The action begins in 16th century England . The main character Orlando is a young nobleman who is held in high esteem by Queen Elizabeth I and receives a country seat from her. During the frost fair on the Thames, which was regularly frozen in the 16th century due to the Little Ice Age , Orlando meets a mysterious Russian countess named Sasha, who, however, leaves him after a passionate affair and returns to Russia. As a result, Orlando retires to his country estate, deals with the administration of his estate and tries his hand at writing. When a stubborn admirer, Archduchess Harriet, does not leave him in peace, Orlando allows himself to be transferred to Constantinople as ambassador .
In Constantinople, Orlando falls into a sleep of several days after a night marked by social unrest, from which he wakes up as a woman. The causes of the transformation remain in the dark, but there is a document under Orlando's papers that records his marriage to a dancer. Orlando secretly leaves the city with the help of a gypsy clan, with whom he (or now she) can live in the mountains for a while, until the different cultural backgrounds lead to conflicts. Orlando returns to England on a ship called the Enamored Lady and gradually becomes aware of the consequences of being a woman during the crossing, on which she wears European women's clothes for the first time.
In England, Orlando repossesses her property, but first has to wait and see whether she will still be recognized as the legal owner of her nobility and her lands after her transformation. The corresponding legal proceedings drag on for a long time, but are finally decided in Orlando's favor and her marriage to the dancer is annulled. Orlando is now interested in the social life in London, but after a short time gets bored in the salons of the noble ladies and tries to get to know the most important writers of her time (now the 18th century). In fact, she was soon to be regularly serving Alexander Pope , Joseph Addison and Jonathan Swift with tea, the new fashion drink of the era that she hated, but had to recognize that they did not take her views seriously. Thanks to her habit of sometimes going out at night in man's clothes, Orlando soon made the acquaintance of various demi-world ladies in London, with whom she befriended after she had identified herself as women.
Only with the beginning of the Victorian era , whose family spirit and honest morality troubled Orlando, did Orlando question her independent life. The depressing social atmosphere of the time is also symbolized by a climatic change: The English weather is now permanently damp and clammy, the sun can hardly be seen. Fortunately, she soon meets the captain Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine, whom Orlando marries immediately, although her life hardly changes due to his frequent absence. The critic Nicholas Greene, whom Orlando got to know in the time of Queen Elizabeth, is now helping Orlando to publish her poem The Oak Tree, which has been updated for centuries and which has been printed in seven editions and has won a literary prize. The book ends in the year of its publication (1928), in which the now approx. 300-year-old Orlando, a woman of 36, owns a car and buys it in a department store.
In every epoch of Britain the changes in climate, manners and literature are described and criticized. A central event is Orlando's transformation into a woman. Virginia Woolf questions the roles of men and women, the position of women in society and their access to literature. Virginia Woolf wrote this book for her then love Vita Sackville-West , it is a kind of fictional biography of the writer Vita herself and contains descriptions of the house where she was born, Knole House in Kent . Woolf describes the period in which she wrote Orlando as a uniquely happy autumn and that she has never written a book faster. The book itself describes them as cheerful and easy to read; To write it was a vacation for her as a writer.
- Orlando - A Biography . Hogarth Press, London 1928.
- Orlando. A biography . Introduction by Tilda Swinton . Edinburgh, London: Canongate 2012.
Orlando was translated into German five times between 1929 and 2014:
- Orlando - the story of a life , German by Karl Lerbs ; Insel-Verlag, Leipzig 1929
- Orlando - A biography , German by Herberth and Marlys Herlitschka ; S. Fischer-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1961
- Orlando - a biography , German by Brigitte Walitzek; S. Fischer-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1990. ISBN 978-3-10-092557-2
- Orlando - a biography , German by Melanie Walz ; Insel-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2012. ISBN 978-3-458-17538-4
- Orlando - a biography , German by Marion Herbert; Anaconda-Verlag, Cologne 2014. ISBN 978-3-7306-0163-1
Karl Lerbs' translation was revised by Heide Steiner in 1983 for a GDR edition:
- Orlando - a biography , German by Karl Lerbs. Revised by Heide Steiner. Afterword and remarks by Wolfgang Wicht; Insel-Verlag, Leipzig 1983
In 1981, the novel served as a template for Ulrike Ottinger's film Freak Orlando with Magdalena Montezuma as Orlando. In 1992 the book by Sally Potter was made into a film with Tilda Swinton in the title role as Orlando . The role of Queen Elizabeth I is played by the cross-dresser Quentin Crisp .
Radio play editing
- Orlando. A biography . Radio play in six parts. With Gabriel Raab , Vera Weisbrod, Wiebke Puls , Paul Herwig , Brigitte Hobmeier , Hans Kremer , Georgia Stahl u. a. Editing: Gaby Hartel, composition: Ulrike Haage , director: Katja Langenbach. BR radio play and media art 2013. As a podcast / download in the BR radio play pool.