In 1927 and 1928, Virginia Woolf, having published five novels— including her masterpieces, Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse—took what she called a “writer’s holiday” to compose a. jeu d’esprit, a biography “beginning in the year 1500 & continuing to the present day, called Orlando …” (D 3: 161). In her early notes for the fantastic biography, she declared her intent to mock her more serious preoccupations. Indeed, Orlando playfully mocks and inverts themes that Woolf expresses more seriously elsewhere in her writing, ranging from ideas about time and personality to gender and androgyny. Among the many ideas she satirizes is literary history: she gently mocks a number of her predecessors, including Laurence Sterne and the Elizabethans as well as contemporaries who helped to define her own literary predilections.1 The most intense of her fascinations was with the Russian writers who had been translated into English and enthusiastically received by British readers during the previous decade—the decade that coincided with Woolf’s discovery of her own style.


Literary History British Reader Russian Literature Language Lesson British Writer 
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© Roberta Rubenstein 2009

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