This hand-bound, home-made note book contains the manuscript of Orlando’s great poem, ‘The Oak Tree’, begun in 1586.  He takes it everywhere with him, tucking it inside a jacket, or later, a dress, writing across the margins when he runs out of space, using shorthand and ink ground from berries in the absence of ink…  A precious, irreplaceable thing.

The poem took some time to write:

‘She turned back to the first page and read the date, 1586, written in her own boyish hand. She had been working at it for close on three hundred years now.  It was time to make an end.’

‘There when the door was shut, and he was certain or privacy, he would have out an old writing book, stitched together with silk stolen from his mother’s workbox, and labelled in a round schoolboy hand, “The Oak Tree, A Poem”.’

Source: Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography, ed. with an introduction by Rachel Bowlby (Oxford: World’s Classics, 1992), p. 226 and 108

Photo credit: Andrys at


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