Suppression and Insight: Comparative Analysis of Mrs Dalloway and The Hours

Through examining the intertextual connections between two texts, the effects of context, purpose and audience on the shaping of meaning is made evident. Virginia Woolf’s modernist novel ‘Mrs Dalloway’ (Penguin, 1925) and Stephen Daldry’s postmodern film adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s novel ‘The Hours’ (Miramax, 2002) are examples of this, as ‘The Hours’ offers new insights about repression through the lives of its three heroines as well as affirming those offered in ‘Mrs Dalloway’. This is manifested through the exploration of the struggle and failure to conform to societal expectations and its psychological impacts and the sense of unfulfillment due to oppressive societal roles and norms.

The exploration of how the inability to embody societal roles can have repressive repercussions on one’s mental health and interior self is evident in Woolf’s ‘Mrs Dalloway’. Although modernism was in response to scientific developments, Woolf represents the ignorance of psychology when it manifests in the authoritarian form of mechanically minded Dr Holmes’ and Bradshaw’s resistance to Freudian developments as they mistreat shell-shock suffering Septimus due to their denial of male weakness. Through the use of Septimus’ indirect interior monologue – a modernist device that highlights the inner self – we see that he imperatively assures himself that ‘he would not go mad’ in a society concerned with external facades – which Woolf criticised in her 1924 essay ‘Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Brown’ – a foreshadowing and ironic allusion to Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’. Through the beneficial use of intertextuality, we can now understand that the inability of others to accept his mental illness is cause for Septimus’ psychological descent into madness. Thus, Dr Holmes is personified ‘human nature’ – Septimus would rather commit suicide than suffocate in a repressive society with no concern for the interior self, a choice that has significant ramifications for the characters of Daldry’s ‘The Hours’.

Additionally, Daldry’s ‘The Hours’ examines how restrictive societal roles can cause the inner-turmoil of individuals, leaving them to question their self-worth, evident through Laura Brown, enhancing understanding on the multifacted concept of repression through the study of intertextual connections. The struggle of maintaining the archetypal constricting 1950’s housewife facade overwhelms Laura and she goes to commit suicide in ‘a room of her own’. As Laura begins to read ‘Mrs Dalloway’, Glass’ musical score sounds, the valuable intertextuality allowing us to understand Laura’s inner conflict with her external self, paralleling to Septimus. Virginia’s postmodern foreshadowing voiceover, “Did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely?” echoes Woolf’s modernist stream of consciousness style, and the camera cuts between them highlight the composer and responder’s postmodern, metafictional relationship. The aerial shot of the surrealist, postmodern nature of the water overwhelming Laura as the music crescendos echoes the water motif across texts as Virginia drowns herself and as Septimus ‘plunges’ out the window to his death due to the detrimental ramifications of a repressive society. However, Laura Brown ‘chose life’ as she found a way to escape her family which metaphorically imprisoned her. Thus, intertextual connections powerfully vivify the analogous relationship between ‘Mrs Dalloway’ and ‘The Hours’, while providing new insight about repression in Woolf’s classic.

In addition, Woolf’s ‘Mrs Dalloway’ examines how sexually repressive societal norms may restrict individuals from substantial relationships, offering insight on how one can seek meaningful connections through sexual fluidity, as women were expected to be sexually ignorant in Edwardian England. This is evident when Clarissa, who feels unfulfilled as ‘Mrs Richard Dalloway’, often reverts to the past as a sanctuary of youth. Through Woolf’s modernist stream of consciousness style, Clarissa’s excitement of her sexually liberating kiss with avant-garde Sally at Bourton is conveyed – it was hyperbolically “the most exquisite moment of her whole life”. Sexuality is integral to Woolf’s innovations in plot, apparent in her 1929 essay ‘A Room of One’s Own’, as she suggested lesbian plots as a truthful depiction of character in a sexually repressive society. Through the yonic flower motif in “a match burning in a crocus”, Clarissa’s affair with Sally is symbolic of sapphist liberation and a paradox to the sexual repression of women. These positive connotations contrast to Clarissa feeling ‘like a nun’ with Richard, the social norm of heterosexual marriage and emphasis on fertility sexually restricting her. In this respect, Clarissa Dalloway’s liberating internal self has significant impacts on the three heroines of Daldry’s ‘The Hours’.

Furthermore, through the study of intertextual connections, Daldry’s ‘The Hours’ explores how the pressure for individuals to conform to societal gender roles can deprive them of personal fulfilment, enhancing comprehension of the ramifications of repression. The opening montage, with Glass’ emotionally charged musical score and camera cuts between the three heroines, as well as the triptych colour palettes initially connects the women in a postmodern, metafictional, composer, responder and creator relationship. Boundaries between time frames are blurred, mirroring the stream of conscious style of Woolf’s novel. Laura’s inability to embody the stereotypical housewife in Post-WWII Los Angeles, where Cunningham was raised, is symbolised through her failure to bake the hyperbolic ‘ridiculously easy’ cake, which eventually causes her to ostracise herself from her repressive ‘ideal’ family, paralleling to Septimus’ hesitation to commit to family life and contrasting Mrs Dalloway, who is obliged to conform to social expectations and be the ‘perfect hostess’. The triptych highlights the lack of maternal qualities of the three women, expressing how they could escape the inhibiting societal emphasis placed on the ideal feminine figure, unlike Clarissa Dalloway and Sally Seton.

