[Vwoolf] Teaching Orlando

Todd Nordgren toddnordgren at u.northwestern.edu
Sat Jul 20 13:06:31 EDT 2019

Hi, Kristin, I teach *Orlando* in my queer modernisms course, in which we
cover a lot of the fruitful ground on gender, sexuality, and Woolf's own
biography that everyone else has suggested, esp. Pamela Caughie's wonderful
article in *MFS*. I wanted to add that I also use the novel as a chance to
introduce students to the intersections of Orientalism and queerness,
drawing particularly on Joseph Boone's copious work on the "homoerotics of
Orientalism." This always opens up productive conversations about the
beginning of the story as Orlando hacks at the head of a Moor, why her
transformation happens in Constantinople, and the time she spends with the
gypsies (including why she has to leave them behind and why her change of
sex doesn't fully register until she returns to England). Boone's work
might be too historically dense for first-year students or for the class as
you imagine it, but it can provide some useful concepts for framing the
intersecting threads of gender, sexuality, race, and *geography* in the

As a side note: I find talking about Orlando's personality as a young man a
good way to grapple with the some of perceived difficulty of the novel on
first day of our discussions. Even if they find reading a modernist novel
intimidating, my students always enjoy discussing the dramatic character of
teenaged Orlando. I feel like many 18 year olds probably have encountered
someone who "would fall into one of his moods of melancholy; the sight of
the old woman hobbling over the ice might be the cause of it, or nothing;
and would fling himself face downwards on the ice and look into the frozen
waters and think of death" and then "would try to tell her [Sasha] —
plunging and splashing among a thousand images which had gone as stale as
the women who inspired them — what she was like. Snow, cream, marble,
cherries, alabaster, golden wire? None of these. She was like a fox, or an
olive tree; like the waves of the sea when you look down upon them from a
height; like an emerald; like the sun on a green hill which is yet clouded
— like nothing he had seen or known in England. Ransack the language as he
might, words failed him." This topic, too, gets at some of the delightful
humor that resonates throughout the novel and the interesting issue of the
biographer's voice, dispelling some student's perception of Woolf only as
the "serious" author who committed suicide.

On Thu, Jul 18, 2019 at 4:38 PM Pat Laurence via Vwoolf <
vwoolf at lists.osu.edu> wrote:

> Kristin,
> To add to the suggestions. Orlando says at one point "it is the clothes
> that wear us, not we them," and this can lead to a lively discussion of
> socialization and projections of fashion today that questions conventional
> ideas about gender and sexuality. The recent show at the Metropolitan
> Museum of Art on "Camp" could supply some interesting images (there's a
> catalog) as well as the illustrations in *Orlando* leading to a
> discussion of "performing gender"  (Butler).
>  In addition, Woolf said before writing this work, "it sprung upon me how
> I could revolutionize biography in a night." The challenging *Miscellan*y
> articles sent by Vara lead to a discussion of biofiction and, in general,
> Woolf's experiments with genre infusing drama, poetry, biography...into the
> so-called novel. Not only in *Orlando,* but *To the Lighthouse* (is it an
> elegy?) and after *The Waves,* " I mean to write another four novels,
> Waves I mean." Is *Orlando* a letter, a biography, a novel, a history, a
> joke: honors student can explore  the lineaments of each, as well as the literary
> devices of irony, parody, and pastiche. Woolf provides a counter narrative
> to traditional literary terms students are expected to recognize and master.
> Pat Laurence
> On Wed, Jul 17, 2019 at 11:12 AM Kristin Czarnecki via Vwoolf <
> vwoolf at lists.osu.edu> wrote:
>> Good morning,
>> I'll be teaching our Honors Research Seminar for first-year students this
>> fall for the first time. It includes a substantial unit on the humanities
>> in which we read *Orlando*. Students will complete several assignments
>> related to the story, context, annotations, etc., and write a research
>> paper in which they defend an argument about a theme/symbol/image--the
>> usual fare but for some of our strongest students who need to hone these
>> skills early for future Honors classes & such. If anyone has any
>> suggestions, I'd be grateful!
>> Best,
>> Kristin
>> Kristin Czarnecki
>> President, International Virginia Woolf Society
>> Professor of English
>> Georgetown College, Pawling Hall 110
>> Georgetown, KY 40324
>> 502-863-8132
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Todd Nordgren
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies
Northwestern University
todd.nordgren at northwestern.edu  <todd.nordgren at northwestern.edu>
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