Was Virginia Woolf a snob? The case of aristocratic portraits in Orlando.
The element of class critique in Orlando's illustrations may seem incongruous with Woolf's reverence for the aristocracy, but it is in line with her politically charged pictorial practice in Three Guineas. Diane F. Gillespie has argued that the photographs of a general, heralds, participants in a university procession, a judge and an archbishop are used in Three Guineas "to exemplify and to challenge the kinds of masculine values she indicts as causes of war" (136). Likewise, Maggie Humm has analyzed how the photographs become "timeless dead icons of patriarchy" (227), while Merry M. Pawlowski has read them as "illustrations of the masculine spectacle of public space" (725). Most recently, Rebecca Wisor has shown the relevance of the identities of the men in the photographs for Woolf's anti-patriarchal stance. Although a visual representation of the aristocracy is manifest in Orlando's illustrations, the relevance of this for Woolf's class politics has not received critical attention. Studies have shown how Woolf maintained her relationship to Sackville-West by involving her in the production of the images (Gillespie 136, Humm 217), and some scholars have focused on how the images relate to Orlando's change from man to woman (Erika Flesher, Talia Schaffer). As we will see below, both Woolf's relationship to Sackville-West and Orlando's gender have an important class dimension. Elizabeth Hirsh has drawn attention to how Woolf's inclusion of the Sackville portraits functions as a way of taking possession of Sackville-West, de-privatizing her life, heritage and estate (171-75). However, Woolf not only takes ownership of Sackville-West's life, heritage and estate via the Sackville portraits, she also uses the portraits to debunk Sackville-West's class, and she additionally couples them with photographs that parody those same portraits. That the illustrations demonstrate negative aspects of the aristocracy is interesting in relation to Woolf's class politics, which Patricia McManus has shown continues to be a source of contention for critics. (1) Orlando has been read specifically by Sean Latham as an uncritical celebration of the aristocracy (90-117). Careful attention to the illustrations offers a more nuanced perspective on Orlando's politics and reveals that Woolf's ambivalence to the aristocracy started earlier and was more critical than customarily thought.
This article first expounds Woolf's pictorial strategy by providing new and more accurate information about the identities and histories of the portraits. It then demonstrates how Woolf uses the Sackville portraits to paint the aristocracy as ridiculous, menacing and decadent. Finally, the rest of the illustrations are revealed to show Orlando, the fictional figure, and Sackville-West, the model, as deviating from the upper class, in the process showcasing qualities that are presented as admirable but adverse to the aristocracy. The illustrations are thus shown to scrutinize the institution of aristocracy, the foundation for "coronet" snobbery. Woolf's question "Am I a Snob?" echoes a question Orlando asks near the end of the novel, when she seeks out "what people call the true self": "'What then? Who then?' she said. 'Thirty-six; in a motor-car; a woman. Yes, but a million other things as well. A snob am I? The garter in the hall? The leopards? My ancestors? Proud of them? Yes!'" (279). Orlando's question--"A snob am I?"--is affirmed by the final exclamation, as well as her evocation of the garter in the hall and the leopards, which according to Sackville-West's Knole and the Sackvilles (1922) can be found at Sackville-West's ancestral home, Knole (2-3, 29). Inserted for immediate ocular inspection, the illustrations incorporate Sackville-West, Knole and the Sackvilles (her ancestors) into Orlando in an even more obvious way than the garter and the leopards. However, the illustrations are not used to champion aristocratic pride. Rather, as Woolf's ironical stance in "Am I a Snob?" similarly implies, being a "coronet snob" is deplored.
The Origins of Orlando's Illustrations Revisited
Except for the portrait on the original dust jacket, Orlando does not provide the sources for its illustrations. The illustrations' titles, which double as their captions, only indicate whom the portraits portray in the narrative (mainly Orlando). However, Sackville-West can be recognized in most of the photographs, while research reveals that most of the paintings are Elizabethan paintings of Sackvilles. The first Sackville portrait is a late-sixteenth-century portrait of Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, 1st Earl of Dorset (1536-1608), reproduced on the Hogarth Press jacket (Figure 1). (2) The illustration is not given a title in Orlando, but below the list of illustrations it is stated that the "Illustration used on the jacket is reproduced by kind permission of the Worthing Art Gallery." J. H. Stape has researched this portrait, finding that the original was destroyed in an air raid on February 23rd 1944 in London, where it had been sent for repair ("Man at Worthing" 5-6). The rest of the Sackville portraits, three in all, were chosen at Knole on October 18th 1927 with Sackville-West (Nicolson 32). Woolf wrote to Sackville-West only a few days after beginning Orlando asking to visit Knole for that purpose (L3 430). The portraits are still held at Knole, and the original identities of the subjects, as well as the period and the painters, can thus be ascertained. A painting by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger of Mary Curzon, the Countess of Dorset (1585-1645), who was married to Edward Sackville, 4th Earl of Dorset (1589-1652), is used to portray "Archduchess Harriet," Orlando's suitor. "Orlando as a Boy" is illustrated by a double portrait by Cornelius Nuie of Edward Sackville (?-1646) and Richard Sackville, 5 th Earl of Dorset (1622-1677)--although the painting is cropped in Orlando so that only Edward Sackville is shown. And Gerard Soest's painting of Richard Sackville, the Richard left out of "Orlando as a Boy," is used for the "Orlando as Ambassador" illustration. This last illustration has previously been thought to be a painting of Lionel Sackville, 1st Duke of Dorset (Gilbert xlviii; Stape, Notes 196). However, Richard Sackville's name is written in the lower right-hand corner on the canvas of the original painting (outside the scope of the section that Woolf used for her illustration in Orlando). The Sackvilles used to illustrate Orlando are thus not distant relatives, but brothers, and Mary Curzon, used to illustrate the Archduchess Harriet, is in fact their mother. The similarity of the portraits in their sitters' physical traits as well as in their conspicuous embedding in aristocratic culture and symbols enables Woolf to mount a critique of the aristocracy.
