This marvelously stark encounter with a dark stranger proves to be Orlando’s first meeting with the man she will marry. Her energetic statement is a reflection of having been pursued for a century or so with a sackload of court cases, many of which revolve around the issue as to whether, being a woman, she may be considered dead (technically). To confuse matters, there are other lawsuits which clearly consider her as being both male and dead.
Hubby-to-be takes it all in his stride, and helps her up off the ground, concluding that she is unquestionably a woman and that being such does not equate in legal or other terms to being dead.
‘Towering dark against the yellow-slashed sky of dawn, with the plovers rising and falling about him, she saw a man on horseback. He started. The horse stopped.
‘Madam,’ the man cried, leaping to the ground, ‘you’re hurt!’
‘I’m dead, sir!’ she replied.’
Source: Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography, ed. with an introduction by Rachel Bowlby (Oxford: World’s Classics, 1992), p. 239
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