Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Written by a feminist (Virginia Woolf), for a bisexual (Vita Sackville-West), about an androgyne (Orlando), the novel Orlando would seem to be the quintessential feminist text. And that, indeed, is what it is in danger of becoming, just as Woolf is in danger of becoming the acclaimed Mother of Us All. In promoting Virginia Woolf's Orlando as a feminist work, feminist critics have picked the right text, but for the wrong reasons. Orlando works as a feminist text not because of what it says about sexual identity but because of what it manages not to say; not because of what it reveals about the relation between the sexes but because of what it does to that relation; not because its protagonist is androgynous but because its discourse is duplicitous. With its eponymous character who changes from a man to a woman halfway through the novel, with its capricious narrator who at times speaks in the character of Orlando's male biographer and at others sounds suspiciously like Orlando's female author, this novel assumes what Jane Gallop calls a "double discourse." This double discourse is one that is oscillating and open, one that "asserts and then questions," "a text that alternately quotes and comments, exercises and critiques." By drawing on the Lacanian readings of Jane Gallop and Shoshana Felman, I want to offer a reading of Orlando that will explore its functioning as a feminist text and that will expose many feminist critics' appropriation of it.


From Discontented Discourses: Feminism/Textual Intervention/Psychoanalysis. Copyright 1989 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Used with permission of the University of Illinois Press. This material, in whole or in part, cannot be reproduced, photocopied, posted online, or distributed in any way without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.