There are three photographs of Sackville-West as Orlando. "Orlando on her return to England" is often assumed to be by the Lenare studio in London, but the Lenare photograph that is similar to this illustration located with the Monk's House Albums at Houghton Library is slightly different--both in composition and quality. (3) It is more likely that the illustration was produced in the studio shared by Vanessa Bell, Woolf's sister, and Bell's partner, Duncan Grant. In a letter to Sackville-West, Woolf wrote: "You'll lunch here at one sharp on Monday wont [sic] you: bringing your curls and clothes. Nessa wants to photograph you at 2, that is if she thinks the Lenare too bad. I'm not sure" (L3 435). Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautmann write in a footnote to this letter that "Orlando about the year 1840," the second photograph of Sackville-West, resulted from this session (435). However, it seems that the Lenare photograph for "Orlando on her return to England" was indeed deemed "too bad," so both photographs could have been taken in Bell and Grant's studio. There is also another photograph that looks like "Orlando on her return to England," a blurry one that Madeline Moore gives the caption "Vita Sackville-West posing as a lily in Vanessa Bell's studio, 1928" (98-99). "Orlando at the present time," the last photograph of Sackville-West and the last illustration in Orlando, was most likely taken by Leonard Woolf at Long Barn, the home Sackville-West shared with her husband, Harold Nicolson. Writing to Sackville-West, Woolf explained that "I wanted to ask if it would be convenient should we call in on Sunday on our way back; at Long Barn. It has now become essential to have a photograph of Orlando in country clothes in a wood, to end with. If you have film and a camera I thought Leonard might take you" (L3 488). Apart from historical paintings of Sackvilles and photographs of Sackville-West, there is a photograph depicting the Russian Princess Sasha, Orlando's Elizabethan lover, and a painting used to illustrate Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine, who becomes Orlando's husband at the end of the novel. Woolf asked Bell to photograph Angelica Garnett, Woolf's niece and Bell's daughter, for "The Russian Princess as a Child," whilst "Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine, Esquire" is a portrait of an unknown man by an unknown artist, which was bought from a London dealer by Sackville-West because she thought it looked like her husband, Harold Nicolson (L3 484, note 2). Both illustrations, along with the photographs of Sackville-West, capture and accentuate qualities that oppose those on display in the historical paintings of the Sackvilles.
Historical Paintings of the Sackvilles: The Anti-Aristocratic Element
The Sackville paintings that Woolf selected to illustrate Orlando display ridiculous, violent and decadent characteristics of the aristocracy. Gheeraerts's caricature-like portrait of Mary Curzon, which illustrates the Archduchess Harriet, is the Sackville portrait most obviously used satirically. In Knole and the Sackvilles, Sackville-West refers to another portrait of Curzon, describing her in this instance as "severe, uncompromising, but impeccable" (86). In the portrait used in Orlando, Curzon also comes across as severe and uncompromising with her stern expression and rigid pose, but she seems more ridiculous than impeccable. She is excessively accessorized with a massive farthingale, several sleeves, a cartwheel ruff, jewels, a headpiece, a fan and a mirror, and her facial and bodily features are simplified and exaggerated. Her torso, no wider than her sleeves, makes her look impossibly slender and tall. Intriguingly, the portrait is reproduced in a 1934 survey of Elizabethan dress. The two quotations that accompany the portrait in this survey attest to the extremity and vanity that Curzon's appearance exudes: in the first, Montaigne ridicules the slender waists achieved through measures such as swallowing gravel, ashes, coals, dust, tallow, and candles; in the second, Fynes Moryson remarks upon the strange practice of wearing a mirror at one's girdle (Morse 59). In Orlando's text, the bumptious behavior and amorous advances of the Archduchess (who turns out to be an Archduke, thus adding another farcical layer to Curzon's portrait) repel Orlando. With his comic height, bulging eyes, lank cheeks, and high headdress--qualities that can all be observed in the portrait--the Archduke is repeatedly compared to a hare. This comparison nods to the harebrained demeanor of the Archduke, but may also playfully refer to Henry Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood (1882-1974), Sackville-West's unsuccessful suitor. As the Archduke, Lascelles eventually married "a very great lady," Mary, the Princess Royal, and the official photographs of him from this wedding reveal, much like Gheeraerts's portrait of Curzon, elongated body proportions, a rigid stance, and ornate garb (Figure 2). By compounding the identities of Curzon and Lascelles in the illustration of the Archduke, Woolf ridicules them both, and sets up a pathetically pompous aristocratic type to be scorned, as Orlando does when she laughs at the Archduke and refuses the title and fortune that he offers her.
