Orlando has a love of beautiful feathers fallen from passing birds, as do I. She seems to be particularly partial to steel-blue versions. I like here how she picks up such a feather on a walk in the wilds, and puts it in her hat, and a moment later, due to this, or to a gust of fresh air, her spirit is revived.
Later the steel-blue feather is used to describe the name of her husband and the way it fell out of the air like manna. Remember that Orlando met her husband when she was lying in a field having twisted her ankle. He arrives by chance on a horse and asks her if she is injured, to which she responds with the marvelous line: ‘I am dead, sir.’ So begins an enduring marriage of true minds.
‘A steel-blue plume from one of them fell among the heather. She loved wild birds’ feathers. She had used to collect them as a boy. She picked it up and stuck it in her hat. The air blew upon her spirit somewhat and revived it.’ (p. 236)
‘… the wild, dark-plumed name – a name which had, in her mind, the steel-blue gleam of rooks’ wings, the hoarse laughter of their caws, and snake-like twisting descent of their feathers in a silver pool, and a thousand other things which will be described presently.’ (p. 239)
‘The beautiful, glittering name fell out of the sky like a steel-blue feather. She watched it fall, turning and twisting like a slow-falling arrow that cleaves the deep air beautifully. He was coming, as he always came, in moments of dead calm; when the wave rippled and the spotted leaves fell slowly over her foot in the autumn woods…’
Source: Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography, ed. with an introduction by Rachel Bowlby (Oxford: World’s Classics, 1992), pp. 236, 239 and 312