Celebrated English novelist. Virginia is tormented by her headaches and voices in her head. The Hours focuses on a day in 1923 when she lived in a suburb of London. Though extremely intelligent and highly respected, she is overly protected by her family, because they fear for her sanity. She has begun writing Mrs. Dalloway, a book which she hopes will be her masterpiece.
Virginia Woolf’s husband. Leonard is the editor and publisher of the Hogarth Press, and he believes Virginia to be the most important writer of her generation. Though occasionally testy and curmudgeonly, he never becomes angry with Virginia, though he worries about her constantly. He looks out for Virginia’s health when she becomes too distracted to do so herself.
The cook in the Woolf household. Nelly is relentlessly domestic and stands in contrast to Virginia’s distracted relationship with the house and its workings. Her practicality prevents her from understanding Virginia’s dedication to her writing. She resents Virginia’s lack of involvement in her own house.
Virginia’s sister, a respected painter. Vanessa has a raucous, colorful, cheerful life and is mother to three children. Though three years older than Virginia, she looks younger than her sister because she is healthy and better adjusted. The two sisters are extremely close, and Vanessa acts as one of Virginia’s caretakers.
Vanessa’s oldest child. Julian is fifteen years old and very handsome. He is Vanessa’s favorite.
Vanessa’s middle child, age thirteen. Quentin is not as handsome as Julian but is kind, stalwart, and inherently good. Virginia feels an affinity for Quentin because of his intelligence and sense of irony.
Vanessa’s youngest child, age five. Angelica is nervous and distractible, and the classic youngest child whose whims are indulged by her older brothers.
One of Leonard’s assistants. Ralph is stout, earthly, and somewhat incompetent.
Another of Leonard’s assistants. Marjorie has a grating voice and is willing to do the tasks nobody else wants to do, even though she doesn’t do them very well.
A lesbian editor who resides in New York in the late twentieth century. Clarissa lives in a lovely apartment in the West Village neighborhood of New York with her lover, Sally, and Clarissa’s daughter, Julia. She is cheerfully domestic and usually takes comfort in her beautiful apartment and stable life. The illness of her friend Richard, however, has caused her to reevaluate her choices in life, precipitating a midlife crisis of sorts. Richard calls her “Mrs. Dalloway.”
Novelist and poet, a gay man dying from AIDS complications. Richard and Clarissa are best friends from college and former lovers. Before he became sick, Richard was argumentative, intelligent and stubborn. He took pleasure in day-to-day existence and worked this affection into his novels, which were experimental and only sporadically successful. Richard is the adult son of Laura Brown.
Clarissa’s live-in lover of eighteen years. Sally produces an interview show on public television. She is kind, steady, smart, and as domestic as Clarissa.
A friend from Richard and Clarissa’s youth. Richard’s ex-lover, Louis now teaches drama in San Francisco. When Louis was young, he was very good looking, but he has aged dramatically. He is sentimental and cries often. Louis feels jealous of Clarissa and Richard’s intimate relationship. He is fundamentally regretful about his life and believes that there is “very little love in this world.”
Clarissa’s daughter, age nineteen. Julia is willfully boyish and independent. Though straight, her friendship with lesbian activist Mary Krull has caused her to shave her head and wear combat boots. She is not as close with her mother as Clarissa would like them to be. Julia deals with difficult social situations gracefully.
Friend of Julia’s, lesbian activist and radical feminist. Mary comes across as humorless and judgmental, and thinks that Clarissa’s domestic lesbianism is a futile attempt to be normal in a homophobic world. She is desperately in love with Julia.
A friend of Clarissa and Richard’s. Walter has managed to avoid contracting HIV even though his lover has the virus. Though Walter means well, Richard resents that he has stayed healthy when so many of their friends are sick.
Walter’s boyfriend. Evan has HIV but has responded well to the drugs he takes.
Movie star and friend of Sally’s. Oliver was an established action star before he came out of the closet in the magazine Vanity Fair. He wants to produce a thriller with a gay protagonist and tries to get Walter Hardy to write the script.
A housewife who lives in Los Angeles in 1949. Laura is a young wife and mother of a three-year-old son. She lives in an attractive house and has a nice husband but constantly feels that she should have a different life. A bookworm, she sees herself an outsider who lives in exile from a life of domestic normalcy.
Laura’s three-year-old son. Richie will grow up to be Richard Brown, the novelist and friend of Clarissa Vaughn. Richie loves his mother completely and wants to be with her all the time, and he closely observes everything she does. He is extremely sensitive and prone to becoming upset.
Laura’s husband. Dan was a war hero and much more popular than Laura in high school. When he returned from the war, he fell in love with Laura and married her. Dan is consistently kind and appreciative of Laura. He feels content with his life and has high hopes for the future.
Laura’s next-door neighbor. Kitty is very self-assured and has a kind of confident magnetism. Though Laura idealizes Kitty, she has been unable to have children and has to go into the hospital for tests that may not bode well for her future.
Kitty’s husband. Ray has an unremarkable job and is mildly incompetent.