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Mrs. Dalloway vs. The Hours

hoursWith Mrs. Dalloway being so slow of a reading (small does of it is probably conducive to a more plausible understanding of details), I picked up The Hours by Michael Cunningham, which I read years ago. Like the original work which has inspired Cunningham to write the modern-day treatise, The Hours also mirrors Mrs. Dalloway‘s stream-of-consciousness narrative style (a style pioneered by Woolf and James Joyce) in which the flowing thoughts and perceptions of protagonists are depicted as they would occur in real life, unfiltered, flitting from one thing to another, and often rather unpredictable. stream of consciousness, of which Virginia Woolf is the master, is so prominent in this work.

Cunningham’s novel also employs the same time device in Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway — the action of the novel takes place within the space of one day. In Mrs. Dalloway it is one day in the life of the central character Clarissa Dalloway. In Cunningham’s book it is one day in the life of each of the three central characters; Clarissa Vaughan, Laura Brown and Virginia Woolf herself. Through this prism, Cunningham attempts, as did Woolf, to show the beauty and profundity of every day. Even the most ordinary, if not mundane. It also demonstrates in every person’s life and conversely how a person’s whole life can be examined through the prism of one single day.

The reason I pick up The Hours is for a change of pace and social climate of the reading. Whereas Clarissa Dalloway had not recognized her sentimentality for Sally Seton during her young womanhood is homosexuality, The Hours concerns three generations of questionably lesbian or bisexual women. To some extent the novel examines the freedom with which successive generations have been able to express their sexuality freely, to the public, even to themselves. It’s obvious that for Virginia and Laura to assert their sexuality freely during their time. The assertion of homosexuality would result in extremely dire consequences in a society in which homosexuality is illegal or denied. The undercurrent of anguish that plagues these women in The Hours is starkly different from that of Mrs. Dalloway, which is warfare, the British superiority, and fear of death. Maybe the role of homosexuality is a way of demonstrating how these three women feel distant from society.

Back to reading Mrs. Dalloway. (I back-track half of what I have read since I began yesterday.)

14 Responses

  1. Thanks for the insight, Matt. For so long I’ve been avoiding both books. The Hours, because I’ve seen the film and that takes the surprise and pleasure out of reading, most of the time. Mrs Dalloway, well, not the title specifically, but more avoiding Woolf in general. But you really put it well here, and helped me gain an understanding of the connection between the two.

  2. Cunningham is one of my very favorite authors, I think he’s absolutely amazing. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to read The Hours all the way through, because of having seen the movie before I discovered him. (It messes with my head to have seen the movie).

  3. Now, The Hours was a big I loved and totally understood. I like your comparisons that you made with Mrs. Dalloway.

  4. a book, not a big!! Geez!

  5. Two excellent Woolf related posts here, Matt. I’m a big fan of Cunningham, not so much of Woolf, though I will acknowledge her superior writing skills. She is a master of the sentence.

    The Hours and Mrs. Dalloway make an excellent pair. My book club read the two together several years ago and ended up having one of our best discussions ever comparing the two.

    Both are books I should re-read some day.

  6. I keep meaning to read Mrs. Dalloway – but I’m intimidated by the writing. I don’t want to be in a slump because of it.

    I like your trick of reading something else then coming back to it. I’ll have to put The Hours on my tbr-list.

    Good luck with the rest of the book, Matt!

  7. claire:
    Now that I have been re-reading The Hours, which I first read 9 years ago without having read Mrs Dalloway, I begin to see the intimate connection between the two. I love it!

  8. alirambles:
    He’s very observant and has a knack to capture each moment of the character’s mind. I’m enjoying The Hours big time.

  9. Staci:
    I cannot believe I have missed out a lot of what’s going on in The Hours because I didn’t read Mrs Dalloway when I read it 9 years ago. Now I’m very keen on the relationship between the two.

  10. CB James:
    Virginia is the queen of stream of consciousness and a master of sentences, which require concentration in order to fully comprehend the layers of meanings. This morning my friend asked why she might have chosen to write these long sentences with 21 semi colons instead of breaking each segments into independent sentences. I believe she wants to convey that rhythm of random thoughts as one’s reflecting upon what he/she sees on the streets.

  11. lena:
    Do read Mrs. Dalloway, and read it slowly, with small doses. Re-reading some of the passages is a must in order to fully understand her meanings and intention. I find The Hours both complementing and useful in cementing my thoughts on Mrs. Dalloway.

  12. Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

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