[Vwoolf] Teaching Orlando

Beverley Rilett brilett2 at unl.edu
Sat Jul 20 16:23:31 EDT 2019

These are all wonderful suggestions I will keep on file myself for future teaching. May I suggest pairing Orlando with a beautiful memoir called What Becomes You (2007) by Hilda Raz and Aaron Raz Link?

Description from Goodreads:  "Being a man, like being a woman, is something you have to learn," Aaron Raz Link remarks. Few would know this better than the coauthor of "What Becomes You," who began life as a girl named Sarah and twenty-nine years later began life anew as a gay man. As he transforms from female to male and from teaching scientist to theatre performer, Link documents the extraordinary medical, social, legal, and personal processes involved in a complete identity change. Hilda Raz, a well-known feminist writer and teacher, observes this process both as an "astonished" parent and as a professor who has studied gender issues. All these perspectives come into play in this collaborative memoir, which travels between women's experiences and men's lives, explores the art and science of changing sex, maps uncharted family values, and journeys through a world transformed by surgery, hormones, love, and. . . clown school. Combining personal experience and critical analysis, the book is an unusual--and unusually fascinating--reflection on gender, sex, and the art of living. This Bison Books edition features a set of discussion questions.

Best regards,
Bev Rilett
Brilett2 at unl.edu<mailto:Brilett2 at unl.edu>

Sent from my iPhone.

On Jul 20, 2019, at 7:06 PM, Todd Nordgren via Vwoolf <vwoolf at lists.osu.edu<mailto:vwoolf at lists.osu.edu>> wrote:

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 novel.

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<mailto:vwoolf at lists.osu.edu>> wrote:
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 Miscellany 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<mailto: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!



Kristin Czarnecki
President, International Virginia Woolf Society
Professor of English
Georgetown College, Pawling Hall 110
Georgetown, KY 40324

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Todd Nordgren
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies
Northwestern University
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