Quick and Queer: Love-Life-Writing in Orlando and Affinity
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At first glance, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography (1928) and Sarah Waters’s Affinity (1999) seem to be very different kinds of novel growing out of different social, cultural and political contexts, yet both quite radically revise generic form in order to represent women’s same-sex desire. Woolf’s novel adopts a highly experimental modernist approach in the creation of a fantastical mock biography of her age-defying, time-travelling, sex-changing and gender-shifting character. Waters’s Victorian pastiche is a historical narrative of failed lesbian love and the delusional effects of desire which subversively displaces the usual heterosexual plot of historical romance. Like Orlando, Affinity is generically hybrid and literally double voiced; it foregrounds double vision and thematic duplicity as well as a self-consciousness about the writing process itself. Kym Brindle’s analysis of the ‘double and double-crossed chain of communication’ resulting from the narrative entanglement of the double diary form with secret, invisible letters elucidates this effectively. As Mark Llewellyn suggests, Waters ‘[i]nterpolat[es] a twentieth/twenty-first century reader’s knowingness into her text’ in order to ‘extend the boundaries of the historical tale she is telling’. Critics also attribute Orlando’s wider readership to Woolf’s adoption of the tropes of historical romance and consider the ways that she too rewrites the romance to extend sexual boundaries. In particular, it is the versions of gender and sexuality norms and expectations specifically consolidated and rigorously policed in the mid to late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that the two novels challenge. In Heather Love’s exploration of queer experience in the past, she recognises the literary texts produced in this period as ‘visibly marked by queer suffering […] register[ing] these authors’ painful negotiation of the coming of modern homosexuality’. While Love’s work focuses specifically on male experience, the damaging impact of homophobia and Victorian gender norms her study exposes is also clearly registered in Woolf’s and Waters’s narratives.
Simpson, K. (2016) 'Quick and Queer: Love-Life-Writing in Orlando and Affinity'. In: Jones, A., O'Callaghan, C. (eds). Sarah Waters and Contemporary Feminisms. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.43-59.
Chapter in Sarah Waters and Contemporary Feminisms (2016).
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