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Orlando, by Virginia Woolf

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Orlando’s day was passed, it would seem, somewhat in this fashion. About seven, he would rise, wrap himself in a long Turkish cloak, light a cheroot, and lean his elbows on the parapet. Thus he would stand, gazing at the city beneath him, apparently entranced. At this hour the mist would lie so thick that the domes of Santa Sofia and the rest would seem to be afloat; gradually the mist would uncover them; the bubbles would be seen to be firmly fixed; there would be the river; there the Galata Bridge; there the green-turbaned pilgrims without eyes or noses, begging alms; there the pariah dogs picking up offal; there the shawled women; there the innumerable donkeys; there men on horses carrying long poles. Soon, the whole town would be astir with the cracking of whips, the beating of gongs, cryings to prayer, lashing of mules, and rattle of brass-bound wheels, while sour odours, made from bread fermenting and incense, and spice, rose even to the heights of Pera itself and seemed the very breath of the strident multi-coloured and barbaric population.
This is quite different from a lot of Woolf's other work - much more accessibly written in some ways, and yet also the least naturalistic in that her title character is apparently immortal (or at least lives from the Elizabethan era until the end of the story in 1928) and changes gender, first from man to woman, and then more arbitrarily as the centuries pass. Of course, this doesn't reflect the lived reality of the genderfluid, but it's a really interesting approach to writing about the issue in a way that expresses some part of that lived reality, set against the cultural changes of the past 350 years. The Victorians come off as particularly awful, which may well be fair enough but of course is also a reaction against the obsessions of Woolf's parents. I enjoyed it, in a different way to Woolf's other work. Try it yourself if you like.

Loses significant points for racism, alas. The head of a decapitated Moor is a plaything throughout the book, and the sections in Constantinople are distinctly Orientalist. Woolf's artistic sensibility was concentrated on England.

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