ENGL 4384: Senior Seminar Student Anthology

Halie Waddell
ure arresting his attention from across a Thames frozen solid by the "Great Frost." Though he cannot immediately identify the figure's sex or categorize the figure by gender, he desperately seeks to pinpoint the stranger's beauty: "Images, metaphors of the most extreme and extravagant twined and twisted in his mind. He called her a melon, a pineapple, an olive tree, an emerald, and a fox in the snow all in the space of three seconds....so he raved, so he stared" (17). These two early moments in
more » ... wo early moments in Orlando effectively frame the novel with an emphasis on beauty and the language used to inscribe the beautiful. Orlando soon discovers the name of the object of his scrutiny and linguistic exploration: Russian Princess Marousha Stanilovska Dagmar Natasha Iliana Romanovitch, or, as he names her, Sasha, who continues to frustrate him linguistically: "Ransack the language as he might, words failed him....English was too frank, too candid, too honeyed a speech for Sasha" (22). Early in the novel, Orlando realizes the limitations of his language as he attempts and fails to pin and pen down Sasha's beauty. As the novel progresses, Orlando gradually realizes an essentially problematic relationship between language and beauty that becomes the major obstacle of Orlando's life and narrative. Woolf wrote in her essay "Modern Fiction" about a similar quandary-the problematic relationship between conventional fiction and real life. Everyday life does not follow the equations of timing, plot, and emphasis that fiction mortars and sets in stone. Rather, "The mind receives a myriad impressions-trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel" (106). These impressions are what compose a day, a life, "so that, if a writer were a free man and not a slave...there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted style" (106). In "Modern Fiction," Woolf hints at the innumerable, incredible impressions a person receives each day and how traditional modes of fiction err gravely in how they organize, emphasize, and inscribe these impressions. Likewise, Orlando's life refuses to yield to the plot of a traditional biography, forcing the speaker to set aside records and artifacts and notate more impressionistically. Orlando him/herself is a character sublimely sensitive to beautiful impressions, as his first encounter with Sasha shows. Orlando's life is also a journey toward authorship, and as s/he diligently seeks to pin and pen down the impressionistic world around her/him, s/he turns the vivacious beauty of Sasha into a melon, a tree, a fox, effectively objectifying her, describing her beauty in terms that dismiss her own subjectivity. This destructive process mirrors the ways in which traditional fiction nails the beautiful Begetting Beauty, Engendering the Mot Juste 7 impressions that constitute a "Monday or Tuesday" into the iron structure of exposition, climax, and denouement. Virginia Woolf 's Orlando radically diverges from the traditional, playfully mocking, yet seriously criticizing, not only traditional modes of fiction, biography, and history, traditional notions of gender, or traditional concepts of beauty, but also the very language that underlies these ways of thinking. Orlando's characters perform how language nets and reconfigures moments and impressions of beauty, objectifying and misrepresenting the beautiful, but Orlando is far more than a demonstrative critique. Orlando is also an imagining of a new way of communicating beauty, an impossible fantasy of a language grounded in androgyny that redeems beauty from representation.