Manuscript of Orlando
Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
Virginia Woolf (1882–1941) is widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century, and Orlando (1928) one of the most remarkable novels. It tells the story of a time-travelling, gender- changing poet over a period of 400 years, and brought her even greater acclaim than she had previously enjoyed. The bound manuscript, written in purple ink over 286 pages, was sent to Woolf’s lover Vita Sackville-West (1892–1962), and the inside cover is simply inscribed ‘Vita from Virginia Dec. 6th 1928’. The novel was actually inspired by Vita, her aristocratic family and their family home at Knole in Kent. Although Vita was largely unaware of the novel’s narrative before its publication, she later recalled that she read it with ‘unparalleled … curiosity’, describing the manuscript as ‘one of her most treasured possessions’. The page shown here illustrates Woolf’s sprawling handwriting with a description of the book: ‘A Biography. This is to tell a person[’s?] life from the year 1500 to 1928 changing its sex. Taking different aspects of the character in different centuries. The theory being that character goes on underground before we are born & leaves something afterwards also.’
Manuscript copy of Virginia Woolf's Orlando given to Vita Sackville-West in December 1928. Written in blue ink on recto only of unlined paper, with red ruled margins and punched holes for filing with revisions in the text and margins. Folio  has in Woolf's hand "Suggestions for short pieces", dated Oct. 8th 1927. This begins "A biography This is to tell a persons [sic] life from the year 1500 to 1928. / Changing its sex. / Taking a different aspect of the character in different centuries: the theory being that character goes on underground before we are born; and leaves something afterwards also./ A poem .../ Moments of being/ Something comic." With dates of composition in the margins. Ends March 17th 1928
 leaves;. 28 cm. Provenance: inscribed "Vita from Virginia Dec 6th 1928" [i.e. from Virginia Woolf to Vita Sackville-West]. Binding: bound in twentieth-century full calf, sewn onto five raised bands; double gold fillets and small shell-like cornerpieces; brown marbled endpapers. Spine title: Orlando MS. The whole within a phase box, spine title: Orlando.
Presented by the author to Vita Sackville-West, 1928; bequeathed by Vita Sackville-West to the National Trust, 1962.
Makers and roles
Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), author
Modern Couples, Barbican Centre, London, 2018 - 2019
Alison and Malissard 2018: Jane Alison and Coralie Malissard (eds), Modern couples: art, intimacy and the avant garde (exh. cat.), Prestel, 2019.