Virginia Woolf and the Hours

Hours

The Hours

Three Women, One day.

Michael Cunningham’ novel, The Hours and the movie version, Directed by Stephen Daldry, gives a very accurate portrayal of Virginia Woolf beginning with her final act: suicide. The narrative intertwines the lives of three women: Virginia Woolf, Laura Brown an unhappy housewife in 1950’s Loss Angeles and Clarissa Vaughan a bisexual woman living at the end of the twentieth century in New York City. In this, we explore mortality, social roles, lesbianism and artistic endeavour throughout both the novel and the film.

The prologue begins with Virginia Woolf walking, almost marching towards the River Ouse to ultimately drown herself. On her way she stops to pick up a large stone, admiring its form as she does so. She then proceeds to enter the water, the actual death scene in the film echoing the great painting Ophelia by John Everett Millais of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood. Virginia takes in every detail of everything around her until the life has gone from her. We then switch back to 1923 when she is not so unwell, a happier time, the day when she begins to write one of her most successful novels ‘Mrs Dalloway’. Throughout the day she adds details to the novel from events which occur. After the embrace with her sister, she decides that Mrs Dalloway will have been in love with another woman when she was younger. After observing a dying bird she decides that Mrs Dalloway will commit suicide over something very trivial, a domestic choir. She later changes her mind, lets the character live but replaces the act with the suicide of a soldier. After handling her servant, Nelly badly she decides that Mrs Dalloway will be remarkably good at handling servants and writes this into the dialogue. Her sister is in fact very good with servants and her presence in the novel provides a contrast to Virginia. The production also gives a strong insight into her mental health the penultimate climax of her narrative being her journey to the train station where Leonard her devoted husband finds her and takes her home to keep her from harm’s way.

Laura Brown is living in Los Angela’s in mid-twentieth Century America. In this she is living the American Dream, she has a beautiful house, a loving husband, a war hero, a son and is expecting a second baby. However, ultimately, she is deeply unhappy with her life and the domestic role which she has been handed. This is symbolised by the Cake which she bakes for her husbands Birthday: Although the cake is perfectly adequate she wants it to be a work of art to reflect how perfect she is at domestic life, so she throws it out and starts again. Later in the novel, she becomes enraged when Dan, her husband, spits slightly when he blows out the candles. Her neighbour, Kitty, presents a contrasting character to Laura. She is loud, glamorous and was very popular at High School, where she was more interested in reading. Kitty character introduces the theme of fertility to the hours, Woolf never having children herself. Laura and Kitty embrace in a similar way the sisters earlier in the novel. Laura’ activities link to Virginia Woolf through the reading of Mrs Dalloway, taking time to ensure she reads more of the works. Her narrative climax’ in a hotel room where she seriously contemplates committing suicide. Outside of the context of the book, she fails in an attempt to commit suicide in recovery she leaves her family and moves to Canada.

Clarissa Vaughan is a bisexual woman living at the end of the twentieth century in New York City. Her character embodies the character of Mrs Dalloway in the Woolf’ novel. Her close friend and former lover, Richard is in-fact the grown-up child of Laura Brown who she abandoned. He calls Clarissa ‘Mrs Dalloway’ or ‘Mrs D’ for short. Clarissa has some doubts over her domestic set up, she is living with Sally her lover, however, it is not an exciting relationship it is mundane. Clarissa is pre-occupied with morality throughout the novel, in glimpsing a movie star she ponders over when they have died they will live on through screenings of the film. The climax of Clarissa’ narrative is the suicide of Richard, in losing his battle with Aids he decides to jump from the window of his apartment saying good buy to Clarissa before the ultimate plunge. After Richards death Laura Brown, now an elderly lady comes to meet Clarissa in New York. Clarissa does not blame Laura for leaving her family, although she witnessed Richards torture from this act she shows understanding of her actions as a mother.

This Novel and film created over half a century after Virginia Woolf’ death explore her and the writings in the greatest artist sense. Many themes are embrace throughout the three different days of three different women. On a surface level through Clarissa we see how attitudes towards sexuality have changed, acceptance being shown through her rather unremarkable same-sex relationship.

However, the suicide of Richard shows how times have not changed since Virginia’s generation. Again we have a frustrated writer, unhappy with his work mental health problems brought on by Aids who takes his own life. Could Virginia Woolf been happy in a modern climate, would she have escaped her demon’s, or would the same fate be waiting? Who knows but we certainly have a stunning novel and film which is a tribute to the Virginia Woolf we have presented here.

Alison Little

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