The portrait on Orlando's jacket offers a more concrete critique of the ruling classes, and a more personal one, for Thomas Sackville was instrumental to the self-understanding and self-fashioning of Sackville-West and her immediate family. The first Sackville that Sackville-West describes in Knole and the Sackvilles is Thomas Sackville, and she concludes by describing her grandfather, Lionel Sackville-West, 2nd Baron Sackville (1827-1908), who "bore a really remarkable resemblance" to Thomas Sackville (219). Moreover, Sackville-West's father, Lionel Edward Sackville-West, 3rd Baron Sackville (1867-1928), visually emulated the first Lord of Knole by dressing up as him for a photograph in 1911 (Figure 3). Woolf plays upon the way the Sackville-Wests venerated and pictorially celebrated Thomas Sackville by placing a portrait of him on the cover of Orlando.
The reader, however, is not likely to recognize Thomas Sackville in the portrait, encountering instead a nameless, middle-aged, Elizabethan man of wealth, wielding a sword and a shield, wearing armor, jewelry, and black paint on his naked upper body. The martial ardor, decadent privilege, and gauche, blackened body of Thomas Sackville segue into the opening line of Orlando, which pits Orlando "in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafter." The origin of the head can be traced back to the imperial violence committed by Orlando's forefathers: "Orlando's father, or perhaps his grandfather, had struck it from the shoulders of a vast Pagan who had started up under the moon in the barbarian fields of Africa" (15). Orlando's inheritance, captured visually in the portrait of Thomas and textually in the opening line, is one of colonial arrogance and aggression. There are many less absurd and more dignified portraits of Thomas Sackville, for example the one of him in his role as diplomat reproduced in Sackville-West's Knole and the Sackvilles, but Woolf's choice of a Sackville depicted as outlandish and aggressive ensures that injustices of the aristocracy are forcefully portrayed and denounced.
Like the other Sackvilles represented in Orlando's illustrations, the Sackvilles chosen to depict Orlando are described in Knole and the Sackvilles. As a young man, Edward Sackville, the boy in "Orlando as a Boy," was "murdered in cold blood" by Parliamentarians--a story, which, together with Nuie's portrait, served as inspiration for the "enormous novel" that Sackville-West wrote when she was thirteen (82, 106). Richard Sackville, the man in "Orlando as Ambassador," has no particular interest according to Sackville-West, "save that he translated Le Cid into English verse and wrote a poem on Ben Jonson" (112). It seems, however, that Woolf chose Edward and Richard Sackville to portray Orlando not for their life stories, but because they as brothers with similar traits can be easily compounded, and also because Richard Sackville looks remarkably like Sackville-West. In fact, Richard Sackville and Vita Sackville-West look so alike that Talia Schaffer mistakes "Orlando as an Ambassador" for a photograph of Sackville-West (27, 55-56). The resemblance of Edward Sackville, Richard Sackville and Vita Sackville-West in these portraits facilitates the transition from painted Orlandos to photographed Orlandos, from historical Sackvilles to Sackville-West, from male Orlando to female Orlando.
The Sackville portraits selected to portray Orlando are not as farcical and hyperbolic as either the Archduchess illustration or the jacket illustration, but they are aristocratic in a traditional way, impressing upon the viewer the subjects' inherited wealth and authority. (4) The facial expressions of Edward and Richard Sackville are content and placid, their features refined, and their hair luscious. Edward stands self-assuredly on a checkered floor with one hand placed on his hip; the other handles some dice laid out on a table. In the background one can see a draped curtain and a painted landscape. Edward's garments include an elaborately embroidered collar, a textured and scalloped vest, frill sleeves, breeches with bows, and narrow shoes with gargantuan pom-poms. Only Richard's upper body can be seen in his portrait, but like Edward's dress and surroundings his jewel-embellished collar and silken cloak also indicate leisure and extravagance. The Sackville brothers' attire makes its way into the text: when Orlando rushes to greet Elizabeth I at his home, he thrusts on "crimson breeches, lace collar, waistcoat of taffeta, and shoes with rosettes on them as big as double dahlias"--a precise description of Edward's ornate dress (22). The "long Turkish cloak" in which Orlando wraps himself whilst reveling in the Constantinople morning from his balcony emulates the rich, shiny material that envelops Richard (111). The material lavishness depicted in the portraits is thus directly incorporated into the narrative, and the portraits provide an actual view of the splendor.
