Note: I remove works cited pages to impede plagiarism attempts.
irginia Woolf’s relationship with the work of John Milton was a sordid and tumultuous one. In her early life, Woolf saw Milton as an author of transcendent quality, yet she later identified “Milton’s Bogey” (his sexism), and this reading remains one of the major, most-anthologized 20th century critical reflections on Milton’s work. Much scholarship explores the relationship between Milton’s literary heritage and Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, particularly in Woolf’s ambition to find “Shakespeare’s sister.” Though Woolf never seeks Milton’s sister, perhaps due to her conflicted feelings on the simultaneously androgynous and deeply gendered poetics of Paradise Lost, the general move is reflective of Woolf’s desire to go back to history to find female writers who were silenced by patriarchal literary practice. Woolf’s historical fiction project is a markedly imaginative and fantastical one, that at the same time pursues the traditional goals of Nineteenth Century historical fiction. Woolf endeavors to retrospectively construct a nation of diaspora women writers residing in the liminal area of recognized history. Her historical fiction project in many ways reflects Milton’s own of retrospective national salvation from the history of victorious monarchy (or patriarchy, in Woolf’s case). Given this similarity in project, and indeed the active role Milton played in Woolf’s understanding of suppressed female authorship, surprisingly little scholarship has been done on Woolf’s Orlando with regards to this general desire to go to history to find, create, and highlight feminine authorial presence, and the Miltonic influence on Woolf’s gender-fluid, trans-historical work of historical fiction only appears in passing reference in studies of the novel.
The peculiarity of the climactic scene in which Woolf’s titular character changes from man to woman is keenly in dialogue with Miltonic precedent and shows Woolf’s interest in historical, literary revision through referential imagery and language. In Orlando, and specifically in this climactic scene, Woolf shows us not Shakespeare’s sister, but Eve’s. Orlando’s birth as a woman is strikingly mirrored to Eve’s own, yet Woolf represents it in reciprocal terms. The distinction between Satanic, Human, and Angelic that is so fundamental to Milton’s gender politics is fractured in a mock Satanic council scene with three “angels,” the only genderless figures in Milton’s epic, and Woolf casts Orlando in a keenly Satanic light in differentiating her significantly from Eve, “our mother” (PL XII). The significance of Woolf’s inheritance, mirroring, and flipping of Miltonic gender politics in the climax of Orlando is not only one of reference, but the manifestations and inversions of Milton in Orlando flesh out the subtle nuances of Woolf’s envisioned historical fiction project. While the text of Orlando is markedly fantastical, the imagistic basis of the climactic scene is one that seeks revision over radical imaginative creation as several critics suggest. Imagination is surely the avenue through which Woolf seeks this project, but the fundamental project, as exemplified in the climactic gender-swapping scene in Orlando, is for historical and literary revision towards the creation of new, contemporary spaces for literature—a space where Milton’s bogey has been corrected, and true genderless authorial presence is achievable. Thus, Orlando is not a hegemonically imaginative text that breaks from literary tradition towards the creation of something entirely new. Instead, as throughout her career, Woolf constructs a new literary space in dialectical synthesis with past literary trends and tropes—making the text as much a literary, historical one as an imaginative one.
Critical responses to Orlando have increased in recent years in the wake of Virginia Woolf’s rise to prominence in the literary space of second and third wave feminism, and much of the critical responses have been explorations of Orlando’s imaginative thrust. Jane De Gay, for example, argued that Orlando represented a feminist historiography, a reading central to my own, but De Gay argues for the hegemony of imagination in that historical project. De Gay concludes of the novel, “By placing Woolf ‘s feminist historiography in the tradition of Pater and Lee, we can see why Woolf made her fullest and most sustained attempt to rewrite history in Orlando rather than in a nonfictional work: for Woolf, the imagination provided the only satisfactory medium for embracing the lost past” (De Gay 71). De Gay seats Woolf’s project in Victorian essayists Pater and Lee (as well as Ruskin), whose influence in Orlando are certainly less noticeable than Milton, Shakespeare, and other early modern authors at large. De Gay is right, though, that Orlando is Woolf’s most sustained attempt to fulfill the aims of A Room of One’s Own. De Gay’s suggestion of imagination as “the only satisfactory medium” for doing that seems to diminish the literary, historical threads she seeks in Victorian literary circles, though, and Woolf in Orlando has higher ambitions outside of merely embracing or coming to terms with history. Woolf’s task, whether in dialogue with Victorian gender politics and patriarchal publication practices or with the literary ancestry of Milton’s gendered authorship, is to revise. Orlando does not so easily resist non-fictional themes and motifs even in its radical fantasy and magical realism, as much of the text, through its narrator and through the specifically chosen historical chronotopes at work in the novel, partakes in a significant literary critical task that is not in opposition to Woolf’s imaginative framework. Rather, Woolf’s historical revision of literary precedent is the major catalyst in deciphering the imaginative climactic sequence, and indeed, Woolf’s rendering of Miltonic precedence in her prose criticism often engages with the limitations such precedent puts on the literary imagination.
