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The Hours

Michael Cunningham

Mrs. Brown/Mrs. Woolf

Mrs. Woolf /Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway/Mrs. Woolf

Summary: Mrs. Brown

Laura speeds along the freeway after dropping her son, Richie, with Mrs. Hatch, a babysitter. Earlier that afternoon, she put Richie down for a nap and tried to read but fixated on Richie, the cake, and the kiss with Kitty. She felt as if she might be going crazy, so she decided to leave the house for a few hours. As she prepared dinner for the evening and made a second cake, she thought about the kiss with Kitty. Laura feels confused about whether she wants Kitty herself or just wants to be close to her dynamic personality. She muses that she and Kitty may kiss again someday, then thinks about her frustrated efforts with the cake. The birthday cake was supposed to make everyone happy, and she knows that it can’t.

Since a restaurant or a shop would feel too public, Laura checks into a hotel to get total privacy. Her pain feels easier to bear in private. Laura imagines her dark double, a twin that feels finally satisfied by resting quietly in the secluded hotel. She scans the turquoise walls before lying down on the bed to read Mrs. Dalloway. As she reads a section about the immortality of the soul, Laura starts to think about suicide and the possibility of death. She feels that she may have the capacity to kill herself and understands why people choose to kill themselves in the sterile environments of hotel rooms. The idea of giving up on constantly adjusting to her life seems like a comforting and beautiful prospect. Laura quickly realizes she could never go through with it—because of Dan, Richie, and her unborn child—but she is glad to think that she could take her own life if she wanted.

Summary: Mrs. Woolf

Virginia sits with Vanessa in the kitchen drinking tea. Vanessa talks about a coat that she wanted to buy for her daughter, Angelica, at Harrod’s. As she listens to Vanessa talk, Virginia has a revelation about her character Clarissa: Clarissa will not kill herself, because she won’t be able to bear the thought of leaving life. Instead, someone else will commit suicide, someone sad and smart enough to want to the leave behind the little things in life, like coats and cups of tea. Nelly returns from London with the tea and the ginger. While Nelly busies herself at the counter, Virginia leans in and kisses Vanessa on the lips.

Analysis

Laura seeks freedom from her obligations by checking into a hotel room to read, which causes her to ponder the idea of suicide. Laura feels ambivalent about her role as a wife and mother and desires a temporary respite from her responsibilities. Her desire for freedom echoes the sense of release Louis felt went leaving Richard at the train station and Clarissa’s consideration of leaving her domestic life with Sally. Unlike these characters, Laura has nobody to talk to. Though she wants to discuss her feelings of dislocation with Kitty, she keeps her thoughts to herself. Her desire for validation of her feelings is repeatedly frustrated. She feels angry at herself for resenting her family life and chooses to withdraw to a neutral space to think her feelings through. Mrs. Dalloway becomes a source of inspiration and comfort toLaura. The book allows Laura to safely consider the drastic choice of suicide, which she ultimately realizes will cost her too much. However, her discussion of her dark twin is reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s fear of the dark shadow in the mirror. Like Virginia, Laura battles demons that she cannot face alone.

While taking tea with Vanessa, Virginia realizes that a person must be a mad genius to reject the simple pleasures of life and commit suicide. She feels content drinking tea with her sister and chatting about inconsequential matters. In this moment, she realizes that her character Clarissa cannot kill herself because she loves the daily details of life too much. Virginia herself has the same sense of wonder in small pleasures and realizes that someone must reject those pleasures to commit suicide. She reasons that a person must have a kind of “genius” to reject the world by killing themselves. This moment leads to the creation of the character of the shell-shocked soldier Septimus in Mrs. Dalloway and also foreshadows Virginia’s own suicide.

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