New concerns surrounding repression such as the implications of constrictive societal roles and norms on the mental health and the satisfaction of individuals is evidenced through intertextual links between Virginia Woolf’s modernist novel ‘Mrs Dalloway’ and Stephen Daldry’s postmodern film ‘The Hours’. The intertextual links help clarify the values, form and context of each, enabling audiences to better appreciate Woolf’s message whilst broadening their understanding of ‘Mrs Dalloway’, after almost a century.

The Details of The Minutes of The Hours: How Mise-en-Scene Creates Narrative Connections

The Details of the Minutes of The Hours In the film The Hours by Stephen Daldry, the various of elements of the Mise en Scene are used primarily in order to define and maintain the structure of the overall plot. The structure is set up so that there is one overarching plot, then three subplots following three different lead female characters. The mise en scene elements upheld this structure in multiple ways including foreshadowing of emotional character development, parallels that helped establish timeline and connections between the plots following each character. It made clear, the notion that there were three separate ongoing storylines, but that they were all connected by the same central theme and ideas. There were a few elements of mise en scene that helped to define the story structure through the establishment of the timeline in the film.

The first element would be the use of on-screen text, which is used very early on in the film in order to establish what era and area each story is set to be in. Prior to the introduction of each main character, there were shots of the setting and at the bottom of each shot, was the name of the setting and the year. The first one that was introduced was Las Angeles 1951, followed by Richmond, England 1923 and lastly New York 2001. This is how the audience knew that there were three different stories and timelines being represented in the film. While the use of on screen text is primarily what helped to definitively establish that there were different timelines in terms of era, it was the use of parallels that made the audience aware that the stories were being told as if they were in sync. While they took place in different eras in time, they still had the same time frame in terms of how long it took for each main character for to experience all the events that they did throughout the film. For each character, their stories took place over the course of a single day. The first indication of this was when the film provided parallels between the way in which each leading ladies day starts off. It showed them all lying in their bed, with faint sunlight streaming in from windows behind them, having just woken up. The shots are constantly changing in terms of which lead character is being focused on and while Virginia and Clarissa both get out of bed and start getting ready for the day, Laura is shown having chosen to stay in bed with her book. Eventually, they are all shown having conversations about eating breakfast which is a further indication of how this is the start of each lead character’s day.

Shots like the ones previously mentioned are continuously used to maintain and keep the audience aware of the timetable of events; it is still the same day, it is simply later on in the day. Just as there were shots to establish it being early morning, there are shots that worked to establish once it was afternoon. All the lead characters are paralleled as referencing the fact that it’s now afternoon, so the audience is once again reminded that the timetables are in sync, though the shots are still different in terms of action. For Virginia, there was a scene where she is discussing lunch with her cook, Clarissa told Luis she had a beautiful morning which indicated that the morning had passed for her and Laura greeted her neighbor with “Good afternoon” when she dropped off Richie. This could also be viewed as an example of how the film follows the structure of three separate stories making one overarching story. It puts emphasis on the fact that it was simultaneously three separate plots and one story of the events of a single day, happening in different eras.The shots that parallel the lives of Virginia Woolf and Richard Brown are another way in which mise en scene elements maintain the story structure in terms of keeping up with the notion that the stories are connected and it also foreshadows the character development of Richard through the past actions of Virginia. The opening scenes of the film follow Virginia Woolf as she goes to the river to kill herself and due to all of the parallels between her and Richard, his suicide is heavily implied as many of his actions mirror that of Virginia. Early in the film, Virginia has a conversation with her husband where he questions about having eaten breakfast and notes that it’s at the insistence of her doctors. Shortly after this, Richard has almost the exact same conversation with Clarissa and he has the same uninterested reaction that Virginia has.

A more direct example of foreshadowing via mise en scene was when Virginia had a conversation with her husband that the visionary and poet in her novel must die, and shortly before this scene occurs, Clarissa is discussing how Richard’s novel is the work of a visionary and true poet.There’s another crucial instance where Richard has a parallel experience to Virginia closer to the end of the film. When Clarissa went over his house to help him get ready for the party, he is sitting on a windowsill and tells her that he has only been living for her and that she needs to let him go, which mirrors Virginia’s train station scene. She had planned on leaving the city and when her husband begged her not to, she responded by pointing out the same thing Richard had. She had been living the way she had because it was what he wanted and that he needed to let her go. After this happens, Richard repeats a line which Virginia had written in her suicide letter to her husband. He tells Clarissa that he doesn’t think anyone could have been as happy as they have been. And just as Virginia did when she was done writing that line in her letter, Richard killed himself after having made that verbal statement.

The structure of the story being told and the characters in the film were certainly driven by elements of mise en scene more than anything. It is what allowed for there to be three different plots that still made sense in relation to another, which made for a single compelling story overall. The elements of mise en scene worked not only to draw the audience in, but also to give hints about the way in which the different stories were actually connected to one another; this occurred through the use of elements including parallel frames and shots and foreshadowing via character action and dialogue.