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The Hours

Michael Cunningham

Mrs. Dalloway/Mrs. Woolf

Mrs. Brown/Mrs. Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway/Mrs. Brown/Mrs. Dalloway

Summary: Mrs. Dalloway

After Louis leaves, Clarissa chats with her daughter, Julia. Both women feel sorry for Louis, but Clarissa thinks to herself that she wishes she could be as unencumbered and lonely as he. Clarissa hugs Julia but feels awkward and uncomfortable around her. Julia tells her mother that she has just stopped by the apartment to pick up a backpack and that her friend Mary Krull is waiting outside so that they can go shopping for boots. Clarissa tells Julia to bring Mary inside, and Julia goes downstairs and tells Mary she would like her to get to know her mother better.

Clarissa and Mary make awkward small talk. Mary is a lesbian activist who believes Clarissa is deluded for thinking that the world hates her less for trying to assimilate into a heterosexual ideal of domesticity. Clarissa feels similarly strange around Mary and disapproves of Mary’s belief that being loud and outspoken is somehow virtuous. Before Julia and Mary leave, Clarissa reminds Julia about the party for Richard that night. As they walk out, Mary thinks about how in love with Julia she is and how her love will never be reciprocated.

Summary: Mrs. Woolf

As night falls, Virginia stands at the window feeling unhappy. The headache seems to be returning, but she tries to convince herself that she won’t have a relapse. She decides to take a walk and passes the dead thrush in its grave in the garden. The bird’s body looks smaller now that it is dead, and Virginia feels sad at its lack of dignity. After she exits the garden, she turns toward town.

Virginia decides that she wants to go to London and sets off for the train station. When she arrives, she discovers that she must wait for another twenty minutes for the next train. While waiting, she thinks about how worried and angry Leonard will be even if she calls him and tells him she’s leaving. She decides to call after she has arrived in London so that he won’t be able to do anything. She decides to take a walk around the block and bumps into Leonard, who has come looking for her. He scolds her for leaving the house, but she reassures him that nothing is wrong. As Leonard coaxes her to come back to the house, Virginia feels sorry for him because he doesn’t know that she meant to disappear—to escape. They set off for the house and she tells him that she wants to move back to London. He says they should discuss it over dinner.

Analysis

The character of Mary Krull calls into question the domestic life that Clarissa draws comfort from. Inspired by the sour tutor Miss Kilman in Mrs. Dalloway, Mary Krull is a social activist whose attitudes about her own homosexuality are more defiant and political than Clarissa’s. Clarissa has fashioned a comfortable life for herself based on the traditional family structures she feels most comfortable with. Though some might consider her relationships with Richard and Sally to be unusual, Clarissa finds solace in the familial relationships she has established, even as she has sometimes questioned whether they provide her the fulfillment she desires.

Mary believes that Clarissa deludes herself into thinking her middle-class, domestic lifestyle somehow exempts her from being an outsider in society. In contrast, Clarissa feels that Mary Krull defines herself by her rage and her extremism and refuses to find joy in the simple pleasures of life. In the midst of this tension, the two women both feel deep love and affection for Julia, even though both Mary and Clarissa feel that the other is leading Julia astray. Mary’s thoughts call attention to the doubts that Clarissa has expressed about the choices that she has made and the ways she has sought to make a life for herself in the face of societal disapproval.

Virginia feels trapped in Richmond and wants to escape back to the energy of London. As she teeters on the brink of relapsing madness, she impulsively leaves the house. The decision is extremely impractical, as it is unclear what she will do or where she will go once she gets to the city. Her actions come out of a desperate attempt to feel free from the prospect of experiencing the headaches again. She wants to literally escape from the demons that haunt her and feels that her only way out is to go back to London.

Virginia’s impulse to escape Richmond starts to fade after she arrives at the train station, and Leonard’s arrival means that she won’t be going anywhere. Though touched by his concern, she feels sad that he doesn’t realize the degree to which she feels tormented by madness and how much she wants to return to the city. The scene echoes the events of the prologue, in which Leonard chases after Virginia but finds her too late. Here in the train station, the first indications of Virginia’s desire to physically escape her own life become apparent. While in this instance she simply wants to depart from the suburbs and head to the city, later she will want to depart from her life altogether.

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