Descriptions of portrait galleries in the narrative, however, add a decadent dimension to the opulence of the illustrations. When Orlando is abandoned by the Russian Princess Sasha, he takes to "pacing the long galleries and ballrooms with a taper in his hand, looking at picture after picture as if he sought the likeness of somebody whom he could not find." The portraits function as a hall of mirrors, reflecting Orlando's loss. They nourish his "strange delight in thoughts of death and decay"--thoughts that are developed when his moody nocturnal perambulations lead him to the house's sepulcher:
It was a ghastly sepulchre; dug deep beneath the foundations of the house as if the first Lord of their family, who had come from France with the conqueror, had wished to testify how all pomp is built upon corruption; how the skeleton lies beneath the flesh; how we that dance and sing above must lie below; how the crimson velvet turns to dust; how the ring (here Orlando, stooping his lantern, would pick up a gold circle lacking a stone, that had rolled into a corner) loses its ruby and the eye which was so lustrous shines no more. "Nothing remains of all these Princes," Orlando would say, indulging in some pardonable exaggeration of their rank, "except one digit," and he would take a skeleton hand in his and bend the joints this way and that. (67)
The sense of doom the gallery portraits inspire extends to the house and to Orlando's ancestry. A metonymic as well as a symbolic connection is established between the macabre ancestral portrait galleries, Orlando's house, the dissolution of Orlando's lineage, and the portraits of Sackvilles used as illustrations of Orlando. The authority of aristocratic portraits is usually accentuated when these portraits are placed in galleries (such as Orlando's or those at Knole), as they visually construct the genealogical lineage that gives the subjects in the portraits their power. Galleries in Orlando's narrative, however, signify waste, ruin and doom. Yet, although Orlando is the last in his line, and despite the fact that he defeats death just as a portrait uncannily preserves its sitter for eternity, Orlando is not an eerie or morose figure, and Orlando is not a Gothic or Decadent novel. Aristocratic portraits and portrait galleries are instead used to give a moribund tint to the aristocratic heritage in which Orlando revels. The portraits of Orlando make a subtle but nonetheless denigrating critique of the aristocracy--despite the fact that the figure of Orlando is tied to Sackville-West, Woolf's friend and lover.
The Sackville portraits used as illustrations in Orlando exhibit the morbidity that Woolf detected at Knole in general and in the paintings of its galleries in particular. As she wrote in her diary after her first visit in 1924: "the extremities & indeed the inward parts are gone dead. Ropes fence off half the rooms; the chairs & the pictures look preserved; life has left them" (D2 306). Woolf comments not only on the sense of death that the house and its contents give her, but also their vastness: "You perambulate miles of galleries; skip endless treasures--chairs that Shakespeare might have sat on--tapestries, pictures, floors made of the halves of oaks; & penetrate at length to a round shiny table with a cover laid for one" (D2 306). The contrast between endless objects and their sole owner, Sackville-West's father, becomes even sharper as she finds herself looking out of the window on her train journey home to London:
But its [sz'c] the breeding of Vita's that I took away with me as an impression, carrying her & Knole in my eye as I travelled up with the lower middle classes, through slums. There is Knole, capable of housing all the desperate poor of Judd Street, & with only that one solitary earl in the kernel. (D2 307)
It seems that Woolf took away with her two impressions: Sackville-West's aristocratic distinction and the social inequalities that accompany such a distinction. By selecting outrageous and extravagant Sackville portraits, and incorporating their ridiculous, offensive and decadent properties in her text, Woolf expresses the critical attitude that in her diary moderates the awe that she experienced when she visited Sackville-West at Knole for the first time.
The Sackville portraits provide a material foundation and a direct connection to the Sackvilles, whom Woolf later used in a draft of a 1940 letter to Sackville-West's son, Benedict Nicolson, as a metonymy for the upper classes. In her letter to Nicolson, Woolf distances herself from Roger Fry's statement, "I understand nothing of humanity in the mass," explaining that with the Common Reader, A Room of One's Own and Three Guineas she had done her "best to destroy Sackvilles and Dufferins" (L6 419-20). The illustrations are proof that Woolf's attack on "Sackvilles," meaning the upper classes, was already begun in Orlando. Similarly to how she would use photographs in Three Guineas of men in official garb to expose their dress as preposterous and underpin the analogy she makes between patriarchy and Fascism, Woolf uses Sackville portraits as visual-rhetorical weapons employed against the institution the subjects represent--in Orlando's case, the aristocracy. In Three Guineas, the female narrator asserts that a man in official dress is not to women "a pleasing or an impressive spectacle. He is on the contrary a ridiculous, a barbarous, a displeasing spectacle" (39-40). The same could be said about the pompous, haughty, spoiled aristocrats on exhibition in Orlando. Orlando is proud of his rank and wealth, but petty exaggerations reveal that pride to be pathetic: for example, when in the sepulcher Orlando claims his ancestors are princes, or later, when Orlando sighs that four hundred and seventy-six bedrooms mean nothing to the gypsies, when she has stated earlier in their discussion that the number of bedrooms in her castle is three hundred and sixty-five (137)--the same number of bedrooms (the number of days in a year) that Sackville-West claims Knole has (Knole and the Sackvilles 4). In A Room of One's Own, when the narrator derides the "pathetic devices" that make people feel superior, she cites as examples "wealth, or rank, a straight nose, or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney" (52-53). The implication is similar in Orlando: a fancy painting of one's ancestor is an erroneous source of superiority.
