It Was Death; I Chose Life- Feminist Resistance in The Hours, Book and Film

Yael Levy

In writing about melodrama, Thomas Elsaesser argues that the transfer of written epochs into film leads to an inevitable compressionf of plot, character, and emotional processes[1].Bearing on Elsaesser’s assertion regarding cinematic adaptation, I would like to examine a cinematic text against its literary predecessor, and demonstrate its density not only in matters of plot and character, but also in matters of social and gender politics, and their concentrated representability in film[2].

The Hours, a 1999 Michael Cunningham novel[3], which was adapted into film in 2002 (directed by Stephen Daldry[4]), is a reworking of Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway[5], as the character of Mrs. Dalloway plays an important part in each of The Hours’characters. A cinematic version of Mrs. Dalloway was also produced (directed by Marleen Gorris in 1997[6]), thus completing the web of intertwining interdisciplinary texts. Such a convoluted web of intertextuality and format adaptations serves as an interesting research subject, since, as I will demonstrate, both Mrs. Dalloway and The Hours' cinematic versions express greater density of plot, character, and social and gender issues than the literary versions. Through focusing on The Hours, its intertextual heritage, its use of return and repetition, and the appearance of those in cinematic language, I would suggest that the film’s cinematic tools promote feminist resistance the seeds of which were planted in the literary text[7].

Mrs. Dalloway—book and film—follows the life of Clarissa Dalloway, an early 20th century socialite, on the day she throws a party. Mrs. Dalloway’s story has two additional parallel plots—one is that of Septimus Warren Smith, a World War I veteran who suffers from shell shock, and the other is that of Clarissa Dalloway’s own past. The Hourscorrespondingly follows three different stories, through the course of one day, from three different periods in 20th century history. The first character is that of writer Virginia Woolf, in Richmond in 1923, as she writes Mrs. Dalloway; the second is the story of Laura Brown, a pregnant wife and mother in an LA suburb in 1951 who reads Mrs. Dalloway; and the third is the story of Clarissa Vaughn, a literary editor in 2001 New York City, who plans a party, referring to Woolf’s character of Clarissa Dalloway (who also plans a party) in Mrs. Dalloway, whose story occurs in 1923. Through examining the characters, and the relations between them, this paper will analyze The Hours’ cinematic language, including framing and movement choices, compare them to the manner in which they were written in the novel, and attempt to articulate a model of adaptation according to which not only plot intensifies but also political intention[8]. For that matter, I intend to utilize the appearance of the concept of death—which I present at length in the following paragraphs—as a concept through which gender oppression is expressed and by which feminist resistance to that oppression may be gained.

As argued, in the case of both Mrs. Dalloway and The Hours, when the stories are adapted into film, their statements are more explicit and more extreme than those of their literary counterparts. The density and extremity is expressed in both the films' dialogues, and in their cinematic language—framing, setting, movement, and more. First of all, one can see that the plot becomes condensed in the transition to film. In its literary version, The Hoursinterweaves the three stories (of Virginia Woolf, Laura Brown, and Clarissa Vaughn) under thematic, rather than chronologic, correlations. The book namely offers a flattening of historic time; different historic periods shift and follow each other. The film condenses that narrative structure even further—and consequently the plot of each episode—as the stories are interlaced within each other (in terms of setting, crosscutting, sentence-following-sentence, and not only in the manner of shuffling the episodes). That is to say that as the book recounts each story separately, the film crosses the stories with and within each other. In the book, that is, an episode of the 2000's can precede an episode taking place in 1923, but the film would insert a 2000 scene, or even a 2000 image, into the 1950's episode, and not only before or after it.