Several Milton critics have keyed in on Virginia Woolf’s readings of Paradise Lost as sexist, emotionally vapid, yet uniquely powerful in their summaries of the major feminist responses to Milton’s work in the 20th century. John Rogers, for example, in a lecture on the power of Milton suggested that, “For Virginia Woolf, especially in A Room of One’s Own, the dead writer Milton exercises an active power at the present moment as he forces his female readers to accept their subordinate place in society; and the text of Milton, and especially of Paradise Lost, therefore has to be seen as an active, persistently malignant conveyor of patriarchal oppression” (Rogers). The activity of Milton’s legacy on Woolf as described by Rogers is key, as Woolf’s utilization of Milton’s gender legacy in literature does reckon its authority and traction in literary circles of her era. Woolf does not attempt to transcend this legacy but directly interacts with it for the purpose of counteracting it through counterexample. Milton, through his characters and his assumption of a male perspective of feminine virtue and experience, enforces a “malignant,” patriarchal authority on Woolf. When Woolf inverts and confuses this gender hierarchy and point of view, it is certainly imaginative but the main engine behind Woolf’s historical project is a revision of literary history, not the invention of totally new perspectives. Reckoning Milton’s power, Woolf instead replaces, challenges, and inverts it—creating a profoundly dialectical and specifically historical product in doing so.
Woolf’s complicated, ever-changing interaction with Milton’s Paradise Lost underlines the way Orlando moves dialectically with Milton’s projec. One of Woolf’s chief problems with the patriarchal system of literature that had existed up to her point, and which arguably still exists, was that male authors were assumed to be telling a story from a male perspective. In an early essay in Vogue in 1924, the young Woolf identified Milton as one of the rare authors capable of circumventing this practice:“[These writers] however, are all of a simple character; the men have been supposed to remain men, the women women when they write. They have exerted the influence of their sex directly and normally. But there is a class which keeps itself aloof from any such contamination. Milton is their leader; with him are Landor, Sappho, Sir Thomas Browne, Marvell” (“Indiscretions”). Woolf interestingly finds many of her authors in the Early Modern period and its classical ancestors, most notably Sappho (who was the subject of many anthologized early modern poems.) Even the lesbian Sappho and the gender-bending Marvell are subservient, for Woolf, to Milton in their ability to challenge fixed patriarchal gender personas. Yet, diary evidence suggests that at this point in her life, Woolf had not read Paradise Lost, at least not with the attention she would later, and was probably referring to Milton’s earlier work, most notably Comus. In Comus, Milton does afford the character of the lady greater mental fortitude than her foolhardy brothers, yet the masque still revolves around the preeminence of feminine virginity in the construction of their virtue—a question central to the three ladies that appear later in Orlando.
Nevertheless, something that Woolf read in Milton’s early body of work denoted a sexless, gender-fluid voice, leading her to read him favorably. Woolf continues, “Feminists or anti-feminists, passionate or cold—whatever the romances or adventures of their private lives not a whiff of that mist attaches itself to their writing. It is pure, uncontaminated, sexless as the angels are said to be sexless.” Critics have long read Milton’s angels in Paradise Lost as androgynous and gender-bending, and indeed the water-spirit in Comus shares many of their qualities. This distinction, though, between feminist novels and positive, gender-fluid authorship is critical specifically in readings of Orlando. While the book ostensibly avoids explicit feminist advocacy (though one needn’t look far behind the page to find it), it does forge characters that quite literally defy authorial gender persona. Orlando floats from one gender to another rather passively, and the narrator at most proffers normative gender commentary on Orlando’s actions and development. In many ways Orlando takes up this project Woolf in her early life identified with Milton—the creation of authentic personas not tied to authorial gender, while avoiding the necessity of political polemic. Orlando the character does exactly this in their navigation of both the persona of a man and woman, and the vaguely gendered narrator does little to limit Woolf’s creation of a plurality of gender personas within the text. Thus, the project of Orlando’s gender-fluidity is rooted not in imaginative transcendence away from patriarchal literary norms towards a total rewriting, but a dialectical synthesis from the better manifestations of that norm. Woolf admires Milton’s project, at least in her early life, and seeks in Orlando to fulfill its true potential. Four years before she wrote Orlando, Woolf saw Milton as the leader of a sexless prose. But as she read more of his work and reflected more on it the lectures and journals that construct A Room of One’s Own, her reading of Milton changed significantly in the months and year surrounding Orlando’s authorship.
