Orlando: A Biography, published in 1928, was not Woolf's most famous work, but it was one of her most intense considerations of gender. Through the life of the extraordinary character Orlando, Woolf examines the meanings of masculinity and femininity as these definitions changed in Europe over the course of four hundred years. In tracing those changes, Woolf presents a feminist overview of history from the days of Elizabeth the First to the end of World War I. Orlando, who was modeled on Woolf's close friend Vita Sackville-West, goes from being a young man in Queen Elizabeth's court to a love affair with a Muscovite princess; from Ambassador Extraordinary to encounters, now as Lady Orlando, with the famous English writers Pope, Addison, and Swift; finally, Orlando experiences childbirth.
Go to a close, critical reading of Woolf's treatment of Orlando and gender bending in Chapter four (selected annotated etext version)
Go to a close, critical reading of Woolf's treatment of women and biography in Chapter six (selected annotated etext version)
What are the events that define Orlando's life?
What identifies Orlando as male at the beginning of the book? How does the reader come to view that definition differently later in the book, when Orlando looks back at being male once Orlando has become female?
What identifies Orlando as female when Orlando becomes a female? Does that definition change throughout the book?
What is Woolf saying about what is essentially male and essentially female? To what extent does Woolf identify differences between men and women as a result of biology (sex)? To what extent does Woolf identify differences as the result of social practice (gender)?
How do the people around Orlando respond to the fact that Orlando lives 400 years and changes sex? Why do they behave this way?
What causes the change in sex? How do you know Orlando changed?
How, according to Woolf, do men and women experience the world differently?
How might men and women readers have read this book differently, or would they read it the same way? Do you think Woolf was conscious that she would have been speaking to both male and female audiences? Does she seem conscious of different ways her audience might respond to her work? More to the point, what audience did she write this for?
Using the novel Orlando, explain some of the differences between men's and women's historical experiences. What would Woolf provide to challenge assumptions that women are physically and intellectually inferior?
Kelly Tetterton's "Virginia Woolf's Orlando: The Book as Critic" and "Paperbacks as an Area of Bibliographical Study: The Case of Virginia Woolf's Orlando, two online essays dealing with Woolf and Orlando
Locate information on Woolf and her Modernist cohort on the Modernism Timeline, 1890-1940
George Landow's Victorian Web will also place Woolf in context.
The Orlando Project at The University of Alberta provides an integrated history of women's writing in the British Isles.
Roger Ebert's Review of Orlando from the Chicago Sun-Times, 9 July 1993.
Joe Brown's review of Orlando from the Washington Post, 25 June 1993.
Rita Kempley's review of Orlando from the Washington Post, 25 June 1993.
The University of Alberta's Film Studies Resources on the Internet pages offer a heap of resources.
Women in Cinema, a reference guide to Women's resources and readings on women in film.