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

July 2, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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