The film's interlacing of the seemingly separate stories can be seen in various scenes in which the characters' stories are crosscut against the backdrop of each other. The scene of Laura Brown leaving her son Richie with her next door neighbor, for example, is portrayed as part of the 1950's story of Laura. But a little later the scene repeats, this time through the eyes of the grown up Richie, now 2000's poet Richard, as his memories of his mother leaving him are visualized on the screen. The scene, however, in spite of it being envisioned through the eyes of Richard, bears the same coloring, framing, and point of view as it did when it was experienced by Laura. The scene portraying Laura leaving Richie with the neighbor is namely both a part of Richard’s story, reminiscing as he sits near the window, and Laura’s story, unfolded in a synchronic manner, as if her experiences were happening on real time, and not as the past memories of someone, neither Laura nor Richard. That scene lives in Laura's experience and in Richard's memory, and the film intertwines Laura's experience and Richard's memory. Unlike the film, which focalizes many of the characters, including friends and spouses, the book mostly relies on the consciousness of the three main female characters[9] (except for one chapter, in which the focalizer is Sally, Clarissa's partner). No penetration into the mind of Richard is therefore part of the narrative, and in general, the book does not interweave the characters' minds, as does the film, but only creates analogies between them. It is thus the film that added Richard's point of view into the narrative mix, and it is therefore the cinematic version that promotes the compression of the characters "into" each other and the fusion of their memories into one rizomorphous[10]narrative.

In the book, that is, the characters conjure each other, relate to each other, and are influenced by each other, but only in the film does it seem as though they in fact live alongside each other, as if the years do not come between them, and, in a way, live within each other. The book, for example, connects Laura Brown with the realm of Virginia Woolf and the realm of the fictional Mrs. Dalloway, as Laura


is full of what she's read: Clarissa and insane Septimus, the flowers, the party. Images drift through her mind […]. Laura occupies a twilight zone of sorts; a world composed of London in the twenties, of a turquoise hotel room, and of this car, driving down this familiar street. She is herself and not herself. She is a woman in London, an aristocrat, pale and charming, a little false; she is Virginia Woolf; and she is this other, the inchoate, tumbling thing known as herself[11].


In the book, the characters namely refer to one another, but do so within the boundaries of their own consciousness; Laura feels herself to be both herself and Virginia Woolf at the same time. But it is only in the film where this feeling comes to life—where the sense of interlaced identities is not only in the enclosed, time and space dependent, minds of the characters, but also in the frame. As for the Laura Brown-Virginia Woolf dyad, implied in the book, the film uses crosscutting and simultaneous lip-synchronization to present the mutually influential relationship between the two women. In the film, when Laura Brown reads her book, the sound of the voice of the character of Virginia Woolf is the one that is heard. The insertion of Woolf’s voice and character creates a bridge between the two characters, and mutually affects both. On a diegetic level, Woolf’s voice forms a scene in her book, focusing on Clarissa Dalloway, and later, when Woolf’s face appears (until this moment, only her voice is heard), the process of Brown’s reading is weaved into that of Woolf’s constructing or envisioning her text. The film thus clearly, and consciously, interlaces Woolf’s character with Brown’s rather than only describing each as she contemplates the other.

The plot in the film thus becomes more compressed, as does the character-relation; the characters are pushed towards each other, in a way into each other, as they intermingle in the storyline. Such a compression of elements in the text can be examined not only through the plot, but also in more complex, more implicit elements such as the text's social message, or political intention. In Mrs. Dalloway the book, for example, it is mentioned in parentheses that Clarissa and Sally “spoke of marriage always as a catastrophe”[12]. But in the film version of Mrs. Dalloway, Sally explicitly marks that “marriage is a catastrophe for women"[13], which both elucidates the claim and inserts a gender-oriented addition to the original sentence, emphasizing it is not simply a catastrophe for everyone, but is rather mainly catastrophic to women[14]. In the film version, that is, Mrs. Dalloway explicitly recognizes the oppression of women within its society and not only points at it.

