by Virginia Woolf
Orlando Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than merely to keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world's view of us. For example, when Captain Bartolus saw Orlando's skirt, he had an awning stretched for her immediately, pressed her to take another slice of beef, and invited her to go ashore with him in the long-boat. These compliments would certainly not have been paid her had her skirts, instead of flowing, been cut tight to her legs in the fashion of breeches. And when we are paid compliments, it behoves us to make some return. Orlando curtseyed; she complied; she flattered the good man's humours as she would not have done had his neat breeches been a woman's skirts, and his braided coat a woman's satin bodice. (4.48)
Clothes, which are a social invention, actually dictate our identities to us and to the rest of the world. Woolf is identifying clothing as the main mechanism that produces gendered qualities.
Thus, there is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us and not we them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking. (4.48)
According to this passage, it’s not genitalia that make us a man or a woman, it’s the clothes we wear. Orlando is treated differently and behaves differently when she is wearing female clothing rather than male clothing. Furthermore, the importance of clothes is a direct result of society. Orlando never really felt like a woman among the gipsies because they wore unisex clothing.
The great cloud which hung, not only over London, but over the whole of the British Isles on the first day of the nineteenth century stayed, or rather, did not stay, for it was buffeted about constantly by blustering gales, long enough to have extraordinary consequences upon those who lived beneath its shadow. A change seemed to have come over the climate of England. […] Damp swells the wood, furs the kettle, rusts the iron, rots the stone. So gradual is the process, that it is not until we pick up some chest of drawers, or coal scuttle, and the whole thing drops to pieces in our hands, that we suspect even that the disease is at work. (5.1)
This is a bit of surreal writing, as Woolf assumes the mentality and morals of Victorian society and gives them the physical manifestations of clouds and damp and an oppressive air.