There were two things that immediately put me on my guard with this book. One, the book was a takeoff on Mrs. Dalloway, and I don’t have a high regard for takeoffs. Second, the author is a male writing about the interior lives of women, an attempt immediately suspect. I decided to wait and see what Cunningham had to offer, and make my assessment after I finished.
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolfe expanded the significance of a single day into an entire novel. The Hours, by Michael Cunningham, takes the significance of the novel Mrs. Dalloway and tracks it across the lives of several people, still keeping the temporal window of a single day.
It’s not the same day, though. He tracks Mrs. Woolfe, Mrs. Brown and Clarissa, women of different generations, during their significant day. He manages to show how the novel has affected each woman in her own time. It is an interesting twist on Woolfe’s original work.
I remember reading Mrs. Dalloway, and thinking that it was not a long book, but that it was something I should probably read twice to get it’s meaning. I did not read it twice. Perhaps I will read it again now.
Woolfe’s novel highlights the importance of a single point in time. One of the things I took away from the book was a sense of Virginia trying to say, trying to write, trying to impress upon the reader every single impression of the characters. Every day, every MOMENT is filled past capture with sensory experiences and cognitive reaction to that experience. It is as if she wanted to capture the entirety of what a day is for the people that live in it. There is an inexhaustible fullness of joy in every moment; there is a sorrow in the passing time as well. Her sad Septimus was not able to cope with his allotted hours, the past, present or future moments which made up his life. It was too much for him.
Cunningham’s The Hours expands and savors the moments, as well. It seems that his selection of title comes from that emphasis. He has beautiful turns of phrases, capturing feeling and sensation and emotion elegantly. He put a window to the hearts and minds of the women in the book; it made me wonder how he knew. He must be very empathetic, or have some excellent female friends to share with him. It’s still a little studied, not the organic expression that Woolfe could convey.
The Hours is well worth reading. It is leisurely and lovely, and it made me notice my own moments a little more.