Further than expanding the dialogue and making it more explicit, cinematic language itself has the capacity to carry the film's message, even when lacking dialogue, as one can see in the opening scenes of the film version of The Hours. The film opens with a crosscutting of the three women, equating their lives and statuses. All three women, for example, are first introduced (following the prologue that features Virginia Woolf’s suicide) when they are in bed, after a presentation of their spouses. The spouses—first Dan, Laura’s husband; then Leonard, Virginia’s husband; and last Sally, Clarissa’s partner—are all first presented as they walk back toward their respective homes, where the protagonists are. In terms of cinematic analysis, the heroines’ spouses are all caught on camera as it pans left, following them as they come home—from the outside in—only to encounter the heroines in bed. In the spouses’ scenes, which present much wider shots than do those of the heroines’ opening shots, both the characters and the camera are in movement, but when capturing the characters of Laura, Virginia, and Clarissa, it is only the camera that is active while the women are seen static. In all three cases, the frame begins empty, as a gradual movement of the camera reveals the heroines as they are in bed. The Hours’ cinematic language thus presents the women’s lives as analogous to each other, and insinuates to their parallel sense of entrapment, being those who are static in the domestic space, versus their partners, who are represented in movement as they are coming from the outside.

To note a more specific example in which the cinematic The Hours intensifies its literary namesake’s statements regarding the entrapment of domesticity and its correlation with gender oppression, I would like to examine a scene that exhibits Clarissa Vaughn’s sense of domestic entrapment through cinematic style. Upon the visit of her friend Louis, Clarissa becomes gradually upset, to the point in which her angst is manifested in physical distress; she is hyperventilating and crying. Her stress is not only manifested in physical reactions, but also in the frame’s design. Clarissa is standing in the kitchen during this outburst, engaged in preparations for her party. When her distress mounts, she slowly approaches the corner of the kitchen, progressively shrinking her body until she is seated on the floor. In a parallel motion, the shot gradually narrows as the frame catches less of Clarissa, up to the point that she seems to be trapped in the kitchen corner, by both setting and frame. With the camera zooming further and further in on Clarissa, what started as a full-shot soon becomes a close-up, closing in on her at the kitchen corner, symbolizing an entrapment in that which the kitchen symbolizes—domesticity and homemaking. Clarissa’s entrapment in domesticity is namely depicted in the film's cinematic style; the film recognizes domestic oppression not only in its dialogues, but also in its framing, setting, and camera movement.

Though manifest in the book, gender and domestic oppression are extremely overt in the film, through both content and form—both in the film's words and in its cinematic techniques. The film's focus on domestic and gender hardship is namely a central theme, which attacks all the three main characters. Virginia, Laura, and Clarissa all experience an oppressive force that leads them to depression, a force which echoes Betty Friedan's term—"living death". In TheFeminine Mystique, Friedan pointed to the fact that the predominant form of identificationfor many women in the 1960s, specifically those entrapped in domestic gender oppression, namely housewives, was with states of living death:


Does it say something about the new housewife readers that, as any editor can testify, they can identify completely with the victims of blindness, deafness, physical maiming, cerebral palsy, paralysis, cancer, or approaching death?[15]


Gender and domestic oppression is thus analogous to a state of a form of death within life. And indeed, the characters of The Hours express forms of death within their lives[16], as they feel suffocated by their lives (Virginia wants to escape to London, Laura runs away from her family, and Clarissa struggles with a constant sense of confinement).

I would like to next suggest that the same mechanism of compression, from book to film, as seen in matters of plot, character, and emotional processes, and which explicates, in the case of The Hours, the hardship of gender oppression, as a form of "living death"[17], can also contribute to a more concentrated presentation of resistance to gender oppression. That is to say that if the transition from book to film condensed The Hours' acknowledgment in gender and domestic oppression into an explicit force rather than an undercurrent, then the adaptation to film may also contain a compression of the resistance to that oppression; the cinematic style may contain feminist resistance, and offer a break from gender oppression, an escape from the limbo state of a form of death in life.

