The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

In the late 1500’s, Orlando, a young nobleman from an ancient British family, dedicates himself to literature. He encounters William Shakespeare and is appointed by Queen Elizabeth to be her companion. In London, he falls in love with a mysterious Russian beauty who soon abandons him. Devastated, he turns to poetry, but when one of his tragedies is ridiculed publicly by a London poet, Orlando retreats to his family’s magnificent estate and burns all of his poems except one, titled “The Oak Tree.”

When a strange guest arrives, introducing herself as the Archduchess Harriet Griselda of Roumania, Orlando becomes increasingly uncomfortable and decides to leave England. At his request, he is appointed as ambassador extraordinary to Constantinople and is next seen performing his official duties in that post. Life is generally tedious until he suddenly falls into a coma. After several days of suspended animation, Orlando awakes, having somehow been transformed into a woman.

Orlando joins a band of Thessalian gypsies, with whom she lives contentedly for some time. Finally, however, she is inspired by a vision of her ancestral home to return to England, where she finds herself in the eighteenth century and soon befriends such famous writers as Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. Much of Orlando’s time is engaged in meditation about fame, time, and the nature of literature. Soon, with the remarkably elusive lapsing of time that characterizes...

(The entire section is 432 words.)