Virginia Woolf’s Orlando gets under the skin of different moments in a 400 year stretch of English history. Here she zooms in on the Great Frost of 1608, prising out of the ice images from an historical account given by Thomas Dekker of a rare winter when the Thames froze over. There are pages of description of people of all classes and trades preserved, as in aspic, in the ice. Here they are ‘struck stark’ in icy petrifaction.
The Thames has frozen over a few dozen times in recent centuries, and in one such freezing in the late 17th century, an enterprising person sold silver spoons engraved with the fact that the spoon was bought at the ice fair on the river.
‘The fields were full of shepherds, ploughmen, teams of horses, and little bird-scaring boys all struck stark in the act of the moment.’
Source: Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography, ed. with an introduction by Rachel Bowlby (Oxford: World’s Classics, 1992), p. 33
Image credits: Thames Frost Fair, 1683-84, by Thomas Wyke and An Account of the Frost Fair of 1608 by Thomas Dekker.