I accordingly argue that The Hours discusses (rather than ignores) not only gender oppression, but also feminist resistance, and that both are more explicit in the film version than they are in the book. The Hours thus joins in the feminist search for a way out of gender oppression, a search that is embedded in the feminist cause, and which is beautifully articulated by Julia Kristeva, Alice Jardine and Harry Blake, who ask:


No longer wishing to be excluded or no longer content with the function which has always been demanded of us (to maintain, arrange, and perpetuate this sociosymbolic contract as mothers, wives, nurses, doctors, teachers . . .), how can we reveal our place, first as it is bequeathed to us by tradition, and then as we want to transform it?[18]


Kristeva, Jardine, and Blake namely argue that the only option for women within society is to accept social demands (“to maintain, arrange, and perpetuate this sociosymbolic contract as mothers, wives, nurses, doctors, teachers”[19]). Otherwise, woman is excluded from society. They demand to find a social space within which woman is not only a member of society (rather than excluded from it) but is also an independent one (rather than such that is always on some form of dutiful servitude).

In correspondence with Kristeva, Jardine and Blake's quest for the revelation of a place between tradition and transformation, the women in The Hours express a desire to flee or transform their traditional servitude and domestic entrapment. Consequently, the women in The Hours indeed seek that sense of place, devoid of the entrapping dichotomies of exclusion versus burden. In the film version of The Hours, Virginia asks her sister Vanessa, as they say goodbye: “you think I may one day escape?”, suggesting she feels trapped and is in search of a way out. The Hours namely expresses a desire to set free from gender oppression and domestic entrapment. Throughout the story, in both the book and the film, various thematic motifs and textual forms and techniques point to that desire. The use of water, for example, as offering release from entrapment, in Woolf's suicide, in Brown's epiphany[20], or in Vaughn's awakening; the use of music as opening fissures to the parallel realms; or the importance of Mrs. Dalloway the book (in both the literary and the cinematic versions of The Hours) as a realm in which insights are found—can all be analyzed as catalysts for feminist resistance and textual outlets for oppressive existence. But it is the extremely profound concept of death which will be the focus of the next few paragraphs as a sphere through which oppression, resistance, and release can be examined.

Having related to the Friedanian definition of gender oppression as a form of death in life, I perceive the concept of death as a sign of oppression, an entrapment which is in fact a death in life. I shall therefore use the concept of Death as a prism through which to examine the text's expression of release from oppression and the thriving toward transformationMy use of Death will be both as a concept—as it appears in literary techniques, motifs, and themes—and as a literal occurrence and its consequent influences. The compression of plot will thus be examined as enhancing not only the representation of oppression, but also resistance to it and, as I will henceforth try to illustrate, release from it. Having argued that both gender oppression and feminist resistance are more explicit in the film version of The Hours than they are in the book, I would now like to see whether the transition to film can also intensify forms of release from oppression, as they come to light via instances of actual death and conceptual deaths (such as living death).

Death in The Hours acts as a thematic motif, as it repeats in the undercurrent that is the suicide of Mrs. Dalloway's Septimus Smith; in the actual suicide of Virginia Woolf, which both stands in the background of the story and is depicted in the plot; in the threat of Laura Brown's suicide; in the concept of death as affirming life, which is also a continuance of Mrs. Dalloway; and in the symbolic death in life ("living death") which is embodied in the life of oppression that all three characters of The Hours feel in one way or another. The importance of death can be traced back to Mrs. Dalloway, in which Virginia Woolf delineates a motif of death as reaffirming, as validating life. Septimus’ death seems to convey in Clarissa Dalloway both a sense of solidarity with Septimus and an affirmation of life. After processing the news of Septimus’ death, Clarissa realizes


she has never been so happy. […] No pleasure could equal, she thought, straightening the chairs, pushing in one book on the shelf, this having done with the triumphs of youth, lost herself in the process of living, to find it, with a shock of delight, as the sun rose, as the day sank[21].


It is thus not only death itself that offers escape, but also the vicariousness of it; one’s vicarious comprehension of the enfolding of death, of another’s death wish, allows a vicarious resolution of one’s own death wish. By letting Septimus’ death embrace her, that is, Clarissa Dalloway manages to release that which she would like to release through death, with the death of Septimus. In her analysis of Mrs. Dalloway, Mary Joe Hughes (2004) suggests that Clarissa “recognizes in [Septimus] a kinship, as if both understand what must be preserved at all costs, against all the forces that can create a kind of death in life, and ‘force the soul’”[22]. Clarissa finds her escape in Septimus’ death, in the possibility of death, in its existence as an available choice, to be preserved as release if no other release is found.

