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The Hours

Michael Cunningham

Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Woolf/Mrs. Brown

Mrs. Woolf/Mrs. Brown/Mrs. Woolf

Summary

Clarissa exits the flower shop and walks down the street to go visit Richard. She pauses near the trailer and watches two girls argue about which movie star they saw. Though the girls will get older and die, Clarissa considers the fact that the movie star will be remembered. On her way to Richard’s apartment, she passes the corner where they once stood when they were nineteen. On that corner the two argued and broke off their love affair because Clarissa wanted more freedom. She wonders what would have happened if they had remained lovers.

At Richard’s building, she goes in through the door and thinks about the dirty, squalid state of the tenement apartment building. The elevator doesn’t work, but Clarissa feels relief about this, since she was afraid it might break down and trap her inside. She climbs the stairs to Richard’s apartment and knocks on the door. He greets her by calling her “Mrs. D.,” a shorter version of his pet name for her, “Mrs. Dalloway.” When she comes in, Richard talks to himself in another room. She thinks about how sad she is that Richard didn’t get the new kinds of HIV drugs in time to avoid being mentally damaged by the virus.

Richard’s apartment is cluttered and stuffy, and Clarissa raises one of the shades. The expensive coffee machine she bought him sits unused and covered in dust on his counter. Since she has to prepare for the party, she tells Richard that she can only stay for a second. She mentions that she saw a movie star on the way to his house, and he expresses his disinterest in movie stars. He thinks his friends are so interesting that he doesn’t care about movie stars.

Clarissa reminds Richard about the party and the awarding of the prize. Richard says that he thought the party had already happened. He doesn’t want to go to the party or get the prize, because he doesn’t want anybody to pity him. He thinks the prize is being given to him out of pity, not out of genuine admiration for his work. Clarissa feels frustrated, because she feels he is finally getting recognition for his writing and that he should enjoy the acclaim. Despite this vote of confidence, Richard expresses his embarrassment over how much he feels as if he’s failed to capture life on paper, particularly Clarissa’s life. His statement reminds Clarissa that he once wrote a whole book about her. Before she leaves, she tells him to take a nap and that she’ll be back at three-thirty to help him get ready.

Analysis

Clarissa views recognition by the literary establishment and the reading public as a way of escaping mortality. Her interest in the movie star and her desire for Richard to receive the recognition he deserves show Clarissa’s need to hold onto the idea of immortality. First, she reflects on the mortality of the two girls: they will be forgotten, while the movie star they see will be remembered. In Richard’s apartment, she explains that the recognition he will receive through his writing awards will allow him to have immortality in the face of his impending death. For Clarissa, these public validations allow the movie star and Richard to escape from the realities of mortality and memory.

Richard views his own impending mortality as a threat to his desire to write more. Clarissa misunderstands Richard and reassures him that the work he has done is enough. Richard feels cheated by not having time to write and accomplish more, and he sees his previous work as relative failures compared to what he could potentially do if he had more time. Like Virginia Woolf, Richard sees time as his enemy, closing in around him and preventing him from accomplishing all that he wishes to in his art and his life.

Clarissa’s care for Richard’s apartment shows her nurturing side, even though the squalor reveals that Richard has given up on the small comforts of day-to-day living. Although Clarissa literally tries to brighten the apartment up by opening the shade, Richard seems determined to live in a squalid state. He no longer bothers to enjoy the simple pleasures of the coffee machine she bought him, and it rests on the counter covered with dirt and dust. Clarissa fears that his indifferent attitude toward his living situation may indicate that he is closer to death than she thinks, and she actively tries to counteract this reality by making his apartment more pleasant and livable.

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