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Virginia Woolf and Heritage$
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Jane deGay, Tom Breckin, and Anne Reus

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781942954422

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781942954422.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM LIVERPOOL SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.liverpool.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Liverpool University Press, 2020. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in LSO for personal use.date: 03 June 2020

Sex and Literary History in Orlando

Sex and Literary History in Orlando

(p.128) Sex and Literary History in Orlando
Virginia Woolf and Heritage

Gaura Narayan

Liverpool University Press

My paper examines Virginia Woolf's review of British history and literary heritage in Orlando (1828) which was published in the context of the scandal created by Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness. I ask if Woolf's lightness of touch is a response to the maelstrom generated by Hall's novel which had powerful figures like Stanley Baldwin, Winston Churchill, and Sir William Joynson-Hicks work to supress it so as to prevent the injurious spread of lesbianism. A few years later, in 1931, Freud published his essay on "Female Sexuality" which theorized lesbianism as the inability of the woman to move to sexual maturation. In this context it is significant that Woolf's novel plays with notions of gender fluidity and queer sexuality only to seemingly abandon them at narrative's end. Her narrative choices recall Coleridge's "Christabel" (1816) which is entirely fitting given Woolf's remark about Coleridge and the androgynous mind in A Room of One's Own. Coleridge's poem places non-normative female sexuality in a Gothic narrative and deploys notions of demonicity to occult it. The poem forces its reader to ask two key questions: Is Geraldine a demon? Do women have sex with each other? Affirmative answers to these questions dovetail into a single anxiety that the narrative end of the poem resolves by triagulating the erotic relationship and setting aside queer sexuality. My paper considers the ideologies that control both narratives as both texts allow space for so-called deviance and both texts also contain these radical spaces forcing a return to so-called normalcy.

Keywords:   Gender, Literary history, Sexuality, Narrative, Androgyny, Femininity, Masculinity

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