Synthesis

May 14, 2019 by Essay Writer

So he waited in the darkness. Suddenly he was struck in the face by a blow, soft, yet heavy, on the side of his cheek. So strung with expectation was he, that he started and put his hand to his sword. The blow was repeated a dozen times on forehead and cheek. The dry frost had lasted so long that it took him a minute to realize that these were raindrops falling; the blows were the blows of the rain. At first, they fell slowly, deliberately, one by one. But soon the six drops became sixty; then six hundred; then ran themselves together in a steady spout of water. It was as if the hard and consolidated sky poured itself forth in one profuse fountain. In the space of five minutes Orlando was soaked to the skin. (59-60) In stark contrast to the widely-accepted significance of her other novels, like Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and The Waves, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando has met mostly “critical ambivalence,” to the point where seemingly exhaustive studies of her anthology have been known to ignore it. Readers tend to dismiss it as little more than a love letter in six chapters, an extended series of inside jokes between Woolf and her lover, Vita Sackville-West, and though the point is debatable, Woolf may well have limited her ambition for Orlando to this sort of tacit communication. Still, an author’s intention should not sway her critics from impartial analysis. If self-important writers can create irrelevant novels, then certainly a talented author and thinker like Woolf could unconsciously produce a cerebral volume. Indeed, the prevailing wit in Orlando must not distract us from its fundamentally serious meditation on the faulty perception of reality, nor prevent the book from taking its rightful place within Woolf’s impressive body of work and the broader canon of 20th-century literature.Those who do see something deeper in Orlando tend to focus on its biting satire of the biographical genre and historical writing in general. Certainly, Woolf is clearly poking fun at the tendency to break long stretches of history into eras and epochs, delimited occasionally by events that legitimately influence life, but more often by such arbitrary points as the ends of centuries or the reigns of monarchs. Readers may find it easier to comprehend writing if they receive it in chunks, but the problem arises when those artificial subdivisions of time begin to influence how we perceive our ancestors and ourselves. Within literary circles, for instance, writers are grouped into various isms—Woolf is traditionally considered a modernist, along with Joyce, Eliot, Faulkner and others—but these designations can never be fully accurate simply because no writer has only one style, one worldview that he or she draws on without deviation. We compartmentalize them to facilitate discussion, but we too often let the discussion be influenced by the highly arbitrary way we have done so.Within Orlando, Woolf demonstrates this common urge most clearly through the biographer-narrator, who constantly expresses the desire to package his story neatly, as well as the futility in the attempt to organize a fundamentally chaotic existence like Orlando’s, like anyone’s. In response to Orlando’s long slumber, during which the Turks revolt and his gender switches, the biographer laments: “Obscurity descends, and would indeed that it were deeper! Would, we almost have it in our hearts to exclaim, that it were so deep that we could see nothing whatever through its opacity! Would that we might here take the pen and write Finis to our work!” (133). Throughout the text, and particularly in the first few chapters, before Orlando’s own consciousness begins to take control of the story in preparation for her epiphany in Chapter Six, the biographer seems desperate for impartial support of his narrative; he defers to, to highlight just a few examples, “historians” (33, 149), “biologists and psychologists” (139), even the reader’s own interpretation of what he has described (75). These words, too, represent a system of categorization, in this case focused on designating people as either credible or not.Yet Orlando goes beyond the academic world to examine the way that all of Western civilization perceives the world. Our compartmentalization is not limited to history, but rather encompasses space, identity, gender, and many other areas that we divide and subdivide endlessly. Indeed, as we will see, the very words I am using to express these thoughts—language itself—are discrete units meant to represent something that does not exist outside of the interconnected continuum of existence. Even the word ‘interconnected’ does not quite signify the correct concept, since it requires two distinct entities to be linked. Clearly, the tools at our disposal for comprehending the world are and always have been woefully inadequate. Orlando’s story is that of anyone, everyone, unable to experience reality in its truest