[Vwoolf] Other Experiences in Teaching Orlando

Martin, Ann ann.martin at usask.ca
Fri Jul 19 11:14:58 EDT 2019

I appreciate this conversation, and might add another perspective. I led an fourth-year Honours seminar on Woolf this Winter that included a number of gender diverse students. Orlando turned out to be a difficult piece for many of them, and their initial encounter with the text nearly turned them off Woolf.

Ultimately, they were able to work with Orlando and some of the stereotypes it involves (e.g. Archduke Harry) through its historical contexts: era-specific cross-dressing and gender performance, sex theories, Vita's adoption of a masculine persona, the pantomime references, the operation of camp.... Some contemporary criticism on Orlando was more problematic, particularly in terms of claims that position the text as a trans* novel (which, of course, Pamela Caughie does not). While my students acknowledged the narrative as a deliberate fantasy, they were careful to point out that it was not written by a trans* individual or about a trans* individual: i.e. Orlando lives their life as a man and then as a woman, but not as a trans* person who experiences gender dysphoria or gender euphoria.

I look forward to reading Margaret Homans's piece and to this ongoing conversation that, as Susan points out, engages a diversity of perspectives over time. With that in mind, I wonder the extent to which my class's resistance to the novel and its politics speaks to a specific trans* community (twenty-somethings; Western Canada; activist-based) and an approach which differs from, say, that of Lucas Crawford. It'll also be neat to see how these students present their readings of Woolf in the years to come.

Regardless, when leading future classes on Orlando, my goal would be to clarify those feminist and LGBQ literary studies approaches to the text in which the term "trans" is used metaphorically or connected to a deconstruction of gender--to fluidity, to the multiple selves of which Woolf writes so often, to life writing beyond the box, to the anti-patriarchal strategy of defying binary logic--but not necessarily to trans* lives or embodied experiences. So, still figuring this one out.



Dr. Ann Martin
Vice-President, International Virginia Woolf Society
Associate Professor, Department of English
College of Arts and Science | University of Saskatchewan
420 Arts Tower  Saskatoon SK  S7N 5A5  Canada
(she, hers)

Our Department's vision is to be a place where many peoples come together to engage in mutually respectful relations and dialogues. We acknowledge that the land on which we gather is Treaty Six territory and traditional Metis homeland, and we acknowledge the diverse Indigenous peoples whose footsteps have marked this territory for centuries.
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