The Hours Michael Cunningham Essay Outline

Essay Topic 1

Discuss Cunningham's style in The Hours. Was it essential for him to adopt a style similar to Virginia Woolf's in order to compose this novel?

Essay Topic 2

How can knowledge of the context in which literature was composed deepen a reader's appreciation of the text? In your answer, refer closely to The Hours by Michael Cunningham, but you might expand your response by including reference to an additional text.

Essay Topic 3

Explain the ways in which multiple points of view enrich the narrative in Michael Cunningham's The Hours.

Essay Topic 4

Choose one major character from the novel The Hours and explore the way in which conflict is important to that character's development.

Essay Topic 5

'Cunningham's The Hours is unremittingly depressing.' Do you agree? Is the view of life he presents a gloomy one? Refer closely to the text.

Essay Topic 6

'Clarissa Vaughan is the only...

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CONTENTS

1. Introduction

2. Virginia Woolf in Michael Cunningham’s The Hours

3. Virginia Woolf Based on her own Diary:

4. Virginia Woolf as Described by Quentin Bell:

5. Virginia Woolf as Described by Leonard Woolf:

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In this term paper I will show how a real person - Virginia Woolf - is presented as a fictional character in Michael Cunningham’s The Hours.

The title he chose for his book is the working title of Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway. Cunningham’s composed his work is composed of three interlacing parts, entitled “Mrs Woolf”, “Mrs Dalloway” and “Mrs Brown”. This fact hints at the possibility of his wanting to point out some relations between the authoress and her fictive offspring.

To get a most objective picture of how Virginia Woolf really was, I also used her diary edited by Anne Oliver Bell, and gave the information derived from there priority in completing this term paper.

Furthermore, I will compare Michael Cunningham’s version of Virginia Woolf with descriptions of her by people that were close to her: Virginia’s husband Leonard Woolf and her nephew Quentin Bell.

When comparing Cunningham’s novel with Virginia Woolf’s diary I found that there were so many interesting points I was reluctant to suppress that I decided to shorten my inquiries into the other two books in order not to go beyond a reasonable volume of this paper.

Virginia Woolf in Michael Cunningham’s The Hours

Michael Cunningham starts his novel with a prologue describing the suicide of Mrs Woolf in 1941. It is interesting that many of the sentences expressing the protagonist’s action are constructed after the same pattern: “She hurries...”, “She has left...”, “She walks on...”[1] and so on, by which a kind of breathlessness and hurry is conveyed. Things Virginia might have noticed on her way to the river are pointed out, often in connection with striking colours[2]. There are allusions to the war[3], to Virginia’s self-doubts as a writer and to her headaches[4]. Cunningham also reports her last thoughts, her deliberations whether she should go back[5], her careful choice of a stone which she puts in her pocket to give her more weight[6]. And finally he depicts her feelings when she goes into the water and is carried away by the current[7]. This part of the chapter, which does not only tell about Virginia’s condition but also about what goes on inside of her, is interrupted by a report on the actions and reactions of Leonard and the maid on noticing that Mrs Woolf is missing and on reading her letter. Then the author continues describing Virginia’s way down the river. The exact moment of her death does not become clear, it seems as if the dead woman, resting at the bottom of the river against the bridge, is still participating in the life going on above her: “All this enters the bridge, resounds through its wood and stone, and enters Virginia’s body. Her face, pressed sideways to the piling, absorbs it all.”[8].

In the parts entitled “Mrs Woolf”, Michael Cunningham describes one day in 1923 from the morning when Virginia awakens to the night when Virginia and Leonard are about to go to bed. At that time the Woolfs are living at Hogarth House in the London suburb Richmond[9], a house which he describes as “nocturnal”[10]. Mrs Woolf is not really healthy, she is often depressed but has recovered from her mental breakdowns.

Virginia, on awakening, thinks about the new novel she is writing. Then she drops off again and dreams about a park underneath which is a “park of the underworld, more marvellous and terrible than this”[11]. She “floats” through this dream park. It seems to be a premonition of her ultimate death in the water when we read “Up ahead, on a circle of newly turned earth...”[12].