form.I. CompartmentalizationDuring his stint as an Ambassador in Turkey, Orlando reveals his acceptance of the conventional organization of space, the arbitrary transformation of continents into nations and nations into discrete units of property. His position itself indicates his location between two entities, striving mostly to strengthen his own government’s domination. The conscious act of connection, however, only intensifies the perceived separation between the two nations, for surely that which requires deliberate linking must lie very far apart. Throughout his time in the East, he remains constantly aware of the differences between that realm and his native England, observing that “nothing…could well be less like the counties of Surrey and Kent or the towns of London and Tunbridge Wells” (121). While this dissimilarity is undisputable, Orlando’s references to the names of specific tracts of English land suggest that he identifies a distinction in the very essences of the two regions, a disparity so fundamental that ‘Kent’ could never bear a resemblance to ‘Constantinople,’ rather than a mere variance in the customs and architecture of otherwise similar populations. Far from the orderly partition of England into individual pieces of land, he sees the undeveloped Turkish countryside as a “wild panorama,” a vast range of undivided space in all directions (122). At this point in the novel, such a lack of organization produces wonder, but no bliss for Orlando.Indeed, when she flees with the gipsies after the revolution (political and sexual), Orlando finds that, despite her initial adoption of their cultural practices, she is not fit for a nomadic life. The gipsies realize this incompatibility as well, specifically with regard to her conception of space:Looked at from the gipsy point of view, a Duke…was nothing but a profiteer or robber who snatched land and money from people who rated these things of little worth, and could think of nothing better to do than to build three hundred and sixty-five bedrooms when one was enough, and none was even better than one. (148)Orlando remains incapable of forging a true bond with the company of gipsies, imprisoned in isolation by her desire to facilitate ownership and privacy, as well as to simplify an incomprehensibly disordered world, by fracturing it into a myriad of disconnected units. Even while her body is situated next to Rustum’s in a physical sense, the place where she stands appears far different to her than to him. In time—centuries, as we will see—-Orlando will come to understand the gipsy’s belief that “the whole earth is ours,” but for now she remains incapable of recognizing the overarching unity of her compartmentalized reality (148).Mankind’s relationship with nature causes further contention between Orlando and the gipsies, and we can understand this conflict also in light of their distinct ways of organizing the world. While Rustum and his band move smoothly through the world, with respect but no reverence for the natural world, Orlando is repeatedly captivated by the awesome vistas: “They began to suspect that she had other beliefs than their own, and the older men and women thought it probable that she had fallen into the clutches of the vilest and cruellest among all the Gods, which is Nature.” Woolf’s term for this captivation, “the English disease,” initially seems to suggest that those accustomed to the developed world become enthralled by a rural setting, “where Nature was so much larger and more powerful” (143). By her own admission, however, this disparity of progress does not cause the ‘disease,’ but rather only intensifies the symptoms of a preexisting condition. The true origin lies in the English system of categorizing the world. Orlando and her countrymen erect a wall between themselves (civilization) and nature that does not exist to the gipsies, which produces a sense of awe that one can only feel for something separate, something other. Indeed, even the language of the gipsies reflects their refusal to separate things into arbitrary classes; rather than ‘beautiful,’ they use something akin to ‘good to eat’—not exactly ‘tasty,’ which would contain a subjective value judgment, but simply ‘edible.’ Thus, while Orlando admires the Turkish landscape, to reside there permanently would be to destabilize her conception of self and other.Orlando’s house also evokes a second type of compartmentalization at work throughout the novel—that of time. As an obvious nod to time’s central place in the novel, Woolf describes the house as having 365 bedrooms and 52 staircases, linking it inextricably with the year. Though this method of dividing the calendar into days and weeks is derived from a natural phenomenon, the Earth’s 365 rotations in each orbit around the sun, the obsession with counting such small intervals belongs to Western civilization. For those who live directly off the earth, like the gipsies, the seasons would suffice. More significantly, however, Orlando recognizes the various ‘ages’ through which