Being true to the legacy of Virginia Woolf, The Hours presents a death that validates life (Richard Brown’s death similarly releases Clarissa Vaughn, and reaffirms her grasp of life and self). But as the book follows that process of validation, the film directly voices that process, true to the Elsaesserian mechanism of cinematically explicating that which has been written. In the cinematic The Hours, the character of Leonard Woolf asks the character of Virginia Woolf: “why does someone have to die? […] In your book, you said someone had to die. Why?” to which Virginia replies: “someone has to die in order that the rest of us shall value life more. It’s contrast”. The value of life, however, as both the book and the film insinuate, does not arise from one being grateful one is not dead, but rather from one being reassured one has the possibility to die. The literary Clarissa Dalloway asks herself: “did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely?”[23]. The same sentence is quoted in The Hours, as Laura reads Mrs. Dalloway, after which Laura thinks “it is possible to die”[24]The Hours’ film version makes Laura and Virginia co-owners of the realization that it is possible to die, as it is the voice of the character of Virginia that speaks, and the visual shows Laura as she reads. All are nonetheless consoled by the fact that death is possible.

     The possibility of death hence serves as a consolation, triggered by actual death, as Septimus Smith’s death is epiphanic for Clarissa Dalloway; Richard Brown’s death for Clarissa Vaughn; and Virginia Woolf’s death for Laura Brown, who


is glad to know (for somehow, suddenly, she knows) that it is possible to stop living. There is comfort in facing the full range of options; in considering all your choices, fearlessly and without guile. She imagines Virginia Woolf, virginal, unbalanced, defeated by the impossible demands of life and art; she imagines her stepping into a river with a stone in her pocket”[25].


The fact that the possibility of death is open to her calms Laura, who realizes that if the sense of entrapment becomes unbearable and she finds no other outlet, she can always escape through death. But unlike Clarissa Dalloway’s affirmation of life after Septimus’ death, or Clarissa Vaughn’s affirmation after Richard’s death, Laura Brown’s influence by Virginia Woolf’s death leads her to action. She is not merely engrossed in the contentment of the life she already has, but rather chooses a life that would truly fulfill her with contentment. Through the death of Virginia Woolf, Laura Brown realizes that her life is a form of death for her, and chooses a life that is livable for her—she decides to leave her family after the birth of her second child. In the book, Clarissa relates to Laura as the “thwarted suicide”[26], and the film, aligned with the Elsaesserian convention of cinematic compression, goes as far as explicitly voicing Laura’s choice to leave her family, as she tells Clarissa:


There are times when you don’t belong, and you’re thinking of killing yourself. Once I went to a hotel. Later that night I made a plan. The plan was I would leave my family when my second child was born. That’s what I did. I got up one morning, made breakfast, went to the bus stop, got on a bus. I’d left a note. I got a job at a library in Canada. It would be wonderful to say you regretted it. It would be easy. But what does it mean? What does it mean to regret when you have no choice? It’s what you can bear. There it is. No one’s going to forgive me. It was death. I chose life.


After realizing “it is possible to die”, Laura feels the freedom to choose, perhaps realizing it is equally possible to live. Having realized the option of death is open to her, she decides not to kill herself, despite her plans to do so, and contends to choosing life, which for her means leaving her family.