Woolf’s commentary on Milton in A Room of One’s Own is her most anthologized reaction to the text, but in the context of “Indiscretions,” there is a great deal of nuance to Woolf’s description of “Milton’s Bogey.” The language surrounding her famous designation is significant for Woolf’s vision of historical fiction, and the bodily imagery she associates with it. Woolf begins with a series of conditional statements: “For my belief is that if we live another century or so—I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals—and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think-” (A Room of One’s Own). Woolf, not unlike Scott, Cooper, and the other practitioners of the genre of Nineteenth Century Historical Fiction, centers her vision for literary change on a notion of progress built fundamentally into time. Woolf also advocates for a Lukacsian “common experience” as the catalyst for her new writer. Those new, authentically common writers, unafraid to write their mind and in a literary room of their own construction, need time and numbers to work their change. It is a markedly utilitarian and active construction. Woolf does not render an idealistic destruction of literary precedent with the publication of a single book or a single, imaginative revelation on the page. Instead, the breaking of patriarchal persona norms requires hundreds of years and hundreds of rooms. Orlando, published a year before A Room of One’s Own but very much contemporary with the compilation and construction of Woolf’s most famous text, navigates the inherent problem suggested in Woolf’s historical imagery. Woolf herself can never see the product of her labors in a room of her own. But Orlando, a transhistorical, gender-fluid author across time and space, may explore the progress or lack thereof of this literary project. Thus, while the imaginative project enables Woolf’s literary eye to explore the scope of her historical project, what she looks for and how she constructs each chronotope Orlando occupies is fundamentally in relationship with a historical and contemporary literary purpose.
Woolf’s description of Milton’s bogey takes this greater historical concern and seats it provocatively, for readers of Orlando, in the body. Woolf continues,
“if we . . . see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; if we look past Milton’s bogey, for no human being should shut out the view; if we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down (A Room of One’s Own).
For Woolf there is an overarching “Truth” behind the world of “men and women,” and it is constructed in the human being’s relationship to all things. It is an unwieldy notion, but in the context of “Indiscretions” and her invocation of Milton’s unnamed through assumed “bogey,” this reality is an androgynous one in which true expression, free of the shackles of gender, occurs. Importantly, though, Woolf does not attempt or hope to transcend reality even in this wide-sweeping vision of literature after those hundreds of years and hundreds of singular authorial rooms. The end of this process is the assumption of the feminine body by women authors. Woolf does not reject physicality or envision a realm of mutual access and tolerance. Instead, Woolf wishes for the woman author to be able to assume her physical form. “Milton’s bogey,” for Woolf, is the way he constructs Eve’s physical, inborn inferiority. Eve, by her very creation from the rib of Adam, is dependent, weak, and limited. This delineation of Milton’s bogey as a keenly physical one is telling to the nature of Orlando’s gender switch. While it challenges Miltonic precedence, it also does not revolutionize or imagine a transcendent solution. Woolf, for better or for worse, revises Milton’s vision such that it achieves what Woolf originally read in Milton—an author of genderless prose, rather than an author of feminist prose.