Orlando's Deviation from the Aristocracy: Photographs of Vita Sackville-West
That the illustrations in Orlando deal with Sackville-West's aristocratic background accords with the social awareness that Woolf saw as central to life-writing. In "A Sketch of the Past," Woolf stresses that life-writing must analyze how society, including class, has influence on the subject:
Consider what immense forces society brings to play upon each of us, how that society changes from decade to decade; and also from class to class; well, if we cannot analyse these invisible presences, we know very little of the subject of the memoir; and again how futile life-writing becomes. (80)
While the paintings of Sackville-West's ancestors depict not only Orlando's aristocratic background, but also Sackville-West's, the photographs of Sackville-West on the other hand demonstrate that Orlando's (and Sackville-West's) identity is not completely conditioned by the aristocracy on display in the paintings. Unlike the "preserved" and "dead" paintings from Knole, the photographs of Sackville-West do not originate in the aristocracy. Since the photographs are produced specifically for Orlando, they offer a commentary tailored to Orlando and Sackville-West. That at least two versions of "Orlando on her return to England" were discarded, including one taken in Lenare's studio, suggests the precedence of creative vision in the photographs. Woolf could have chosen paintings of Sackville-West to illustrate Orlando. The portrait by the society portrait painter Philip Alexius de Laszlo de Lombos (1910) would have provided a natural continuation of the aristocratic vein of the Sackville portraits. Woolf instead chose a medium that she could control and which furthermore is considered cheap, modern and egalitarian. With its easy and widespread production, photography as a medium is considered less prestigious than painting as well as an instigator of the "democratization" of portraiture (Tagg 16, 34-59). The lower and more democratic status of photography seems to be echoed in the illustrations' titles, which unlike "Orlando as a Boy" and "Orlando as Ambassador" are written with lower-case letters: "Orlando on her return to England," "Orlando about the year 1840" and "Orlando at the present time."
In the 1920s, many people could not afford to have their portrait painted, but most people could have their photograph taken. Photography is thus not as rooted in social status as painting. Moreover, social indicators are easily and cheaply imitated in photographs, making them more mutable and unreliable. This is exemplified in the photography of Woolf's great-aunt Julia Margaret Cameron, whose subversion of class in the production of her photographs Woolf emphasized:
Boatmen were turned into King Arthur; village girls into Queen Guinevere. Tennyson was wrapped in rugs: Sir Henry Taylor was crowned with tinsel. The parlour-maid sat for her portrait and the guest had to answer the bell ... She cared nothing for the miseries of her sitters nor for their rank. The carpenter and the Crown Prince of Prussia alike must sit as still as stones in the attitudes she chose, in the draperies she arranged, for as long as she wished. ("Julia Margaret Cameron" 6-7)
"Orlando on her return to England" and "Orlando about the year 1840" are especially reminiscent of Cameron's photographs. Woolf turns a present-day aristocrat into an aristocrat of the past rather than a village girl into royalty, or a knight into a pauper, but the act of posing is made explicit. "Orlando on her return to England" deliberately imitates "Orlando as an Ambassador" with Sackville-West's pose and guise, but the photograph appears fraudulent and insincere. According to the narrative, Orlando returns to England during the Reformation, thus with its title, "Orlando on her return to England," the photograph would have to predate the invention of photography. "Orlando on her return to England" was supposedly made to look like a painting by Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680) (Glendinning 205), who painted many of the portraits at Knole (Sackville-West, Knole 41), but it is obviously a photograph. "Orlando about the year 1840" is also anachronistic. It feigns to be a Victorian photograph ("about the year 1840")--but as Victoria Glendinning has observed, Sackville-West does not look "1840 in the least" (205). The clash and clutter of patterns and accessories in Sackville-West's attire correspond to the metaphorical way in which the Victorian period is described in the text, especially in Orlando's vision of the Victoria Memorial as "a conglomeration ... of the most heterogeneous and ill-assorted objects, piled higgledy-piggledy," but the kimono-style top and checkered skirt diverge from what was worn in the Victorian era as well as the bombazine skirt, bassinette, and crinolines that Orlando buys in the narrative (209-13). The pretension of "Orlando on her return to England" and "Orlando about the year 1840" is thus flaunted, dissociating Sackville-West from her aristocratic guise, distancing her from the Sackvilles, and preventing her from becoming conflated with her aristocratic identity. Furthermore, whereas the Sackvilles in the historical portraits are subsumed into one aristocratic type (it is only with this article for example that the true identity of the subject in "Orlando as Ambassador" is revealed), Sackville-West has an indexical presence in the photographs that in her role as a public figure was and is recognizable. In these photographs that imitate the Sackville portraits, but which parade their own artifice, Sackville-West is shown to be not quite like her ancestors and Orlando not uniformly a Sackville-like character. They assert Orlando's aristocratic heritage by emulating the Sackville paintings, but they also mark Orlando and Sackville-West's difference from the aristocracy and the Sackvilles.
Unlike the photographs that show Sackville-West as Orlando in the past, "Orlando at the present time" possesses a snapshot aesthetic with associations of spontaneity, immediacy and intimacy. The photograph appears near the end of the novel, when Orlando is her "single self, a real self" and also the same age as Sackville-West at the time of Orlando's publication. Although Sackville-West is posing, her demeanor and dress are relaxed, and the setting is informal, outside in nature (all characteristics of the snapshots Woolf took privately of friends and family). Among unleashed dogs, wild-growing grass and heavy foliage, Sackville-West seems at ease and content, resting her arm on a rustic gate. Although the "country clothes" that Sackville-West wears do not match the "whipcord breeches and leather jacket" that Orlando changes into "in less than three minutes" in the narrative--the sight of which is claimed to ravish the viewer with "the beauty of movement"--they do not seem different from everyday and everyman's clothes (282). Movement is also apparent in the photograph, not only with the blurry outlines of the dogs rummaging in the grass, but also Sackville-West's walking stick indicates recent activity. This photograph, in which Sackville-West seems to pose as herself, thus seems less stilted, elevated and preserved and more lively, down-to-earth, and free-spirited than the Sackville portraits and the photographs pretending to be from the Restoration and Victorian period.
