I came across The Hours in my university bookshop, as a companion piece to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. We were studying it for our Twentieth Century Literature module. I had read Woolf’s book very quickly, surprised by how modern it was in the way it was told. I did a disappointing essay based around the whether there were recognisable differences between Modernism and Postmodernism or whether it was simply a continuation of the same ideas. In hindsight I was arguing the wrong side, but the books stayed with me and I did enjoy the film adaptation of The Hours where Nicole Kidman won her Oscar playing Woolf. Arguably, it was Julianne Moore who really deserved an award, playing the second of Cunningham’s women who was sinking under the weight of motherhood and expectations in 1940’s Los Angeles. In the book I felt the same narrative was very strong, but I also enjoyed the Woolf sections – perhaps because she seemed to exist more strongly in the written word than in the flesh. The third narrative was a modern day meditation on Mrs Dalloway, as our character does the same things in one day that Woolf’s character does, but brought to a post- millennium New York City.
Our three women are Virginia Woolf, Laura Brown and Clarissa Vaughan – who is affectionately nicknamed Mrs Dalloway, by her terminally ill friend. The three timelines give us a glimpse into societal changes for women across the Twentieth Century. Yet it also shows us that there are experiences and struggles that are universal and echo down the centuries. For such a slim volume, the depth the author writes into his characters is extraordinary. I feel like I know these women, deep down to their soul. They’re going through some tough things here, with themes of illness, suicide and depression somehow explored sensitively despite the books brevity. Those who’ve read Mrs Dalloway know that it explores similar themes, despite feeling light and almost insubstantial. This is similar, as Clarissa goes out to buy flowers and Virginia takes tea with her sister Vita. These things are slight, but behind them is a turmoil of finding identity, moving beyond the tiny restricted role society expects, finding a way through tragedy and deep troughs of sadness. All three are searching for those elusive things we all want – love, happiness and a sense of who we truly are. Can we ever find these things or keep them? Are we doomed to live out our lives and others expect, rather than being our authentic selves. Most of us have to make do with one of these, or maybe all three for brief, elusive moments. How do we get through life without them? Or are we doomed to lurch desperately from one moment of happiness to another? When we are in those depths of depression or grief, how do we keep going and what would force us to take that final drastic action?
The answer is in those hours of the title. These are those happy, golden hours that we remember always. The memories we wish we could bottle and keep forever. These precious hours are the beauty of life and they illuminate all those dark moments. They are what keep us going, they hold within them the hope that things can change. That we will feel that way again and that they will warm our heart enough to get us through.
‘There’s just this consolation; an hour here or there where our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything for more.’