The Hours & Mrs. Dalloway

I have read Michael Cunningham's "The Hours" many times and its treatment of "Mrs. Dalloway" was one of the reasons that I took this class in the first place. While I have head Mrs. Dalloway before, it was a long time ago and I'm realizing now, as I re-read it, all the different ways that Cunningham reinvented and utilized Woolf's text for his own book. Since it has been so long since I read Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway," the characters and plot lines of "The Hours" had become much realer for me, however, in re-reading it, it's been extremely interesting to see the different ways that Cunningham interpreted certain characters, and if that really made a difference in the way the story is told.

The main characters that Cunningham borrows for his own book are, of course, a revised Clarissa (a lesbian in a long term relationship with Sally) , Richard (a gay novelist with whom Clarissa was once in love and constantly alludes back to), and Peter (both Clarissa and Richard's ex-lover, named Louis in the book). These three characters, who Cunningham also follows throughout a day that ends in a party, echo Woolf's melancholy for Clarissa's past, the complex relationships that exist between them and their own unhappiness with the way things have turned out. While the relationships are clouded and mismatched in Cunningham's novel, he retains Woolf's message through Clarissa and her ex-lovers, and just switches up the players a little bit. He sets Clarissa up with Sally instead, a relationship that Woolf implied, while retaining the weight of her past relationship with Richard, the same way that Woolf's Clarissa cannot ignore her past with Peter. Peter (Louis), who despite being essentially replaced by Richard in Cunningham's novel as Clarissa's great past love, is consistent in his relationship with Clarissa. Though he is no longer cast as someone she once really loved, he is a reminder to her of a happier time, as well as someone that causes her to sharply criticize and herself and her lifestyle.

The changes in Woolf's original work to Cunningham's is not limited to these three main characters. In fact, Septimus, a main character for Woolf, is never mentioned in "The Hours." However, he is not entirely dismissed as his suicide technique is re-used by Cunningham for one of his own characters in "The Hours." Similarly, while Elizabeth is fought over between her mother and her teacher in Woolf's version, Cunningham's Clarissa also battles for influence of her daughter, Julia, with Julia's older and overbearing girlfriend.

Therefore, while Cunningham has, in my opinion, created a successful and revised version of Mrs. Dalloway for a modern audience, the changes he made were simply on the surface. His work is adapted to a different time and a different set of readers, as well as to the role it plays with the other two stories in "The Hours." However, despite all the seemingly drastic changes between Woolf and Cunningham's interpretation of Woolf, many of the general themes remain the same. The story is still about a women unhappy in the life she is leading and living, essentially, haunted by the people of her past. Her relationships with her daughter and her lovers, present or past, still evoke a certain sadness from the reader and a compassion for Clarissa Dalloway/Vaughn. Therefore, though my re-introduction to Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway" was, at first, a little overwhelming due to what seemed to be some fairly big changes done on the part of Cunningham in "The Hours," when both stories are looked at more closely it is clear that Woolf's voice is still the one telling the story.--Kathleen Kane