish, men tell us, who have lived in green caves, solitary for years to hear them speak, never, never say, and so perhaps know what life is--having asked them all and grown no wiser, but only older and colder (for did we not pray once in a way to wrap up in a book something so hard, so rare, one could swear it was life's meaning?) back we must go and say straight out to the reader who waits a-tiptoe to hear what life is--alas, we don't know.
At this moment, but only just in time to save the book from extinction, Orlando pushed away her chair, stretched her arms, dropped her pen, came to the window, and exclaimed, 'Done!' (6.18 – 6.19)
This passage helps establish the biographer’s identity as quite distinct. While ultimately tied to Orlando, the biographer is capable of leaving Orlando to chronicle other scenes nearby.
She was almost felled to the ground by the extraordinary sight which now met her eyes. There was the garden and some birds. The world was going on as usual. All the time she was writing the world had continued.
'And if I were dead, it would be just the same!' she exclaimed. (6.20 – 6.21)
Orlando’s shock indicates a certain amount of narcissism (read: being really into yourself). Apparently she expected the world to grind to a halt when she’s out of commission.
So here we are at Kew, and I will show you to-day (the second of March) under the plum tree, a grape hyacinth, and a crocus, and a bud, too, on the almond tree; so that to walk there is to be thinking of bulbs, hairy and red, thrust into the earth in October; flowering now; and to be dreaming of more than can rightly be said, and to be taking from its case a cigarette or cigar even, and to be flinging a cloak under (as the rhyme requires) an oak, and there to sit, waiting the kingfisher, which, it is said, was seen once to cross in the evening from bank to bank. (6.49)
This passage is part of a much longer passage prefacing the birth of Orlando’s son. The biographer hopes for a diversion from revealing the childbirth, and proceeds to seize upon first an organ-grinder, then Kew, then the kingfisher, etc. Pay attention to the way in which the fake biographer controls the frame of Orlando’s life and manipulates it to suit his (or her) own agenda.