“…the words echoed in Orlando’s sad heart, and she felt that however much landing there meant comfort, meant opulence, meant consequence and state, still, if it meant conventionality, meant slavery, meant deceit, meant denying her love, fettering her limbs, pursing her lips, and restraining her tongue, then she would turn about with the ship and set sail once more for the gypsies” (Woolf 121).
Reading this quote from Orlando through the eyes of Kristie Blair and her article “Gypsies and Lesbian Desire: Vita Sackville-West, Violet Trefusis, and Virginia Woolf”, helps me see that Orlando is indeed Vita Sackville-West and the greater significance of the book to the life of Virginia Woolf. According to Blair, Vita’s grandmother was half gypsy and half aristocrat, and Vita had always been proud of her gypsy heritage. Here we have Orlando who in a former life was a young aristocrat, is now a gypsy woman returning to her former life as an aristocrat in England but with some reservations. She is afraid of the social implications of being a woman, even and aristocratic woman, in England and how they will limit her in her freedoms of expression, speech, and love. Reminding herself of these things, some faint desire for the gypsy lifestyle she was so quick to leave behind is rekindled.
The significance of this book to Woolf’s life is better explained after reading Blair’s article, and the importance of the gypsy Orlando is explained when she says “that the gypsy—and, as we shall see, the Spanish gypsy in particular—haunts texts about desire between women in the period” (Blair 142). Vita was a Spanish gypsy and casting her as Orlando who is also a gypsy is Woolf’s way of writing about their real-life love affair. Though it sounds like a stretch, it was a discrete way to write about this lesbian love affair and make it public without the immediate public backlash.