Vita Sackville-West. Some Flowers. Plates by Graham Rust.
The entry on Tulipa Clusiana, the Lady Tulip, ends
[…] the slim little Lady Tulip who is more like a boy.
which recalls the beginning
She is familiarly called the Lady Tulip, but actually reminds one most of a regiment of little red and white soldiers […] I suppose her alleged femineity is due to her elegance and neatness, with her little white shirt so simply tucked inside her striped jacket, but she is really more like a slender boy, a slim little officer dressed in parti-coloured uniform of the Renaissance.
The preface by Stephen Dobell references Vita’s lovers “including Virginia Woolf, who modelled her Orlando on Vita”. I am put in mind of Sally Potter’s film with Tilda Swinton in the title role — in one scene the hero carries tulips to central Asia from England. An inverse journey to their propagation.
The Faber and Faber (1994) issue of the screenplay omits some of the description of Orlando’s arrival in Khiva (faulty printing pp, 30-31) [but does provide a still from the film]. We are lucky that the Sally Potter Archive makes accessible the relevant page
ORLANDO is sitting in a small swaying carriage on a camel. His is wearing stiff, tight, elaborate clothing that is quite unsuitable for the heat, and is sweating profusely. He is holding some now wilted and dying tulips.
As Sophie Mayer points out “In the film, Woolf’s Constantinople (whose Asiatic half was the only place outside Europe that the novelist ever visited) becomes Khiva. Why? As Anna Pavord points out in her history of the flower, Uzbekistan is, in fact, famous for its valleys of wild tulips. The bulbs were brought to Europe from its native Turkey, smuggled in the bags of a Belgian diplomat in the sixteenth century.” Pathway: Travelling Shots: Travel, Movement and Empire in Orlando
In the film, the fate of Orlando’s tulips, an ambassadorial gift, is to fall into the hands of small female twins, who were among a cortege of children teasing and tweaking the hero in his finery. “Finally, in desperation, ORLANDO hands over the tulips and the twins run off shrieking with laughter.”
And so for day 1292