Michael Cunningham, The Hours
Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumpelmayer’s men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning – fresh as if issued to children on a beach.
What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air.
V. Woolf, Mrs Dalloway
What a thrill, what a shock, to be alive on a morning in June, prosperous, almost scandalously privileged, with a simple errand to run. She, Clarissa Vaughan, an ordinary person, (at this age, why bother trying to deny it?), has flowers to buy and a party to give.
M. Cunningham, The Hours
One single day in the lives of three women: three interwoven destinies, beautifully linked by numerous threads that unfold themselves page after page…
Four women in fact if we consider Mrs Dalloway, not standing as a character in Cunningham’s novel but ever present to the mind of the reader and in the actuality of the three feminine characters.
The prologue begins with the narration of Virginia’s Woolf suicide and then the book opens on a day in the life of Clarissa Vaughan, a book publisher living in New York, secretly in love with her gay friend Richard. Some fifty years ago, in Los Angeles, a married woman, Laura Brown, mother of a three-years-old, is trying to get away from her familial duties to read Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. As the stories unfold, we discover that Virginia, Laura and Clarissa are connected to each other in several way. The most obvious of these connections is Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. Woolf has written it, Clarissa Vaughan has many similarities with her homonym beside her name and Laura Brown is desperately trying to go through the reading of the novel, despite the imperatives of her domestic life. Of course one doesn’t have to have read Mrs Dalloway to enjoy The Hours, but at least one should read Mrs Dalloway after The Hours.
The Hours is remarkable in the complexity of what the characters stand for and there’s an extraordinary confusion, a merging of life and literature for all of them. On the most obvious level, Woolf stands for the author, Laura for the reader, Clarissa, like her homonym, for the character. But as in life, things are not always that simple, their assigned roles drift and are exchanged as their day goes by…
What they all have in common is the urge to come to terms with their own intimate feeling of inadequacy and failure. Between regrets and hopes, path chosen and worlds glimpsed at, they will be compelled by their own despair to make a choice, like Mrs Dalloway herself, who contemplated suicide but chose to go on living. As their stories cannot be written all over again, the choices will be difficult and damaging, for themselves or for others. The Hours is constructed as a multi-faceted mirror, each face reflecting back to Mrs Dalloway, and deep down to the depth of the human soul, where an individual has to deal alone with memories of the past, sexuality, sickness, ageing, death or madness.
The reader who likes a novel for its form as well as its content will be delighted by The Hours and its narrative achievement; a book about the relationship between creativity and life, that reveals the complex patterns hidden behind the facades of existence and writing.