This dilemma, and Woolf’s ultimate inability in Orlando to achieve the kind of imaginative rewriting of dominant gender discourses critics like De Gay seek in the novel, is partly a product of the source rhetoric and text (chiefly, Paradise Lost) that Woolf works within in the novel. Joseph Wittreich classifies Paradise Lost as partaking in a centuries-spanning search for a synthetic, transcendent truth, writing that Paradise Lost is “the quintessence of everything the Romantics most admired . . . the Knower moved by truth alone” (Wittreich 99). Wittreich’s language is markedly similar to Woolf’s own rendering of a reality-spanning truth behind all genders, and critics have long identified capital-T Truth as a major catalyst in Milton’s epic. Woolf adheres to this romantic notion of an identifiable truth behind all social phrases and genders, the kind of truth she outlines in A Room of One’s Own. While Woolf endeavors to revise Milton’s truth, she as an author still adheres to Milton’s general enlightenment thought system. Thus, while Woolf is progressively and actively revising Milton gender politics, in that process of revision there is a significant dialectical limitation placed on her imaginative project—leaving the text unable to reach a radical androgyny or a polemic feminist advocacy.
Woolf’s relationship with Milton was a conflicted one that began with praise before eventually landing in condemnation and a literary ambition to revise his representation of failed feminine physicality. Yet in the wake of A Room of One’s Own, Woolf wrote in her diary of Paradise Lost that, “The substance of Milton is all made of wonderful, beautiful, and masterly descriptions of angels’ bodies, battles, flights, dwelling places. He deals in horror and immensity and squalor and sublimity but never in the passions of the human heart” (Woolf “A Writer’s Diary”). Woolf again focuses in on Angels, the only true androgynous figures in Paradise Lost (along with, provocatively, Satan). Milton’s place and scope is without comparison for Woolf, yet his one true weakness as identified here is his failure to relay human passions and emotions in a meaningful or moving way. It is interesting, then, that Orlando’s titular character and its humorously ambivalent narrator do not seek to do this either. What Woolf identified as Milton’s chief literary failing in her private readings of the epic is not something she wishes to revise in Orlando. Instead, her revisional, historical project focuses in on “Milton’s bogey,” the exclusivity he affords the angelic androgyny that Woolf originally admired in her earliest readings of Milton’s prose and poetry. Woolf’s imaginative project in Orlando is not to transcend literary precedent or write new, hidden narratives—but rather to generalize Milton’s genderless prose to a character of Eve’s significance, one who could exist across the centuries Woolf knew were needed to undo Milton’s bogey. Thus, revision and not imagination constitute the major catalyst in Orlando’s transformation. Woolf is in many ways tied to literary precedent to a detrimental degree as Farwell denotes, yet her project is nonetheless specifically historical and literary.
The striking similarities between the three ladies of Purity, Chastity, and Modesty in Orlando and Milton’s three devils in the famous council scene in Book II of Paradise Lost is striking, and underlines the keenly Miltonic tenor of Woolf’s climactic enactment of the ideology of A Room of One’s Own. The transition sequence is inaugurated by a parade of the three ladies (“the lady,” it’s worth noting, is the central character in Milton’s Comus), beginning with Lady Purity: “First, comes our Lady of Purity; whose brows are bound with fillets of the whitest lamb’s wool; whose hair is as an avalanche of the driven snow; and in whose hand reposes the white quill of a virgin goose” (Orlando). The Lady of Purity is described with the most visual specificity, yet her most meaningful imagistic quality is the quill made of a wirgin goose feather that she holds. Purity, the quality of Milton’s Lady in Comus, and indeed the quality of Adam and Eve before their Satanic corruption, is represented chiefly as a textual construction. Like Adam and Eve, the Lady of Purity writes fictions and endeavors to bring Orlando back to her written realm. Belial, the first devil to speak in Book II’s council scene, is described in a very similar manner. Milton writes of the authorial devil, “Belial, in act more graceful and humane; / A fairer person lost not Heav’n; he seemd For dignity compos’d and high exploit: / But all was false and hollow; though his Tongue Dropt Manna, and could make the worse appear / The better reason, to perplex and dash / Maturest Counsels: for his thoughts were low” (PL II ll. 109-119). Belial is the most beautiful demon of heaven next to Satan as Milton describes him, much in-line with Woolf’s description of Purity’s sumptuous material appearance. Milton’s description of his rhetoric as “dropt manna” in front of poisonous deceit is evoked by Woolf’s subtle, brief placement of the virgin goose feather pen in the Lady of Purity’s hand. For Milton the main ironizing element of the beautiful Belial’s undercover deceit is rhetoric—the failed rhetoric of long and rump parliament. For Woolf, the irony of Lady Purity’s lack thereof is the literary heritage behind the pursuit of her name by Milton and others. The virginity of “the lady” in Comus, and Eve’s carnal lust in Paradise Lost is that which constitutes the deception behind Woolf’s inverted demon. Yet, the central imagery of the characters is shared: ostensible outer beauty hides the active proliferation of corruption. Woolf, in her diary and in “Indiscretions,” is quick to highlight the aesthetic quality of Milton’s writing, yet there is always that bogey, here the early modern power of virginity, wielded in the hands of a mock Belial. The beginning of the gender transition sequence thus illustrates the active revision Woolf pursues in her interaction with Miltonic precedence.