she lives as distinct entities, much as the biographer does throughout the novel and most blatantly at the end of Chapter Four: “All was darkness; all was doubt; all was confusion. The Eighteenth century was over; the Nineteenth century had begun” (226). As I mentioned earlier, this kind of rigid temporal division serves Woolf’s parody well, calling to mind the ‘true’ biographies she undermines in Orlando—books that reflect the Western worldview Orlando struggles to overcome.Until her ultimate recognition (or re-cognition), Orlando falls prey to the conventional compartmentalization of time, and thereby of her identity: “She reviewed, as if it were an avenue of great edifices, the progress of her own self along her own past” (175). Rather than a continuous flow of personal experience, she remembers her life in pieces, apparently in the same manner as the biographer presents it to us. Later, just before enumerating Orlando’s various components, Woolf writes, “She had a great variety of selves to call upon, far more than we have been able to find room for, since a biography is considered complete if it merely accounts for six or seven selves, whereas a person may well have as many thousand” (309). The exhaustive list that follows sheds light on Orlando’s conception of who she has been, as well as who she currently is, since this passage comes from the end of the novel and the onset of her revelation. As we will see, she does eventually come to understand that these selves do not exist in her memory as representatives of distinct eras of her life, but rather in her present consciousness, having coexisted within her throughout all of her experiences2E For now, however, this inventory of personalities stands witness to her former long-held perception of a temporally categorized existence.Along similar lines, as Woolf pokes fun at literary critics like she does at biographers and historians, Orlando conceives of her writing career as a series of independent stylistic states.She had been a gloomy boy, in love with death, as boys are; and then she had been amorous and florid; and then she had been sprightly and satirical; and sometimes she had tried prose and sometimes she had tried drama. Yet through all these changes she had remained, she reflected, fundamentally the same. (237)The joke is clear, a condensed history of British literature, and I do not intend to sacrifice this reading in favor of my own. To be sure, Orlando works perfectly well as a parody of England’s last four centuries, but this represents only one superficial aspect of the novel. Hidden within the modern chronicle of literary history lies the modernist concern with the tension between perception and reality, with the fundamental imperfection in the communication of experience. The caricature ostensibly relates only to academic types, who make their living categorizing the world in various ways, but the implication runs far deeper. Woolf subtly suggests that Orlando, an amalgam of both genders and centuries of human existence, shares the same impulse toward misconception, toward the interpretive creation of our own illusive reality.As Orlando thinks about the stages of her literary development, however, she notices a strange fact: throughout it all, the fundamental aspects of her personality have persisted—“the same brooding meditative temper, the same love of animals and nature, the same passion for the country and the seasons” (237). It seems here that she stands on the verge of an awakening, as the essential sameness of things she has deemed separate comes to the forefront, yet she soon succumbs to a faulty explanation of her sensation of stasis. The narrating biographer offers the following clarification:Orlando had inclined herself naturally to the Elizabethan spirit, to the Restoration spirit, to the spirit of the eighteenth century, and had in consequence scarcely been aware of the change from one age to the other. But the spirit of the nineteenth century was antipathetic to her in the extreme, and thus it took her and broke her, and she was aware of her defeat at its hands as she had never been before. (244)Yet we observe no fundamental change in Orlando’s constitution with the onset of the 19th century; the presence of a self unified against the spirit of one age thus implies that she has maintained that capacity, untapped as it has been, throughout her life. Indeed, the novel depicts her struggle to choose among many different identities, none of which are ‘antipathetic’ to her, and reaches its resolution only when she comes to recognize that the pointlessness of that decision. At this point in the novel, though, that denouement remains a chapter in coming, and Orlando ignores her previous awareness of stability across temporal gaps in favor of her biographer’s misinterpretation.The spirit of the 19th century cited in the previous paragraph, the convention of marriage, provides a neat introduction to the third spectrum that Orlando compartmentalizes for much of the novel: gender. Unlike