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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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Queer Elizabeth: Early/Modern Feeling in Orlando and Elizabeth and Essex

Queer Elizabeth: Early/Modern Feeling in Orlando and Elizabeth and Essex

(p.134) Queer Elizabeth: Early/Modern Feeling in Orlando and Elizabeth and Essex
Virginia Woolf and Heritage

Matthew Clarke

Liverpool University Press

In the Elizabethan section of Orlando (1928), Virginia Woolf observes that “everything was different” in the age of Queen Elizabeth. The “strangeness” of the early modern is a consistent theme in Woolf’s writing, and one that is especially marked in her representations of Queen Elizabeth herself. My paper considers this aspect of Woolf’s work in relation to her friendship with Lytton Strachey, and his biography Elizabeth and Essex, also published in 1928. In that work, as in Orlando, Elizabeth is depicted variously as repulsive, lascivious, and “strange.” For Woolf and Strachey though, this was also part of what they found most compelling about her. In both works, I argue, Elizabeth comes to figure as a symbol of queerness, whose expressions of love, desire, and sexuality resonated with, and evoked the sexual transgressions and experiments of modernity. Those expressions speak to the long history of queerness, but also the queerness of history itself—how the phantoms of England’s past continue to resurface in the present.

Keywords:   Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Orlando, Elizabeth and Essex, Queen Elizabeth, early modern, queer

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