Mrs. Dalloway Double Feature

With wanting to go back to school this fall, something I decided to do over my two-month leave from my day job for quarantine was to try and read at least a handful of books listed on the English course reading lists I was looking at. With my mother being an English Major, she decided to join in and we read Mrs. Dalloway together with the intention of watching the film The Hours (dir. Stephen Daldry, 2003) when we finished it.

Mrs. Dalloway was a tough read for me. It’s a really dense story that follows several characters over the course of a single day with flashbacks to various points in time throughout. As someone who has never really had to do a close reading before, I found it difficult looking for things that I don’t even think were there to begin with (like a point), and it made for a very long time spent pushing through the dense prose. While Virigina Woolf has some seriously great quotes in the book, and an interesting look at female independence in that time period, I found the number of characters and the muddled paragraphs very difficult to follow. I get that it’s “stream of consciousness” writing, but I found myself re-reading things several times and – at moments – entirely giving up and just continuing on with the book whether or not I understood what I was reading. When I finally finished the book I was more annoyed than anything else because I seriously felt like I missed something.

While waiting for my mom to finish reading, I learned that The Hours film is based on the book of the same name by Michael Cunningham. Having read one of Cunningham’s books in the past and enjoying it, I jumped on trying to read The Hours.

In three days, I finished reading one of the most beautiful books I’ve come across this year. The Hours follows three women over a single day: Virginia Woolf as she plans on writing Mrs. Dalloway, Laura Brown as she fights depression while planning her husband’s birthday, and Clarissa Vaughan as she plans a celebratory party for her friend that has won a significant literary award. The storyline that I loved best was Clarissa’s as the involvement of the AIDs pandemic fallout of the 90s and the harsh reality of the suffering AIDs patients went through… It’s heartbreaking and raw and beautiful. With so many context cues to the source material that is Mrs. Dalloway, adding AIDs on top of the tragedy of the adaptation of Septimus’s life makes so a heartbreaking and layered reason for the horrible end.

I definitely enjoyed The Hours and I feel like I picked up on a lot more nuances having read Mrs. Dalloway first. Of course, the film was a different story (for a different day but… how do you ruin a movie that stars Meryl freaking Streep?!) and I honestly hated it, but I’m so pleased to have picked up Michael Cunningham’s novel. It was an interesting exercise reading both of these books with my mom as well and really reminded me how much I enjoy talking about books with people.