his conceptions of space and time, which become less compartmentalized as the novel progresses, Orlando’s initially unaffected reaction to his sex change demonstrates an acceptance of amalgamated identity that falls away before its ultimate restoration. At first she simply pays no attention to the new body and retains her own behavior patterns. The narrator even hints at the epiphany to come, using the third-person plural pronouns to describe the transformed Orlando before bowing to “convention’s sake” and adopting the singular male version (138). Indeed, the subject of gender does not arise again until her return trip to England, when she spends much of the sea journey comparing her current femininity with her prior state. After a period of confusion—“she seemed to vacillate; she was man; she was woman” (158)—she comes to submit proudly to her new gender: “Praise God that I’m a woman!” (160). Much of her contemplation in this phase centers around the culturally defined role of the female, as she grapples to fit herself into a new compartment, previously viewed only from the outside. Her initial days as a woman in England begin the transformation, and soon after, despite the biographer’s ambiguous descriptions of her gender —the voice of Woolf shouting over her own narrator, perhaps—Orlando comes to take on female qualities: “Her modesty as to her writing, her vanity as to her person, her fears for her safety all seems to hint that what was said a short time ago about there being no change in Orlando the man and Orlando the woman, was ceasing to be altogether true” (187). She has begun to perceive the world in a different way, from a new perspective that she believes to require these sentiments.Despite her ostensible metamorphosis, however, Orlando maintains certain characteristics that indicate a continuing unity of gender at her core, though she continually ignores it in favor of compartmentalization. Not the least of these is her sexual orientation: “Though she herself was a woman, it was still a woman she loved; and if the consciousness of being of the same sex had any effect at all, it was to quicken and deepen those feelings which she had had as a man” (161). Orlando thinks even now of Sasha, and when she later falls in love with Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine, it is in part because he reminds her so much of a woman. Similarly, he questions where she is “positive you aren’t a man,” reinforcing our position that Orlando has remained fundamentally the same (258). Despite the mounting evidence, however, and despite the masculine features of her behavior—“She could drink with the best and liked games of hazard. She rode well and drove six horses at a gallop over London Bridge” (189)—she refuses to accept her own multifaceted sexuality. Instead, she thinks to herself upon her engagement to Shelmerdine, “I am a woman,…a real woman, at last” (253). Neither the destabilization of gender boundaries nor her romantic bliss can distract her from the need to compartmentalize her universe into neatly defined categories, even when those categories are so clearly collapsing around her.Perhaps the best example of Orlando’s refusal to acknowledge her obvious ambiguity comes after her first interaction with the group of prostitutes. Having entered that world in a man’s clothing, that of her youth, she continues the masquerade even in more formal settings. Yet despite the narrator’s claim that the outfit makes her look, feel, and talk like a man, as she rediscovers the societal norm of masculinity Orlando actually remains entirely conscious of the gender she ‘should’ be. Inside Nell’s room, on the verge of consummating her lesbian urges, she buckles: “Orlando could stand it no longer. In the strangest torment of anger, merriment, and pity she flung off all disguise and admitted herself a woman” (217). With time, however, as she regains her comfort in the masculine garb, she learns to accept her attraction to fellow women, exploring it with the help of her costume: “For the probity of breeches she exchanged the seductiveness of petticoats and enjoyed the love of both sexes equally” (221). Regardless, just as she later perceives that her engagement to an effeminate man has reinforced her womanhood, here too Orlando believes that she has only strengthened her compartmentalized identity by secretly placating her other aspects. The reader must be savvy enough to distrust her, to acknowledge the inherent masculine quality that she nourishes but refuses to recognize outwardly.II. FutilityThroughout her centuries of life, the central activity that dominates Orlando’s life is the creation of literature, whether it be poetry, prose, or drama. Woolf repeatedly hints at the transcendent nature of writing, as Orlando seems to use it in an attempt to rise above simplistic compartmentalization and achieve a harmonious interrelation with the world. Upon Orlando’s transformation, for instance, she retains her essence, her distinctive understanding and experience, in