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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
Virginia has an epiphany about death when she looks at
the dying bird. The bird looks small and helpless cradled in the
nest the children have built. Virginia realizes that she longs for
death but that her character may not have the same longing. The
moment with the bird also calls attention to Virginia’s relationship
with Angelica. Although they share a small connection as they talk
about the bird, Virginia realizes that her perspective is dramatically
different from a child’s. She feels completely detached from the
role of a mother, even though she views Vanessa’s children as miraculous.
Louis enters as an outside observer of Clarissa Vaughn’s
established domestic life, and his unstable love life contrasts
with the grounded relationships that Clarissa has formed. When he
first arrives, he notices how much she has aged. In an echo of Leonard Woolf’s
observation about Virginia, he notices that the forces of time have
started to act upon Clarissa’s face, but the change seems sudden.
Clarissa’s preoccupation with mortality comes not only from her
thought process but perhaps also from her body, which has suddenly
started to decline.
Louis is desperate to be in love but doesn’t really understand what
love is. He comes off as foolish and a bit desperate, because he presents
himself as being in love even though he knows that he isn’t. Although
he enjoys the idea of being in love, his desire from freedom and
independence prevent him from ever being tied down in a relationship.
The rush of exhilaration he experienced when he left Richard shows
his need to escape the pressures of intimacy. By having a relationship
with a much younger student, he avoids having to accept the responsibilities
and compromises that come with an adult relationship. Though Clarissa
has found comfort and stability in her family, she finds Louis’s
independence and freedom to have relationships with whomever he
chooses enticing. Despite the fact that she thinks the relationship
won’t last very long, the idea of a casual romantic fling beguiles
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Hours!