It’s time for another Classic Couple! I love this feature so much but for some reason it tends to be the last thing on my mind when scheduling posts. In an effort to be more regular about it in the future, today I’d like to share an interesting and unexpected pair: Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando (1928) and David Levithan’s novel Every Day (2012). While reading the former novel for my Virginia Woolf in Modernist Contexts tutorial, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Levithan’s young adult novel that I read a few years ago. Although very different in setting, style, tone, and audience, both novels nevertheless discuss similar themes that many books shy away from.
Changing Bodies || Both novels involve the rather fantastical concept of suddenly, inexplicably, unexpectedly changing bodies. In Orlando, the eponymous protagonist wakes up one day to discover that her body has changed from male to female. Once this change occurs, Orlando remains in this female body for centuries until the novel ends in Woolf’s contemporary time. In Every Day, the protagonist A wakes up in a new body each day, thereby taking on different identities, lifestyles, and physical attributes.
Gender || Due to the emphasis on changing bodies of different sexes, gender is a major aspect of these novels. Although Orlando’s biological sex has changed, she struggles with the fact that she often feels the same way in regard to her personality as she did when she was a man. In this way, Woolf not only suggests that biological sex has little bearing on one’s gender, but she also asserts that gender is a socially constructed, performed choice that one should be able to make about one’s own identity. A’s gender is even more fluid due to the fact that they seem to be genderless (or all genders at once??) and go by the neutral “they” pronoun.
Identity || As you can probably tell, identity is an important and essential overarching theme in these two novels. Although one’s personal identity is often viewed as something that is stable and changes gradually over time, Woolf and Levithan suggest that it can be more fluid than one may expect. They also stress that identity frequently defies categorization or even description, as language can fail to encompass all aspects of one’s personality due to its narrowing tendencies. It’s difficult to describe Orlando and A without stopping to think about who exactly they are and what their identities are composed of. In a world obsessed with naming and labelling seemingly everything in sight, these novels offer a refreshingly open way of thinking about one’s identity.
I never thought I would be comparing a Woolf novel with a Levithan novel, but Orlando and Every Day go together incredibly well. If you’re interested in either of these novels, I highly recommend checking them out!
Click here to check out other Classic Couples from past posts.
What do you think of this classic couple? What other books would you pair with Orlando or Every Day? What are your thoughts on either or both of these books? Let me know in the comments section below!