part because of her initial act as a woman: “First, she carefully examined the papers on the table; took such as seemed to be written in poetry, and secreted them in her bosom” (139-40). The unity across time discussed earlier depends on the constancy of Orlando’s behavior, and certainly writing represents a significant activity that she enjoys repeatedly throughout the ‘stages’ of her life. Later, one morning soon after her return to England, she begins to write again, thinking of the previous night’s feeling of being “bewildered as usual by the multitude of things which call for explanation and imprint their message without leaving any hint as to their meaning upon the mind” (176). Lost in a labyrinth of ‘things’—in this case, specifically of her dueling perceptions of England and Turkey, discrete units that form a subdivided interpretation of the world—she sets pen to paper in a futile attempt to resolve the clashes between sections of her memory and consciousness.Woolf likens this apparent breakdown of cognitive boundaries to a love affair between Orlando’s self and her reality. At the end of the novel, as she considers abandoning “The Oak Tree” forever, she thinks to herself, “What could have been more secret, more slow, and like the intercourse of lovers, than the stammering answer she had made all these years to the old crooning song of the woods?” (325). In this context, the transformation of the phrase “Life and a lover” (185) to “Life, a lover” (186) takes on a deeper significance, indicating an unconscious recognition that life is her lover, that she seeks not two things but a stronger connection with one—a coalescence of desire that foreshadows her coming epiphany. Orlando’s discovery of her eventual fianc does not, cannot occur until she understands her synergistic relationship with the figurative lover. Indeed, that first encounter with Shelmerdine takes place just a few pages after she declares, “I am nature’s bride” (248). After the marriage, she remains unsure that she can commit to a man over her literary pursuits: “If one still wished, more than anything in the whole world, to write poetry, was it marriage? She had her doubts” (264). With Orlando’s ambiguous gender in mind, even the physical aspect of writing becomes romantic, resembling the sexual consummation of the courtship: “She dipped her pen in the ink and wrote” (185).Similarly, Woolf links poetry with religion, further accentuating its transcendent quality. As Orlando sails back on the Thames into London, for example, she catches sight of a “vast cathedral rising among a fretwork of white spires,” which the biographer tells us “suggested a poet’s forehead” (164). The connection goes beyond this sort of metaphorical resemblance, though, in the minds of Turkish shepherds:They had met an English Lord on the mountain top and heard him praying to his God. This was thought to be Orlando himself, and his prayer was, no doubt, a poem said aloud, for it was known that he still carried about with him, in the bosom of his cloak, a much scored manuscript; and servants, listening at the door, heard the Ambassador chanting something in an odd, singsong voice when he was alone. (124)This replacement of Christian practice with poetry recurs in the novel; the question of what supplants God for Orlando is answered later, when the gipsies fear that she has deified nature. Both interpretations of Orlando’s relationship with the world—whether we call them lovers or God and believer—emphasize her attempts to overcome the boundaries between herself and her surroundings, between compartments of her perceived reality, through writing. Upon her return to England, Orlando acknowledges her own heresy as she scans her old prayer book: “‘I am losing some illusions,’ she said, shutting Queen Mary’s book, ‘perhaps to acquire others'” (174).The second admission, that of her potential new illusions, foreshadows the ultimate failure of writing to synthesize the world. Indeed, language itself is a system of categorizing the world, translating a continuum of experience into discrete units—words, sentences, chapters, and so on. As she explores nature with the gipsies, rather than simply experience the overwhelming sights, she uses metaphor to compare “the hills to ramparts…the flowers to enamel and the turf to Turkey rugs worn thin. Trees were withered hags, and sheep were grey boulders. Everything, in fact, was something else” (143). The traditional understanding of metaphor, of course, would suggest that this sort of linguistic enterprise serves to bring concepts and objects together in our perception, but metaphor relies on a perpetual awareness of the fundamental difference between things. We believe that this is not like that, and so we are intrigued when a writer points out similarities between the two—but still they remain essentially compartmentalized, as they are simply by virtue of their designations as ‘this’ and ‘that.’ The gipsies recognize this: “Here is someone who does not do the thing for the sake of doing; nor looks for looking’s sake; here is someone who believes neither in sheep-skin nor basket; but sees…something else” (146). What she sees, of course, is akin to an entry in a library’s card catalog, something that allows her to file the sheep-skin and the basket in the appropriate compartment within her interpretation of the world. As earlier, when then-he bemoaned the incompatibility between “green in nature” and “green in literature,” here too does Orlando fall prey to the inescapable detachment between words and real-world referents.The biographer also describes the limitations of language to describe the world as it really is: “The commonest expressions do, since no expressions do; hence the most ordinary conversation is often the most poetic, and the most poetic is precisely that which cannot be written down” (253). Indeed, if the higher aim of poetry is to craft a true interpretation of reality, then it should be created not by writing but through direct sensory experience. Thus, in the example presented earlier, where Orlando writes in an attempt to resolve internal conflict between divergent perceptions, her endeavor undermines itself; she paradoxically relies on a system of attaching discrete signifiers to real-world referents in order to coalesce the various signifieds within her consciousness. Similarly, when the newly female Orlando’s first act is to recover “The Oak Tree,” it does serve to perpetuate her old interpretations of the world as I suggested—but that interpretation is fraught with compartmentalization. Indeed, the act of writing tends to separate Orlando from her current reality in a very literal sense, as she escapes the outside world for the confines of her own thought: “When the feasting was at its height and his guests were at their revels, he was apt to take himself off to his private room alone” (112). Temporally, too, writing can never capture the experience of the present moment, but at best (and imperfectly) the instant just past, which has already been subdivided into the appropriate compartments of the poet’s memory. No wonder, then, that upon reflection Orlando decides that “the letter S is the serpent in the poet’s Eden” and that “the present participle is the Devil himself” (173). Both the letter S and the suffix ing turn uncommitted infinitive verbs into their present-tense forms, a linguistic paradox of the highest order.III. EpiphanyAt several points in the novel, Orlando claims to feel disillusioned in some way, as though her eyes have been opened to the imperfection of her perception. Though she normally remains misguided, these moments anticipate her eventual epiphany, as she grows more and more aware of her faulty interpretation of the world. The first occurs when Orlando is still a man, a boy really, after Nick Greene betrays him with a scathing pamphlet. Orlando childishly denounces all of human society:Two things alone remained to him in which he now put any trust: dogs and nature; an elkhound and a rose bush. The world, in all its variety, life in all its complexity, had shrunk to that. Dogs and a bush were the whole of it. So feeling quit of a vast mountain of illusion, and very naked in consequence, he called his hounds to him and strode through the Park. (97)This passage represents the final stone in the wall between civilization and nature that will cause Orlando so much trouble with the gipsies. Yet the ‘illusion’ of human loyalty he perceives originates from the misdeed of just one man, and so the categorization of the natural world as good and society as evil is overly simplistic. Though his previous naivet was a type of illusion as well, Orlando now creates an alternate fantasy, one based on the unsound assumption of a disconnected world. The biographer later offers a self-contradictory justification of this behavior: “Illusions are the most valuable and necessary of all things…but as it is notorious that illusions are shattered by conflict with reality, so no real happiness, no real wit, no real profundity are tolerated where the illusion prevails” (199-200). This absurd notion that the ‘most valuable of all things’ prevents one from achieving ‘real happiness’ infects Orlando throughout much of the novel, as she succumbs to a series of misperceptions.A more correct disillusionment takes place in Chapter Four, as the female Orlando walks downs a long London street accompanied by Alexander Pope. Lit by lamps set two hundred yards apart, the lengthy passage alternates between long periods of darkness and quick bursts of illumination. The parallel to the course of history is clear, particularly the history of science—a series of disillusionments at the hands of men like Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin. Steven Jay Gould cites another revolutionary, Sigmund Freud, as having remarked, “Great revolutions in the history of science have but one common, and ironic, feature: they knock human arrogance off one pedestal after another of our previous conviction about our own