Read in conjunction with the text, "Orlando at the present time" likely depicts Orlando on the path that leads to the oak tree, Orlando's favorite place on her estate. The photograph can thus be interpreted to show Orlando and Sackville-West as landowners. The photograph, however, was taken at Long Barn, which, unlike Knole, is a house with limited land and not a castle with vast grounds. More importantly, it shows Orlando "in a wood" as Woolf writes in her letter. For nature, and in particular the oak tree, inspired Orlando to write "The Oak Tree," which, like Sackville-West's 1926 poem "The Land" (also a celebration of rural nature), wins a prize. In the narrative, Orlando is described as "a nobleman afflicted by the love of literature," as if literature and nobility are incompatible; he suspects that he "was by birth a writer, rather than an aristocrat"; and his liking for literature translates into "a liking for low company, especially for that of lettered people whose wits so often keep them under, as if there were the sympathy of blood between them" (29). The allusion to pastoral poetry in the photograph thus also distances Orlando from her aristocratic birth, associating her instead with literature, depicted in the text as belonging to the lower classes. In her essay "Lady Dorothy Nevill" (1925), Woolf compares the aristocracy to a cage with bars that limited Nevill's potential; the photographs of Sackville-West depict someone who, if not wholly freed, has at least to some extent roamed outside aristocracy's cage, delving into literature and, in the first two photographs of Sackville-West, yielding to jesting transmutations of her identity.
Gender as Class: Photographs of Vita Sackville-West, Angelica Garnett, and Portrait of an Unknown Man
One obvious way in which Sackville-West differs from her ancestors in the illustrations is her gender. Although Orlando cross-dresses in the text, and Sackville-West was known for her masculine attire, Sackville-West is consistently shown as a woman in women's clothes in the photographs produced for Orlando. In a discussion of whether sex affects identity, the narrator compares "Orlando on her return to England" to "Orlando as Ambassador." First Orlando's portraits are used to "prove" that Orlando's face has remained "practically the same"; later, they are used to reflect "certain changes": "The man has his hand free to seize his sword, the woman must use hers to keep the satins from slipping from her shoulders. The man looks the world full in the face, as if it were made for his uses and fashioned to his liking. The woman takes a sidelong glance at it, full of subtlety, even of suspicion" (171). As already discussed, the faces are in fact not very different, but rather strikingly similar. With female and male portraits that look alike the illustrations construct an androgynous ideal. The "strength of a man and grace of a woman" that characterize Orlando in the text can be detected in both the male and female portraits (126-27). The portraits thus question the strict separation of male and female gender identities, not their essential and inherent nature. Rather than claiming that sexual identity is either irrelevant or constructed, Woolf sets up an androgynous ideal and casts gender difference in relation to status.
Perhaps because the narrator-biographer directly implicates the illustrations in a discussion of gender identity, the connection that the text makes between gender and class, and its relevance to the illustrations, has been overlooked. Returning to England as a woman Orlando reflects:
I shall never be able to crack a man over the head, or tell him he lies in his teeth, or draw my sword and run him through the body, or sit among my peers, or wear a coronet, or walk in procession, or sentence a man to death, or lead an army, or prance down Whitehall on a charger, or wear seventytwo different medals on my breast. (144)
This is a decidedly patrician picture of the male sex: Orlando bemoans that, as a woman, she has lost status and privileges, such as wearing a coronet. It is worth noting that the uproar in Constantinople happens just as Orlando is crowned with a ducal coronet, and that he turns into a woman immediately after he has been robbed of it. Orlando's change to a woman thus also marks a change of class, which anticipates the way in which Woolf casts gender difference as class inequality in Three Guineas, the female narrator addressing the opposite sex:
Your class possesses in its own right and through marriage practically all the capital, all the land, all the valuables, and all the patronage in England. Our class possesses in its own right and not through marriage practically none of the capital, none of the land, none of the valuables, and none of the patronage in England. (33)
Not only does Woolf substitute gender with the word "class," she conceptualizes the difference between the two in terms of wealth (capital, land, valuables, patronage) usually associated with the upper class.
