Sunday, February 10, 2013


Virginia Woolf's Orlando is at once an extended love letter to former flame Vita Sackville West and an autobiography of Woolf's creative process. Before publishing the book in 1928, Woolf wrote to West: "Suppose theres the kind of shimmer of reality which somtimes attaches to my people as the lustre of an oyster shell. Suppose you say, that next October, there's V gone and written a book about Vita, shall you mind? Say yes or no."
One of the scenes that lingers after reading is Woolf's conjuring of London's Great Frost. It's right before Orlando meets her soon-to-be lover Sasha on the Thames--I can't help but wonder if Woolf was intentionally asking us to make the parallel between literature's other great skating meet-cute, Kitty and Levin at the Zoological gardens. It's a melancholy parallel if so, given Sasha and Orlando's split, which the novel treats as the hero/heroine's great despair over the next 300 pages and (400 years). Below, is a PBS animation of the GF scene, aired in the late 70's.

"The Great Frost was, historians tell us, the most severe that has ever visited these islands. Birds froze in mid-air and fell like stones to the ground. At Norwich a young countrywoman started to cross the road in her usual robust health and was seen by the onlookers to turn visibly to powder and be blown in a puff of dust over the rood as the icy blast struck her at the street corner.... It was no uncommon sight to come upon a whole herd of swine frozen immovable on the road. The fields were full of shepherds, ploughmen, teams of horses, and little bird scaring boys all struck stark in the act of the moment, one with his hand to his nose, another with the bottle to his lips, a third with a stone raised to throw at the raven who sat, as if stuffed, upon a hedge within a yard of him. The severity of the frost was so extraordinary that a kind of petrification sometime ensued. " P. 34 Orlando