Having roundly failed to deter the advances of an Archduke by brazenly cheating him out of tens of thousands of pounds, Orlando resorts to even baser means.  Her self-justification is a wonder, as if a rapier were a more noble way of dealing with an unwanted suitor than a toad.

The charming, detached language is perfect for describing shockingly bad behaviour in such a way that it simply appears entertaining.  The Archduke doesn’t even win our sympathy though he is a victim from A-Z.

‘… when she cut the matter short, as he stooped his proud head, by dropping a small toad between his skin and his shirt.   In justice to her, it must be said that she would infinitely have preferred a rapier.  Toads are clammy things to conceal about one’s person a whole morning.  But if rapiers are forbidden, one must have recourse to toads.’


Source: Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography, ed. with an introduction by Rachel Bowlby (Oxford: World’s Classics, 1992), p. 176

Photo credit: Jack Hamilton at unsplash.com


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