In Orlando, the narrator's gender discussion is centered around women's clothes, and these clothes act as visual metaphors in the illustrations for how Orlando as a woman is "clothed with poverty and ignorance, which are the dark garments of the female sex" (146). On her voyage back to England, Orlando cannot explain to the Captain, who acts as a guardian to her, that she, who has now been "lapped like a lily in folds of paduasoy," had once been a Duke, an Ambassador, had "hacked heads off, and lain with loose women among treasure sacks in the holds of pirate ships" (148). The way Sackville-West is lapped like a lily (or a Lely) in "Orlando on her return to England" is thus contrasted not only to her former masculine identity, but also to the titles and actions of the ruling class. Sackville-West herself felt a victim during the photographic session for "Orlando on her return to England"; as she told Nicolson, she was miserable "draped in an inadequate bit of pink satin with all my clothes slipping off' (qtd. Glendinning 182). She looks equally uncomfortable in "Orlando around the year 1840," propped up and weighed down by an excess of clothes and accessories. Orlando enjoys being a woman, but her dress reflects that there are certain constraints that distance her from her former rank. For example, when she returns to England as a woman her right to her wealth and possessions is contested. In the end Orlando wins her case; Sackville-West, on the other hand, did not as a woman inherit her beloved Knole when her father died in January 1928.
The liberties of cross-dressing described in the text lead Schaffer, with the help of Judith Butler's theory of gender performativity in Gender Trouble, to read the illustrations as masquerades that in their imperfection reveal maleness and femininity to be artificial constructs. However, none of the illustrations shows Orlando cross-dressing. The illustrations instead demonstrate the oppression of dress rather than the liberties of cross-dressing. Only the Archduke is portrayed as cross-dressing in the illustrations, but both he and Curzon's portrait are denounced as aristocratic and repulsive. The portraits of Sasha and Shelmerdine, on the other hand, demonstrate that Orlando is attracted to feminine and not aristocratic types. Although the titles indicate that Sasha is a princess and Shelmerdine an esquire the portraits do not signal their rank, but rather their feminine and childlike qualities. Garnett is a child, although Sasha in the narrative is an adult, and the innocent expression and soft features of the unknown man in the portrait used to illustrate Shelmerdine resonate with the descriptions of Shelmerdine as a "boy (for he was little more)" and as "strange and subtle as a woman" (227). Furthermore, unlike the colossal, dense and solid Sackville portraits, these portraits are modest. The photograph of Garnett is similar to the many photographs that Bell took of Garnett: as a child Garnett's "favourite vice was dressing up," and Bell, like her great-aunt Cameron, favored "quite extravagantly 'artistic' poses" in her photographs (Bell and Garnett 11, 81). The portrait expresses this playful, domestic, dress-up atmosphere, and it also has a homemade quality with paint applied to its foreground and background. The portrait of an unknown man is lightly painted in a soft, demure, and fluid style. The portraits of Sasha, who was modeled on Violet Trefusis, with whom Sackville-West had an affair, and Shelmerdine, based on Sackville-West's husband Nicolson, thus offer an alternative to stale aristocracy with their feminine, childlike qualities and informal aesthetic. There is no illustration in Orlando depicting Woolf, who also attracted Sackville-West, but the portraits used to illustrate Orlando's lovers reflect Woolf's feminine gender and lower class.
Reflections of the Aristocracy and Pauses for Reflection
The illustrations in Orlando serve a function that has been hitherto underappreciated. Using a pictorial strategy similar to the one she would later use in Three Guineas, Woolf utilizes paintings of the Sackvilles to challenge the institution of aristocracy. Changing medium, she uses photography to distinguish Orlando from Sackville-West's ancestors. Thematically, gender is cast as class, thus further distinguishing Orlando from the aristocracy. In the text, the poet Nicholas Greene, whose visit to Orlando's country estate makes Orlando "unaccountably ashamed of the number of his servants and of the splendour of his table" (80), writes a "spirited satire" on his return to London:
It was so done to a turn that no one could doubt that the young Lord who was roasted was Orlando; his most private sayings and doings, his enthusiasms and follies, down to the very colour of his hair and the foreign way he had of rolling his r's, were there to the life. And if there had been any doubt about it, Greene clinched the matter by introducing, with scarcely any disguise, passages from that aristocratic tragedy, the Death of Hercules, which he found as he expected, wordy and bombastic in the extreme. (88-89)
In this mise en abime, the way Greene "roasts" Orlando mirrors Woolf's pictorial treatment of Sackville-West in Orlando. No one can doubt that Orlando is Sackville-West, especially not when the photographs are taken into consideration. Just as Greene incorporates material from Orlando's Death of Hercules, Woolf incorporates material not only from Sackville-West's Knole and the Sackvilles, which also contains a reproduction of Nuie's portrait of Edward and Richard Sackville, but many paintings associated with Knole and the Sackvilles. With her illustrations, Woolf breaches what could have been a self-enclosed, self-contained, autonomous work. Orlando reaches outside itself, beyond the text, establishing a direct material link to the aristocracy, adding a concreteness and pertinence that the narrative alone could not have achieved.
At one point in the novel, when Orlando thinks about Sasha, the mental image of her face suddenly gives way to another of a "shabby man." Orlando is uncertain of the man's identity, but finally concludes: "Not a Nobleman; not one of us ... a poet, I dare say." The narrator describes how these two images, which in Orlando's mind lie on top of each other like lantern slides, cause Orlando to pause, and how these pauses disrupt his life:
But Orlando paused. Memory still held before him the image of a shabby man with big, bright eyes. Still he looked, still he paused. It is these pauses that are our undoing. It is then that sedition enters the fortress and our troops rise in insurrection. Once before he had paused, and love with its horrid rout, its shawms, its cymbals, and its heads with gory locks torn from the shoulders had burst in. (75-76)
The images of Sasha and the shabby poet are connected and united in their power to arrest Orlando's conventional life and ignite in him his twin rebellions of unlicensed love and literary ambition. Like the images that Orlando sees, the illustrations in Orlando function as pauses in the narrative, pauses that interrupt the progression of reading; and like Orlando's pauses, they function as occasions for rebellious reflection. Woolf may have had snobbish tendencies, but the illustrations in Orlando are not just aristocratic portraits to be gleefully and uncritically consumed.
