Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1928) vs Orlando directed by Sally Potter (1992)

Uppgiften var att jämföra boken Orlando skriven av Virginia Woolf med filmen Orlando regisserad av Sally Potter.

Skriven av: Emma Wikström.

Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1928) vs Orlando directed by Sally Potter (1992)

“One is not born a woman, one becomes one” is a famous quote from the feminist icon Simone de Beauvoir which captures a lot of the message of Orlando, a novel written by Virginia Woolf first published in 1928. The novel Orlando is a fictional historical biography, which follows the life of Orlando. The story begins in the Elizabethan era where Orlando is a young male nobleman and it ends more than 300 years later when Orlando is a middle-aged woman in 1928. Orlando’s sex changes, rather magically, in the middle of the story and he becomes a woman but remains the same in every other respect. Important themes in the novel are gender, gender roles but also others as adapting to society and class.

In 1992 a film adaptation of the novel was directed by Sally Potter. In the film, the most critical scenes in the novel are covered but others are left out. Although, the biggest difference between the film and the novel, I believe, is that most of the incredible wit of Virginia Woolf and her clever analyses on e.g. gender are lost in translation. The novel is built as a biography and the biographer plays an important part in the work by commenting the story and the development of Orlando as a character. It is the voice of the biographer where most of Virginia’s wit and analyses come forth and these aren’t translated to the film.

An example of how the biographer’s voice incorporates in the novel is this paragraph which is put in brackets in the text: “For that was the way his mind worked now, in violent see-saws from life to death, stopping at nothing in between, so that the biographer must not stop either, but must fly as fast as he can and so keep pace with the unthinking passionate foolish actions and sudden extravagant words in which, it is impossible to deny, Orlando at this time of his life indulged” from p . 21. Long sentences with a poetic tone, as the one just heard, is another of Virginia Woolf’s expertise.

Moreover, by losing the voice of the biographer the themes of gender and gender roles cannot be discussed as thoroughly in the film as in the novel. In the novel, Virginia writes long passages on how clothes impact our view on gender, how one can become a woman and how the genders actually intermix in one person which aren’t included in the film. However, the theme of gender is a dominant one in the film as well. Both works begin with the words: “He – for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it” shows the reader or viewer immediately that sex will be an important theme in the work.

One can see that the novel Orlando is a work affected by the time it was written. In 1928, the same year as the novel was published, women in the United Kingdom won suffrage on the same terms as men. This indicates that gender, gender roles and women’s rights were burning issues which can explain Woolf’s interest. The film Orlando came out in 1992. In the 1990s there was a rapid push forward of the LGBT-community and the topics of gender, gender roles were as relevant as ever which can explain why it was published in that time. Except for letting the film end in the 1990s instead of in 1928 the director Sally Potter doesn’t change the story much to make it more adjusted to the 1990s audience.

Orlando is a charming novel with a witty style and interesting analyses on gender. The language is poetic which sometimes feels mesmerising but other times superfluous. The novel doesn’t have an obvious conflict or much dialogue which can make it feel quite tiresome. However, if one is interested in feminist issues and literature I would definitely recommend the novel. The film, on the other hand, loses most of what I think make the novel Orlando good. The story of Orlando which is conveyed in the film is, however, special and thought-provoking. Therefore, if one doesn’t think one’ll read the novel I think the film can be worth watching.