Cunningham's The Hours: A Story about Life and Death
"The Hours" by Michael Cunningham is a complicated story that explores life and death. Cunningham attempts to distinguish his writings from author Virginia Woolf's by characterizing sanity and insanity while each protagonist contemplates their own life and suicide. Each woman in The Hours wrestles tension and confusion throughout the novel giving a sense that these issues transcend time. By introducing issues of homosexuality, infidelity, and suicide the reader is invited to think of life's experiences within the context of daily life.
Cunningham makes extensive use of intertexts to parallel author Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway" which originally was titled "The Hours". The author makes references to Woolf's other works including "Mrs. Dalloway in Bond St.", "The Lady in the Looking-Glass: A Reflection", "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown", and "A Room of One's Own". In The Hours, all the characters and narrative strands connect to characters in Woolf's stories, principally Mrs. Dalloway. The Hours is broken down to trace a single day in the life of the story's three central characters, Mrs. Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (Clarissa Vaughn) and Mrs. Brown.
Mrs. Woolf parallels author Virginia Woolf preparing to start a new novel. Her day starts dealing with the characters who in real life work for her and her husband Leonard Woolf at their publishing company Hogarth Press. Mrs. Dalloway (Vaughn) appears to be a modern day Clarissa Dalloway who is the central character in both of Woolf's works; Mrs. Dalloway and Mrs. Dalloway in Bond St. Mrs. Brown is a narrative about Laura Brown, who is about to read Mrs. Dalloway; her name also connects with Woolf's essay "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown".
Each narrative begins "in medias res", "Clarissa feigns exasperation, ...leaves Sally cleaning the bathroom, runs out, promising to be back in half an hour."(9) In the next narrative strand Mrs. Woolf rises, fighting to face another day, fearing the devil or the headaches that have lead to several nervous breakdowns. Likewise, Virginia Woolf lived life in this manner, fearing the recurrent breakdowns that occurred at intervals throughout her life. Cunningham's central intertext Mrs. Dalloway is the basis for the novel, the plot, structure and characterizations mimic Dalloway. "She is fifty-two, just fifty two..." (2456) referencing Clarissa in Woolf's novella "Mrs. Dalloway in Bond St." likewise Cunningham writes she is fifty two years old (10). The naming of Mrs. Dalloway is interesting and yet confusing: "The name Mrs. Dalloway had been Richard's idea-a conceit tossed off one drunken dormitory night as he assured her that Vaughan was not a proper name for her. She should, he'd said, be named after a great figure in literature....She was destined to charm, to prosper" (10).
Cunningham, or the fictitious author Richard takes the mimic one step further saying to Clarissa, "It's always wonderful to see you,...