            The realm of death thus functions as a space through which, even if indirectly, feminist resistance is achieved, as a possible escape from the confinement of a living death. As in the case of Laura Brown, the space of death offers release from her state of living death and promotes transformation toward a livable life—"It was death," she says, "I chose life". Laura Brown feels the conducts and choices of both fictional Clarissa Dalloway and real Virginia Woolf invoke a change of perception when it comes to her own life. So influential was the two women’s effect on her that it seems to have driven her to the decision to leave her family. One cinematic choice that reinforces the force of Virginia Woolf, Death, and more specifically Virginia Woolf's death is the doubling of the suicide scene. The literary The Hoursportrays Virginia Woolf's suicide as a prologue, seeing as the rest of the story does not focus on the year in which she committed suicide (1941), but rather in the year in which she was engaged in the writing of Mrs. Dalloway (1923). The film version stresses the return of the past and its effects on the present as it depicts Virginia Woolf’s suicide both at the beginning and at the end of the film. The incorporation of the scene not only twice but also significantly at both the opening and the closing scenes of the film renders the importance of Woolf’s suicide as both animating and persistent, and by extension, the resurfacing of her suicide, and the processing of the memory of it as both animating and persistent.

In the film version of The Hours, the opening credits read "Sussex, England, 1941". While Virginia Woolf is writing her suicide note addressed to her husband Leonard, the frame closes on her hands as they are engaged in writing. The extreme close-up on the hands and the letter juxtaposes the crosscut depiction of the actual suicide; as Woolf enters a river to drown herself, the frame is much more open—a long-shot includes the river and the sky, and Woolf’s image in the middle. The Hours’ cinematic language thus emphasizes the fact that death can serve as release from an entrapping life. The difference from the book, in which the suicide scene is only recounted once in the prologue, is manifested through the return of the suicide scene, as a form of epilogue. In the film, the suicide of Virginia Woolf is shown as it is crosscut against the stories of the two other women—Laura Brown and Clarissa Vaughn—as they end their day[27]. The conclusion of the stories is thus interlaced, pointing to the fact that Virginia Woolf's escape from entrapment was via suicide, and Laura Brown's escape was via leaving her entrapping life and choosing a different life.

Virginia Woolf and Laura Brown both escaped entrapment through the realm of death, whether directly or vicariously, but neither the book nor the film portray an escape route for Clarissa Vaughn. As mentioned, Clarissa Vaughn is the viewers' contemporary; she is us. Therein lies, in my opinion, the significance of the return of Woolf's suicide. If the first time the suicide was represented, it stood as catalyst for Laura Brown's release, perhaps the second representation is brought in to catalyze the release of the living dead of the 2000, of which Clarissa Vaughn is the representative, and among whom are many other entrapped women. By dying a "second" time, Virginia Woolf bequeaths release from entrapment and oppression. The compression of the film, by doubling the suicide scene, strengthens the sense of death as release.

Throughout The Hours, the women utilize feminist resistance by desiring to escape their domestic entrapment, a desire that materializes in Laura Brown’s actual escape from entrapping domesticity. It is through death that Laura gained political agency and acted toward transformation. In conclusion, death works as catalyst toward release from entrapment; through death, one can make a choice in life over living death. The adaptation to film compressed the effect of death and its push toward release from entrapment. Following Elsaesser's argument, I thus suggest that the compression of plot, character, and emotional processes contributes to a compression of political and artistic intent. As can be seen in The Hours, matters of social and gender politics undergo concentrated representability in the film, since its cinematic tools promote feminist resistance, as can be seen through choices of dialogue, editing, and framing. The zooming in on Clarissa Vaughn's sense of confinement, the explicit articulation of death as catalyst for valuing life, the intense interweaving of the stories to express involvement and mutual influence between the characters, and the choice to repeat the suicide scene as epilogue, all intensify the book's discussion in gender oppression and its call for feminist resistance and release from oppression.






[1] Thomas Elsaesser, 52, “Tales of Sound and Fury: Observation on the Family Melodrama”.Home Is Where the Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and Woman’s Film. Christine Gledhill (Ed.).London: BFI Publishing, 1987. pp. 43-69.

[2] Yael Levy introduced parts of the following paper in the 2010 Tel Aviv International Colloquium on Cinema and Television Studies.

[3] Cunningham, Michael. The Hours. London: Fourth Estate. 1999.

[4] The Hours. Stephen Daldry. USA: Miramax International. 2002.

[5] Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. London: Penguin Books. 1996 (1925).

[6] Mrs. Dalloway. Marleen Gorris. UK: First Look International. 1997.