The Lady of Chastity and Milton’s Mammon are next in the mock council scene, and Woolf’s use of a shared rhetoric of fire, ice, and emotional paralysis denotes the provocative inversion Woolf constructs in her own council scene. Lady Chastity asserts her intention that “Rather than let Orlando wake, I will freeze him to the bone. Spare, O spare!’”(Orlando). Satan’s devils are famously resuscitated from their squalor in the flaming pits of hell by Satan’s call to “awake, arise, or be forever fallen” (PL I. ll 330). Here, Woolf constructs Orlando’s sleep as something the ladies would see preserved. They would counter her fire with frost. Mammon argues for the status quo as well, but as before, the imagery is flipped in Woolf’s revision. Mammon asserts that, “Our torments also may in length of time Become our Elements, these piercing Fires / As soft as now severe, our temper chang’d / Into their temper; which must needs remove / The sensible of pain” (PL II ll. 274-8). Mammon makes an argument for paralysis just as the Lady of Chastity does, but rather than quenching flame with its antithesis, he argues that fire will become their base nature—that the elements will conform to their presence. This is where the connection between Miltonic devil and Woolfian lady becomes complex, as the devils and angels in Paradise Lost are the only truly androgynous figures in the text. They are what Woolf admired most about Milton’s writing: sexless. In the gendered enactment of the council scene in Woolf’s novel, the Lady of Chastity serves not as a reference or mirror to Milton’s devils but rather the angelic and heavenly as described in Paradise Lost. Lady Chastity seeks to stop Orlando from awaking, and wishes to quelch any fire occurring within Orlando. Mammon delivers the ostensible argument being made in Orlando, that the elements adjust to Orlando’s change, but Woolf is still working on the imagistic and sentence level in reciprocals to Milton’s precedent. Where Belial and Lady Purity perform the same function with different variables, Chastity and Mammon perform inverted functions.
The Lady of Modesty continues Woolf’s complication of Milton’s division between devil, angel, and woman. She enters:“Close behind her, sheltering indeed in the shadow of her more stately sisters, comes our Lady of Modesty, frailest and fairest of the three; whose face is only shown as the young moon shows when it is thin and sickle shaped and half hidden among clouds” (Woolf). The lunar imagery here must certainly be a reference to Satan, who is consistently associated not only with the moon but specifically the crescent moon, which adorns his shield throughout Paradise Lost. Yet, the imagery is also in dialogue with the third devil, Beezlebub, who is portrayed in markedly similar ways. Milton writes of the last devil, “Thus Beelzebub / Pleaded his devilish Counsel, first devis’d / By Satan, and in part propos’d: for whence, / But from the Author of all ill could Spring / So deep a malice, to confound the race / Of mankind in one root, and Earth with Hell” (PL II ll. 377-385). Woolf’s construction seems an imagistic enactment of the dynamic Milton highlights—Beelzebub is only a mouthpiece of Satan’s greater plan just as Modesty only exists in the context of her more “stately” sisters. Modesty’s destination after being vanquished is the least censured one by Woolf (a cozy domestic realm), and here, given the context of her invocation of Milton, Woolf seems to have the least venom for the Lady of Modesty. Beelzebub is a product of his society in Milton’s construction, a mute avenue for Satan’s lunar message, and Modesty is rendered much the same. The pen of Lady Purity and the quenching frigidity of Lady Chastity are more threatening in Woolf’s revision of Milton’s demonic council.
