30 September 2021
Zoe Kempf-Harris, University of Virginia
While Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1928) first appears to be a global novel, the temptation to read it as local is also strong. Orlando initially seems to be predicated on expanse, as Woolf invites readers to consider the sprawling totality of centuries and miles, sending her protagonist from the Elizabethan age up to 1928 and from England’s Kent all the way to Turkey. In writing to her lover and inspiration for the novel, Vita Sackville-West, Woolf contemplates this expanse as it cumulates and culminates in singular forms: ‘All these ancestors & centuries, & silver & gold, have bred a perfect body.’ Fittingly, the novel Woolf goes on to write depends on its established centres—Orlando, a projection of Sackville-West, serves as one such ‘body,’ and Knole House, the Sackville-West estate, acts as a point of return for Orlando’s accrued four hundred years and thousands of miles. In a study of these central forms and the motions that exist in relation to them, the laws that govern Newtonian forces may likewise govern Orlando’s own outbound and homebound movements. By reconsidering Orlando’s global and local motions as ‘centrifugal’ and ‘centripetal’ forces respectively, I reframe the novel’s global reach as a reactive shadow force to the strong inward pull Woolf cultivates towards the ancestral estate. Orlando succeeds as a global novel only so far as it may be recognised as a local one.