Reading Woolf: Sexual Politesse in Orlando (1928)

(Glance at this first.)

From Chapter Four of Orlando (1928) (in which Orlando returns to England as a woman…):

“Gentle creature,” cried the Archduchess, falling on one knee and at the same time pressing a cordial to Orlando’s lips, “forgive me for the deceit I have practised on you!”

Orlando sipped the wine and the Archduke knelt and kissed her hand.

In short, they acted the parts of man and woman for ten minutes with great vigour and then fell into natural discourse. The Archduchess (but she must in future be known as the Archduke) told his story—that he was a man and always had been one; that he had seen a portrait of Orlando and fallen hopelessly in love with him [now her]; that to compass his ends, he had dressed as a woman and lodged at the Baker’s shop; that he was desolated when he had fled to Turkey; that he had heard of her change and hastened to offer his services (here he teed and heed intolerably. For to him, said Archduke [once Archduchess] Harry, she was and would ever be the Pink, the Pearl, the Perfection of her sex. The three p’s would have been more persuasive if they had not been interspersed with tee-hees and haw-haws of the strangest kind. “If this is love,” said Orlando to herself, looking at the Archduke on the other side of the fender, and now from the woman’s point of view [having been a man last time they met], “there is something highly ridiculous about it.” 

Falling on his knees, the Archduke Harry made the most passionate declaration of his suit. He told her that he had something like twenty million ducats in a strong box at his castle. He had more acres than any nobleman in England. The shooting was excellent: he could promise her a mixed bag of ptarmigan and grouse such as no English moor, or Scotch either, could rival. True, the pheasants had suffered from the gape in his absence, and the does had slipped their young, but that could be put right, and would be with her help when they lived in Roumania together.

As he spoke, enormous tears formed in his rather prominent eyes and ran down the sandy tracts of his long and lanky cheeks.

That men cry as frequently and as unreasonably as women, Orlando knew from her own experience as a man; but she was beginning to be aware that women should be shocked when men display emotion in their presence, and so, shocked she was.

The Archduke apologized. He commanded himself sufficiently to say that he would leave her now, but would return on the following day for his answer.

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Harcourt Annotated Edition (2006)

That was a Tuesday. He came on Wednesday; he came on Thursday; he came on Friday; and he came on Saturday. It is true that each visit began, continued, or concluded with a declaration of love, but in between there was much room for silence. They sat on either side of the fireplace and sometimes the Archduke knocked over the fire-irons and Orlando picked them up again. Then the Archduke would bethink him how he had shot an elk in Sweden, and Orlando would ask, was it a very big elk, and the Archduke would say that it was not as big as the reindeer which he shot in Norway; and Orlando would ask, had he ever shot a tiger, and the Archduke would say he had shot an albatross, and Orlando would say (half hiding her yawn) was an albatross as big as an elephant, and the Archduke would say–something very sensible, no doubt, but Orlando heard it not, for she was looking at her writing-table, out of the window, at the door. Upon which the Archduke would say, “I adore you,” at the very same moment that Orlando said “Look, it’s beginning to rain,” at which they were both much embarrassed, and blushed scarlet, and could neither of them think what to say next. Indeed, Orlando was at her wit’s end what to talk about and had she not bethought her of a game called Fly Loo, at which great sums of money can be lost with very little expense of spirit, she would have had to marry him, she supposed; for how else to get rid of him she knew not.

– pp. 132-34 (Harcourt Annotated Edition)

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