I would like to thank Rebecca Beasley and Laura Marcus for their helpful comments and Robert Sackville-West for showing me around Knole.
Carey, John. The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939. London: Faber, 1992. Print.
Flesher, Erika. "Picturing the Truth in Fiction: Re-visionary Biography and the Illustrative Portraits for Orlando." Virginia Woolf and the Arts. Ed. Diane F. Gillespie and Leslie K. Hankins. New York: Pace University Press, 1997. 39-47. Print.
Gilbert, Sandra M. A Note on the Illustrations. Orlando. By Virginia Woolf. London: Penguin, 1993. xlvii- xlviii. Print.
Gillespie, Diane F. "'Her Kodak Pointed at His Head': Virginia Woolf and Photography." The Multiple Muses of Virginia Woolf Ed. Diane F. Gillespie. Columbia and London: U of Missouri P, 1993. 113-47. Print.
Glendinning, Victoria. Vita: The Life of V. Sackville-West. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1983. Print.
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Humm, Maggie. "Virginia Woolf and Visual Culture." The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf. Ed. Susan Sellers. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. 214-30. Print.
Latham, Sean. "Am I a Snob?" Modernism and the Novel. Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 2003. Print.
Light, Alison. Mrs Woolf and the Servants. London: Fig Tree, 2007. Print.
Marcus, Jane. "'No More Horses': Virginia Woolf on Art and Propaganda." Women's Studies 4.2-3 (1977): 265-89. Print.
McManus, Patricia. "The 'Offensiveness' of Virginia Woolf: From a Moral to a Political Reading." Woolf Studies Annual 14 (2008): 91-123. Print.
Moore, Madeline. The Short Season Between Two Silences. Boston: George Allen and Unwin, 1984. Print.
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Sackville-West, Vita. Knole. London: National Trust, 1954. Print.
--. Knole and the Sackvilles. London: William Heinemann, 1922. Print.
Schaffer, Talia. "Posing Orlando." Sexual Artifice: Persons, Images, Politics. Ed. Ann Kibbey, Kayann Short, and Abouali Farmanfarmaian. New York: New York UP, 1994. 26-63. Print.
Snaith, Anna. Virginia Woolf: Public and Private Negotiations. New York: Macmillan/St. Martin's P, 2000. Print.
Stape, J. H. "'The Man at Worthing' and the Author of 'The Most Insipid Verse She had Ever Read': Two Allusions in Orlando." Virginia Woolf Miscellany 50 (1997): 5-6. Print.
--. Notes. Orlando. By Virginia Woolf. Oxford: Blackwell for the Shakespeare Head Press, 1998. 191-196. Print.
Tagg, John. The Burden of Representation. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1988.
Wood, Alice. Virginia Woolf's Late Cultural Criticism: The Genesis of 'The Years,' 'Three Guineas' and 'Between the Acts.' London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013. Print.
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--. "A Sketch of the Past." Moments of Being: Unpublished Autobiographical Writings of Virginia Woolf. Ed. Jeanne Schulkind. London: Hogarth Press, 1978. 64-137. Print.
--. "Am I a Snob?" Moments of Being: Unpublished Autobiographical Writings of Virginia Woolf Ed. Jeanne Schulkind. London: Hogarth Press, 1978. 18298. Print.
--. The Diary of Virginia Woolf Ed. Anne Olivier Bell and Andrew McNeillie. 5 vols. London: Hogarth Press, 1977. Print.
--. "Julia Margaret Cameron." Victorian Photographs of Famous Men and Fair Women by Julia Margaret Cameron. London: Hogarth Press, 1926. 1-8. Print.
--. "Lady Dorothy Nevill." The Common Reader. London: Hogarth Press, 1925. 248-54. Print.
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(1) Feminist studies have done much to challenge the conception that Woolf was apolitical, mostly through focusing on Woolf's essays, diaries and later works. See, for example, the works by Jane Marcus, Anna Snaith and Alice Wood. Much scholarship on Woolf's class politics has centered on her relationship to the lower classes. John Carey includes Woolf among those modernists who felt threatened by the lower classes; Alison Light writes about Woolf's ambivalent and fraught relationship with her servants; and Alex Zwerdling attributes the absence of the lower classes in Woolf's fiction to her "middle-class guilt" (98).
(2) The first American editions by Harcourt, Brace and Company, and Crosby Gaige were published with no illustration on their jackets.
(3) Virginia Woolf's Monk's House Albums, ca. 1867-1967 (MS Thr 564), Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University, folder 94.
(4) For the distinction between aristocratic and non-aristocratic portraiture see Woodall 1-25.
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|Publication:||Woolf Studies Annual|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2016|
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