“Truth! Truth! Truth!”: Image and Text, Fact and Fiction in Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando”

  • Annalisa Federici Università della Tuscia


The use of photographic “evidence” was of particular interest to Virginia Woolf and it is well known that she included photographs in her real (though unconventional), as well as fictional biographies Roger Fry, Orlando and Flush. The use of such pictures, however, serves to problematise the reality of the photographic or biographical subject/object, the relationship between fact and fiction, and therefore the biographical genre itself. This essay focuses on Orlando (1928), a text through which Woolf wanted to “revolutionise biography in a night,” and where she undermined the supposed faithfulness of the form towards its subject by presenting false photographic evidence. In this mock biography both image and text are fakes, thus altering the purported adherence to facts which is a prerogative of the genre and highlighting the self-referentiality of both the photographic subject and the text. The combination of words and pictures determines the collapse of denotation and knowledge: concepts of “reality” and “meaning” fall apart, and a new idea of “truth” begins to evolve. Woolf’s creative construct of her subject through words and pictures shows that the photographic image is never neutral, thus reminding us of Susan Sontag’s claim that “although there is a sense in which the camera does indeed capture reality, not just interpret it, photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are.”


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