self-importance.” Another way of expressing this thought would be to say that each discovery helped to invalidate mankind’s compartmentalization of itself above and apart from all other species and planets; first we moved away from the center of the universe, then reintegrated ourselves within the animal kingdom, and finally lost our grasp on the “myth of a fully rational mind.” In the darkness, then, Orlando maintains a certain pride at walking with a famous writer—“Future ages will think of us with curiosity and envy me with fury”—but when the light falls on his face she begins to doubt her categorization of him as superior to any other man: “Ages to come will never cast a thought on me or on Mr. Pope either. What’s an ‘age,’ indeed? What are ‘we’?” (205). These semantic questions reveal far more significant doubts regarding the compartmentalization of time and identity, as the seeds of realization begin to germinate.Orlando’s uncertainty spreads to the literary realm in Chapter Six, as she encounters Nick Greene again and realizes that the foremost critic of the Victorian era is less a thinker than a fop, “an elderly gentleman in a grey suit talking about duchesses.” The contradiction between this image and her nave illusion—“She had thought of literature all these years…as something wild as the wind, hot as fire, swift as lightning”—causes her earlier misperception to disintegrate, replaced by the present moment she has eluded for so long (280). The figurative language with which Orlando describes literature, similes instead of metaphors this time, indicates her continuing inability to see things as they really are. She misinterprets the world in large part because she classifies it improperly—that is, at all—placing literature in a cognitive compartment with the wind, fire, and lightning, rather than rejoicing in the wonder of all four entities themselves and in total. Cleverly, Woolf links Orlando’s general misconception with her writing, proceeding causally from her disillusionment to her unintended bestowal of “The Oak Tree” on the world.After this episode, the narrative begins to run together in a stream-of-consciousness style that approaches true experience of the world, though still limited by the discreteness of words. The words rush over the reader as the sensation of reality pours down on the distraught Orlando, preparing her for the epiphany heralded so often throughout the text. Within the department store, a useful image in itself that we will examine shortly, the scent of pink candles brings the memory of Sasha back to Orlando’s present reality, as the compartmentalization of time collapses in a Proustian moment of involuntary memory. Later a similar breakdown occurs within her house:The gallery stretched far away to a point where the light almost failed. It was as a tunnel bored deep into the past. As her eyes peered down it, she could see people laughing and talking; the great men she had known; Dryden, Swift, and Pope; and statesmen in colloquy; and lovers dallying in the windowseats; and people eating and drinking at the long tables; and the wood smoke curling round their heads and making them sneeze and cough. (319)Here the house serves as a representation of Orlando’s consciousness, which no longer focuses on the 365 bedrooms, but rather on the central gallery filled with countless characters from all the years of her life. Rather than rigidly separating the here and now from all other experiences, Orlando has come to accept the ongoing influence of her many years and homes and ‘selves’ on the present moment.Indeed, the department store makes a fitting image for Orlando’s new conception of reality and herself. It has but one name, Marshall & Snelgrove’s, but contains all sorts of merchandise, from bed sheets to candles to napkins. Though her own consciousness contains, like all of ours, as many as two thousand ‘selves,’ in the last pages of the novel she stops trying to choose one self for each moment, instead accepting that they all coexist and shape each other. This introduction of a unified perception allows her to become “what is called, rightly or wrongly, a single self, a real self” (314). Similarly, having already made peace between her own spirit and the so-called ‘spirit of the age’ – “Orlando had so ordered it that she was in an extremely happy position; she need neither fight her age, nor submit to it; she was of it, yet remained herself” (266)—she no longer has to erect such a firm boundary between self and other. The codependence of her sensory experience and her social and natural surroundings has become clear; in modern terminology, she has shifted from a strip mall to a department store consciousness.Hail, happiness, then, and after happiness, hail not those dreams which bloat the sharp image as spotted mirrors do the face in a country-inn parlour; dreams which splinter the whole and tear us asunder and wound us and split us apart in the night when we would sleep (294)

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