[7] Seeing as this paper focuses on the transformation of one literary text into film, it does point to an artistic phenomenon, but merely presumes to demonstrate an artistic claim on one case of adaptation, which may or may not work for other adaptations—an argument that can be established upon greater and more profound research.

[8] “As in other disciplines, feminist critics broadened the meaning of the term ‘political’ to include a general interest in everyday life, especially the female associated spheres of domesticity and consumerism” (Charlotte Brunsdon, Julie D'Acci, and Lynn Spiegel, 4-5, “Introduction”. Feminist Television Criticism: A Reader. Brunsdon, Charlotte, Julie D’Acci, Lynn Spiegel (Ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1997. pp. 1-17). Upon relating to politics, my paper will relate to social power dynamics and forces of tradition and resistance.

[9] See "Mrs. Dalloway's Progeny: The Hours as Second-degree Narrative" by SeymourChatman.

[10] Deleuze, Gilles and Felix, Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.Translated by Brian Massumi.  London: Continuum. 2003 (1980).

[11] Michael Cunningham, 1999, 187.

[12] Virginia Woolf, 1996 (1925), 39.

[13] The dialogue mentioned is taken from the DVD edition of Mrs. Dalloway. (directed byMarleen Gorris, UK: First Look International, 1998), scene 3, entitled “Is It All Over?”.

[14] According to Marilyn Charles, "The idea that marriage in some ways represents death, particularly for the woman, is omnipresent in Woolf’s writings. We find this idea played out in her first novel, The Voyage Out (1915), as Rachel’s betrothal comes to signal her death" (Marilyn Charles, “The Hours: Between Safety and Servitude”. The American Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol. 64, 3, Sep. 2004. pp. 305-319. P. 311).

[15] Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique. New York: Dell Pub. 1970 (1963), 46.

[16] In the book, Virginia's depression is described thus: "The devil sucks all the beauty from the world, all the hope, and what remains when the devil has finished is the realm of the living dead—joyless, suffocating" (Michael Cunningham, 1999, 167). All three characters seem to share that sense of suffocation.

[17] Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique. New York: Dell Pub. 1970 (1963), 46.

[18] Julia Kristeva, Alice Jardine and Harry Blake. “Women’s Time”. Signs, Vol. 7, 1, Autumn, 1981. 13-35. p. 23-24.

[19] Ibid, same.

[20] In the film, a stream of water covers Laura Brown as she decides not to kill herself. Perhaps part of a dream or reverie, the stream breaks the realism of the film as it nearly drowns the sleeping Laura Brown in the hotel bed, and alludes to the water of the river in which Virginia Woolf drowned herself.

[21] Virginia Woolf, 1996 (1925), 203-204.

[22] Mary Joe Hughes, “Michael Cunningham’s The Hours and Postmodern Artistic Re-Presentation“. Studies in Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 45, 4, Summer, 2004. pp. 349-61. P. 352.

[23] Virginia Woolf, 1996 (1925), 11.

[24] Michael Cunningham, 1999, 151.

[25] Ibid, 152.

[26] Ibid, 221.

[27] In the end of The Hours, both book and film, it is discovered that Laura Brown is the mother of Richard Brown, Clarissa Vaughn's friend, as she appears in Clarissa's apartment after Richard's death. She is now an old woman, and exists in Clarissa's story as a secondary character (as opposed to the main role she plays in her own story, which takes place in 1949 in the book and in 1951 in the film). The film thus closes both Laura Brown's story and Clarissa Vaughn's story as they are both in Clarissa's apartment at the end of the 20th century (the film announces the year is 2001, whereas the book has no mentioning of the year, unlike the two other stories, probably insinuating to the fact that the occurrences are contemporaries of the book, which was published in 1999).

Yael Levy is a graduate student at the Interdisciplinary Program in Arts, Tel Aviv University. Her MA dissertation, titled “The Character of the Housewife and Constructs of Repetition,” presents an interdisciplinary investigation of literary, cinematic, and televisual texts from a feminist and postmodernist point of view, regarding matters of temporality and social structures.

Readings, April 2011