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Virginia’s sister Vanessa Bell shows up early for tea. When she arrives, Virginia is in the study helping Leonard with proofs. Caught off-guard, Virginia feels embarrassed that she is not dressed better. Vanessa does not apologize for arriving early, and Virginia believes that her sister has a normal way of relating to the world that she feels incapable of mastering. Vanessa’s three children—Julian, Quentin, and Angelica—play in the garden. They have discovered a dying bird on the ground and have begun constructing a bed of grass surrounded by roses for the bird. Angelica, who is five, is in charge of making the grave bed. As soon as she lays the bird in the grave, Angelica wanders off in search of the nest.
The children go inside, but Virginia remains in the garden to think about the bird. She thinks that she would like to lie down in the grave bed in the bird’s place. As she looks at the bird, she realizes that her literary creation Clarissa should not kill herself but should instead function as the symbolic bed of grass in which death is lain.
The doorbell rings as Clarissa Vaughn prepares for the party that night for Richard. Louis, Richard’s former lover, surprises Clarissa. The two have not seen each other for five years, and Louis is immediately struck by how much older Clarissa looks. They reminisce about the summer at Wellfleet, and Clarissa tells him that she wants her ashes spread there when she dies. Louis responds that he hated her that summer because he was jealous of her relationship with Richard.
Louis is now a drama teacher in San Francisco, and although he wants to move back to New York, he has fallen in love with one of his students. Clarissa thinks that Louis’s love affair with a much younger student is ridiculous, but she envies the idea of being with a new young lover. Louis suddenly tears up and admits that he doesn’t love the student. Clarissa tries to comfort him as she thinks about the fact that she and Sally have never fought. The prospect of doomed love seems strangely attractive in the face of the comfortable familiarity of her romance.
Clarissa’s daughter, Julia, shows up and greets Louis, who makes his exit after promising to come to the party. As he leaves, he remembers breaking up with Richard after a fight in a train station in Rome. After storming away, he jumped on the first train he saw and felt liberated by the experience of having no obligations or commitments. He remembers that as he sat on that train bound for Madrid, he could finally feel the happiness of his own soul.
Vanessa has a casual confidence that draws attention to Virginia’s anxiety. Though the two women are sisters, their personalities are dramatically different. Vanessa’s assured manner makes Virginia’s obsessive observation of the world seem oppressive by contrast. All of the women in the book constantly evaluate every detail of the world around them, but each knows another woman who doesn’t share her powers of observation. In The Hours, the capacity for intense scrutiny seems to be necessarily accompanied by feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction. While Virginia, Clarissa, and Laura sometimes feel overwhelmed by their experiences of the world around them, Vanessa, Sally, and Kitty provide a contrast of confidence and normalcy.
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