The anxiety to write grips her as she gets up and she does not even bother to talk to Nelly, their cook, because she knows that Nelly could easily make the fragile impulse to write evaporate with one of her moods. The only person she greets this morning is her husband Leonard who is working, too. Although he wishes her a good morning and solicitously inquires about Virginia’s having had breakfast, he is easily satisfied with her explanation that she will just have some coffee now and eat lunch later. She has to start writing now not to lose this feeling she has when she has not eaten. Then she feels clearheaded and ready to conquer anything. But because Virginia knows that this feeling can quickly evaporate she has to get started to use it while it is still there. Working without interruption she even forgets about her coffee. Although writing affords her much pleasure, Virginia exercises self-discipline and only works for a fixed period because she is afraid that if she pushes beyond her limits she could have a relapse[13]. When she rereads what she has written, her feelings are ambivalent. She wants Mrs Dalloway to be her best book but she is not sure whether she will be able to reach this aim. The first part on Mrs Woolf in 1923 ends with her having found the first sentence of her now famous novel Mrs Dalloway[14].

All through the Mrs Woolf parts of Cunningham’s book Virginia is thinking about her new novel. Not only is this her first thought when she awakens[15], she thinks about it while going for a walk in Richmond[16], while arguing with Nelly about what there will be for tea in the afternoon[17], while going to the station in the evening with the idea of travelling to London[18] and while trying to relax reading a book at night before going to sleep[19]. In the course of the day in 1923 which Cunningham elaborates on, Virginia reflects different possibilities of introducing death into the novel[20]. During her walk up Mt. Ararat Road she plans that her heroine will kill herself[21], then, after having laid out the dead thrush in the garden together with the children, she resolves “Clarissa is not the bride of death after all”[22]. In the evening she has another idea: “Clarissa will be bereaved, deeply lonely, but she will not die [...] someone else, a deranged poet, a visionary, will be the one to die.”[23]. With these words Cunningham makes Virginia herself a fictive person in her own novel and connects the end of the day with the prologue of his book.

The fact that Virginia is not presenting her real self to others is a theme Cunnigham takes up at different places in his novel. For example, he mentions her thinking “sanity involves a certain measure of impersonation” and goes on “She is the author; Leonard, Nelly, Ralph, and the others are the readers”[24]. She has to pull herself together in order to be in full command of herself[25] which for her means not letting the others look behind the facade.

Virginia’s clothing is described as untidy; she wears a dishevelled housedress and her hair is in disorder and her outward appearance is that of a not healthy woman[26]. Virginia has aged in the last year and become “craggy and worn”[27]. Leonard does not care much about this because she is his wife and because she, in his eyes, “may be the most intelligent woman in England”[28]. He is just worried about the fact that she is not healthy. That is the reason why he wants to stay in Richmond and not move to London, because he is afraid that the many diversions the city offers could deteriorate the condition of her unstable health. The only thing that has not changed in the past years is Virginia‘s figure; she is “still regal, still exquisitely formed, still possessed of her formidable lunar radiance”[29], she still is tall, haggard and marvellous but pale[30]. Virginia still has “the austere, parched beauty of a Giotto fresco”[31].

Virginia wants to look better to be admired by her sister Vanessa because like Leonard she discovers that she is no longer beautiful. She could just change her appearance but because she does not look into the mirror – neither in the morning while washing[32] nor while going downstairs in the afternoon before greeting Vanessa and her children[33] – Virginia will not be able to do this.

[...]



[1] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 3

[2] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), pp. 3

[3] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 3; 6

[4] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 4

[5] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 5

[6] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 4

[7] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 5

[8] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 8

[9] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 29; 210

[10] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 31

[11] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 30

[12]Ibid.

[13] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 69

[14] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 35

[15] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 29

[16] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 81

[17] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 87

[18] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 172

[19] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), pp. 210-211

[20] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 69

[21] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 82

[22] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 121

[23] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 211

[24] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 83

[25] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 84

[26] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 114

[27] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 33

[28]Ibid.

[29] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 33

[30]Ibid.

[31] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 114

[32] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 30

[33] Michael Cunningham, The Hours (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 114

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