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

Eyes Glazed Over

Eyes Glazed Over copy

Eyes Glazed Over is a fictional works, the events and characters are not based on real life.

Eyes Glazed Over

Beginning with an argument, just a brother, sister teenage disagreement. My brother Callum wanted to know where I had written down a phone number for a new customer for his window cleaning round, I told him I had put a square around it in the notepad. I not being able to find the phone number he became enraged, I shouted back as it wasn’t my fault, I had written down the details. The next thing I knew I was behind the kitchen door, with him on the other side. He slammed the door towards me and my hands went through the glass, as if suspended in time I looked at them on the other side of the window. The glass shattered into a thousand pieces, splintering across the kitchen and into the garden. More than an accident but it hadn’t been intentional either, but it was what was to happen next which was the most concerning. As I lye on the ground, I look towards my hands and wrists, lacerations torn across lower my arms, molecules of blood appearing like droplets dispensed from a pipette, multiplying a thousand times to fill the troths of the tears then pouring out over my arms and onto the glass fragments that covered the floor. I looked towards Callum and he towards me, picked up his ladder and his bucket and went on his way. A glazed of stare of nothingness, no emotion, no feeling, no reaction. That was the day I first knew Callum was really sick.

So what had Callum been like as a teenager? Switch back in time to one year earlier. He was the kind of big brother it was fun to have, someone to admire, friends we could share, bands we both liked, clubs we went to together and TV programs were we laughed simultaneously. He was one of the boys off the estate getting into the occasional fight, usually well deserved. A line of lovely girlfriends, Adela then Jenny, gorgeous girls and a pleasure to be around, delightful in more ways than I could name.

The best memory I have was when we had all gone to the fair at Wooburn Green, myself, Callum, Jenny, her sister Karen and quite a few others. There hadn’t been a fair on the Green for several years, in the late eighties it had been the scene of the fatal accident where a carriage on the Egg ride had become loose and broke away killing the occupants. At the fair, we asked the Egg Ride Operator what had happened? If he had left a gate open or not checked the mechanics before the ride was started. He explained that he had taken over the ride after the accident and that the man who had the ride originally had gone into hiding. The chain on the carriage had been shut, but even if it hadn’t been it wouldn’t have made much difference, the motion pressure of the ride would have kept the passengers in place. He showed us the mechanisms and he the only thing to check was if a coat or bag or perhaps a shoe had fallen into cogs and none had done. The fault had been put down to the fabrication and the Police were not prosecuting them for the fatalities they were actually looking to bring Man Slaughter charges against the Manufacturers.

His problem was that he couldn’t get anyone to go on the ride today, the Egg carriages just kept going round and round, the crowds from the Village Green Beer Gardens watching the empty motion with morbid fascination. In recognising that he was telling the truth we all went away to talk about what to do next. Callum then tried to rally all the lads around him saying they should all go on the ride and that nothing would happen. Some of them were in two minds, Chalky, one of his closest mates, his once joker friend was the most reluctant saying that they would be ‘Crazy’ to go on the ride. I went to Craig and I told him to leave it and I would sort things out. From there I went over to Karen, Jenny’ older sister to see if she would go on it with myself, but could she not spin the carriage upside down.

Karen came on the ride with myself and I enjoyed the experience without spinning upside down, rather a nice view of the Green, the Village and across onto the fields. After that Callum had no bother getting the others to come on with him, every single one of them going without question. Heads held slightly down, but with determination, even Chalky had lost his reluctance. Then all the adults that were drinking in the nearby beer gardens started to come over and asking questions about what had happened. He covered what had happened with the carriage and the Fair Ground Owners were, in fact, taking the manufactures to court themselves to try and reclaim the cost of the ride but it was likely to take years. They hadn’t wanted to because of the casualties but the ride had cost in excess of ten grand so it was too much money simply to write off. So the curse of the Egg ride was broken and much fun was had at the fair again.

So what had happened to Callum one year on, where had the fun-loving courageous, but fundamentally good brother gone? Jenny, his girlfriend had gone although she still cared about what happened to him she couldn’t be with him any longer. There had been narcotics usage but nothing too serious, just a few party drugs: weed and amphetamines. But Craig had changed mentally, on that day as I lye on the floor, the droplets of blood multiplying watching him walk away eyes glazed over, there was something severely wrong.

From the kitchen floor, I managed to get up and staggered through the house and out of the front door. From here one of my neighbours found me and got me in his car to take me to the hospital. I was sent through to see another nurse not so involved in the caring side of her profession. As she bandaged my hands she began to ask questions about why I had not gone to the nearer Accident and Emergency department at another hospital. She then began a long lecture on how it wasn’t fair for the staff and resources at Wycombe General Hospital to be stretched to the degree they were being.

On coming out of the cubical my Mum was there, on seeing the blood both my parents had rushed to the Hospital, on recognising that I was basically okay my Dad had gone straight to the Police Station. Mum then waited with me as I had to be X Rayed for glass and my cuts glued and stitched back together. When we were ready to leave she went to book a Taxi, a Police Officer came to interview me about what had happened. I started to explain what had happened where he had pushed to the door and the glass had smashed through my hands. The Officer then started to scream at me telling me I had said that he had pushed me through the window and I was now saying he pushed the door against me. Trying to clarify what had been said was no good, I then tried to cover what had happened with Callum when he had walked off with his eyes glazed over. He wouldn’t listen to a word then explained that he wasn’t ‘Nicking’ him for anything. In response to that, I informed him that I didn’t want him to ‘Nick’ him as he was ‘My brother’.

So what became of Callum? Well, everything had to get worse before it was to get better. He had developed an illness we commonly know as schizophrenia. This involved visions of things which were not real, disillusionment and paranoia. A short spell in a young offenders institution turns of rough sleeping this was eventually followed by a period in a mental health unit when he was able to start recovery and the correct medication. The nightmare of earlier years was over and the life of adapting to living with a mental illness was to begin. Callum has a nice life now, never married but he has a home and he works hard, visiting Art Galleries and shopping in Sainsbury’s on his weekends off work. Truth be told though, although he is a nice man with many good attributes, he is not the same man he would have grown into as a boy. Something in him was lost to Schizophrenia, a part of his mind was destroyed by the illness, a part which can never return.

Alison Little