Thus in each case Woolf is working with Milton’s precedent in her mock tripartite council scene to revise the limitations of Milton’s gender politics. Purity writes poisonous lies behind aesthetic beauty like Belial (and, arguably, Milton), Chastity seeks to maintain the status quo like Mammon, though in markedly different ways. Modesty, the least censured of the three by Woolf, is overshadowed and enhanced by her more significant sisters, much like Milton’s Beezlebub. The similarity is not merely of reference, as it underscores Woolf’s historical fiction project at work in Orlando. Like many of her fellow genre practitioners, Woolf’s project is a relatively moderate one; she works within Miltonic literary heritage, incorporating what is beneficial (angelic androgyny) and rejecting what is not (the literary, social power of virginity and chastity). The process, though, is not notable for its imagination, but rather its specific political, historical, and literary roots
The exit of the sisters is also in dialogue with the previously outlined Miltonic focus on overarching truth, as they fearfully reject what truth Orlando may discover now that she, like Satan, has awakened. Woolf writes of the ladies, “With gestures of grief and lamentation the three sisters now join hands and dance slowly, tossing their veils and singing as they go:‘Truth come not out from your horrid den. Hide deeper, fearful Truth. For you flaunt in the brutal gaze of the sun things that were better unknown and undone; you unveil the shameful; the dark you make clear, Hide! Hide! Hide!’ Here they make as if to cover Orlando with their draperies.” (Orlando). The play on dark and light must recall Milton and his invocation to light, particularly given the Miltonically inflected language of the sisters up to this point. As before, Woolf revises and incorporates Milton’s rhetoric. Light is the universal good in Milton’s Paradise Lost, that which Milton is denied and that which he strives so sincerely to find through the text of Paradise Lost itself. Woolf had previously associated the androgynous Orlando as sitting at the nexus point between demonic and angelic through the language of the sisters, but here Orlando is the source for that light which Milton ascribes only to the Christian God in hsi epic. Woolf is less interested in the difference between demonic and angelic, and more in that sexless characterization she so praised in “Indiscretions” and in her diary. Orlando in her moment of transition is a figure that rejects Milton’s bogey and his characterization of Eve. She is a woman, made of man (her past), who is fundamentally unaltered in the transition. Woolf’s authorial gender is fluid as is Orlando’s, and the Miltonic build up to this watershed attempt to identify the “reality” Woolf highlighted in A Room of One’s Own accentuates Woolf’s synthesis. Created in dialectical rejection and incorporation from Milton, Woolf proffers a revised, tempered vision of the feminine writer recoverable only through the process of historical literature grounded in literary precedent.
Orlando as a revised Eve is underscored as the sisters make their final exit. Like God in Eden in Paradise Lost, the sisters attempt to clothe Orlando’s naked form:“and Chastity, Purity, and Modesty, inspired, no doubt, by Curiosity, peeped in at the door and threw a garment like a towel at the naked form which, unfortunately, fell short by several inches.” Clothing in Paradise Lost is Milton’s metaphor for civilized existence, from wild, sexual Edenic experience to pastured gardens and a division of labor between Adam and Eve. In Paradise Lost, of course, both Adam and Eve ascent to wearing clothes, though they reflect on how unnatural they are. In Woolf’s revision, the clothes thrown by the Ladies miss, leaving Orlando naked and, in the Miltonic sense, natural. In her moment of birth Orlando is afforded what Eve is not—the endurance of her wild, natural self; her “real” self. In their failure, the spirits, “retire in haste, waving their draperies over their heads, as if to shut out something that they dare not look upon.” Milton’s bogey was something “no human being should shut out” (A Room of One’s Own), and Orlando, Woolf’s great revision of that bogey, is something the agents of literary and patriarchal authority dare not look upon. Woolf’s last inversion of the mock Satanic council sequence is one of vision—Woolf urges her reader not to look away from Milton’s bogey through a remarkably revised and rehashed vision of Milton’s gender politics.
In Orlando, Virginia Woolf struggles with the task of achieving her project for authorial liberation and authentic realism outlined in A Room of One’s Own in her historical fiction project. Rather than a hegemonically imaginative creation of the untold and uncovered female authorial persona, Orlando is in its central scene pulling more on specifically historical Miltonic precedent in its attempt to create new literary spaces. This dialectical relationship between thesis and antithesis in the work creates a tenuous, at times moderate rendering of masculinity as still normative as several contemporary readers and critics note. In her reenactment of Milton’s chief “bogey” in Eve’s character in Orlando, Woolf endeavors to achieve a revision of Miltonic precedence rather than a total rewriting of that heritage. Woolf delivers us a revised Eve that is liberated from Milton’s gender politics, who values her autonomy before her use to masculine culture, and who at the same time seeks Miltonic truth and light in her own authentic way.