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Resonances and Dissonances of the Hours and Mrs. Dalloway: Analytical Essay

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Through conversations between texts and composers, the construction of texts can be reintroduced across different time periods to display and challenge the values of audiences. This is exemplified through Stephen Daldry’s postmodern film, The Hours, which compliments Virginia Woolf’s modernist novel, Mrs. Dalloway, to a great extent by offering an adaptation on the novel. Through the exploration of both resonances and dissonances between both texts, the relationship and intertextual components are impossible to ignore. ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ written amidst the Victorian Era, influencing Woolf to exhibit a modernist approach to storytelling by exploring the characters and relationships between time and places as it happened aiming to ‘examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day, sanity and insanity, life and death’, rather then clear-cut storytelling. The novel follows a single day in London from the perspectives of several characters through her use of formal, stylistic techniques and stream of consciousness narration. Comparatively Daldry’s post-modern film, situated across three time periods 1923, 1949, and 1990’s which aims to re-tell and innovate the novel into a film by intertwining ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ with Virginia Woolf’s life and contextual values exploring similar concepts and themes. Through Daldry’s use of Woolf’s myriad of literary techniques plus his adaptation and reimagining of themes and binary concepts in the novel such as Time, Societal Restraints and the Troublesome Communications between characters. Through the continued exploration of these themes Daldry creates a post modern adaptation of ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ providing meaning to the simple things thus strengthening the connections to both the novel and film by highlighting the resonances and dissonances between the texts and expose the continual relevance.

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Time is represented as the fundamental concept which fortifies the relationship between both Mrs. Dalloway and The Hours using conversing resonances and dissonances. The events of Mrs. Dalloway occurs over one single day creating an everlasting order in the novel where several events unfold rapidly. The modernist approach on the novel allows time to be the distinctive factor creating a sense of order within the text where time determines the outcomes of the events in the novel. Woolf utilises her stream of consciousness style of writing to focus on the ‘little things’ showcasing her focus on the interior aspects of life creating a deep contextual meaning to the interactions made from characters and their struggles present in the novel. The novel demonstrates the explicit value of time through two features, the obvious and the concealed. The obvious being the physical features that are everlasting within the novel while the concealed being the duration of the interactions shared between the characters. Time becomes the crucial element that interweaves the complexity of the character’s interactions into the storyline. Woolf thoroughly utilises symbolism throughout the novel to establish the Big Ben clock tower as a motif. The Big Ben apart from indicating the modernism era, signifies that time is everlasting and continuous through the ticking of the clock and the continuous movement of the city. As the book progresses and the clock chimes, the presence of the Big Ben resembles the continuous progression of time and builds an order and rhythm. Through symbolism coupled with juxtaposing views, time can also resemble uncertainty for characters and be an interruption to the concurrent thoughts and memories while also interrupting the relationships shared by characters. The aspect of time creating order and rhythm while linking characters is shown in the beginning where, “Clarissa has recently recovered…She goes out into the street and hears Big Ben tolling ten o’clock, and she thinks of…Clarissa notes the setting: it is five years after the end of World War 1…” Through the use of third person omniscient background narration coupled with repetitive motif, Woolf showcases the importance of time by reiterating the tolling of symbolist Big Ben throughout all the other events occurring as a reminder of the everlasting time. Clarissa becomes a victim of time as she falls ill hinting at the possible end of her time as with many other characters affected by the presence of death in the novel such as Septimus Warren Smith. Similarly, time is also a fundamental concept in, The Hours, where it explores three different timelines and perspectives. Daldry created a re-adaptation of Mrs. Dalloway by showcasing singular perspectives from 1923 Virginia Woolf as she’s writing the book, 1949 Laura Brown reading the book and 1990’s Clarissa Vaughan living the book. Through Daldry’s use of continuous shifting of perspectives in the film, Daldry combines the historical contexts of Woolf coupled with the storyline of Mrs. Dalloway to showcase the traumatic experiences of characters as they race against time to create a better outcome. Also, by introducing the additional storyline of Laura Brown, this provides the audience with further insight into the difficulties of monumental time becoming a burden on life as she fails to end her struggle while time continues on. This resonates with Mrs. Dalloway where death becomes a constant reminder to the characters of time as shown in Septimus Warrens struggle to resolve his inner problems thus leading to his apparent suicide. The continuous presence of time is thus shown through dialogue between Clarissa and Septimus where she reminds him that “he need not die, that he can live like this for years.” Septimus counters with, “but I still have to face the hours, don’t I?” Through a rhetorical question from Septimus, he declares that even if he were to live, he would have to be alone and without Clarissa living an insufferable life showcasing the inevitable burden of time slowing down in his life. Furthermore, time can be intertextually significant between the film and the book contextually as Virginia Woolf intended to name the book, The Hours, just exhibiting the importance of time within the novel. Daldry by replicating the title highlights the importance of the resemblance to the film towards the book. Thus both Woolf and Daldry’s texts resonate the way with how concurrent memories and characters have different experiences with time. Whereas the interaction of Daldry’s multiple timelines heightens the capacity of audiences to craft a better understanding of Mrs. Dalloway and value both texts.

The societal and gender restraining nature of both Mrs. Dalloway and The Hours secures the vital relationship between both texts through resonances and dissonances. The notion of social and gender confinement is seen through the continuous hardships and struggles endured by characters from both texts contextually from the post-war conservative period which intended to keep the values from the Victorian era alive. Woolf intended to focus on the role of women within society through her stream of consciousness style which challenged female oppression by giving insight into the restrictions posed on women while exploring the role of women over time. This is portrayed through the ‘exquisite’ moment shared between Clarissa and Sally, “Sally stopped…kissed her on the lips…the whole world might’ve turned upside down…she was alone with sally…” Through cliché terminology, the shared kiss refers to the strong emotion and love shared between Clarissa and Sally in the past fulfilling their true desires. However, due to societal expectations of women to endure a traditional supportive role to their husbands in historical context, the idea of homosexuality is forbidden and thus looked down upon. This symbolizes the restrictions within Mrs. Dalloway forcing characters to live unfulfillingly. This is further portrayed through metaphorical language in, “there was an emptiness about the heart of life…narrower would her bed be” depicting her life as unfulfilling and another representation of Woolf challenging societal norms. Similarly, the notion of female restrains becomes an adaptation showcasing the struggle of characters over time. Daldry makes it evident in the film that characters are still aiming to achieve independence and joy, but through storytelling the progress is diminished. These restrictions are echoed through Laura Brown trying to fill a particular role supporting her husband while in severe distress. Homosexuality represented by Woolf is replicated by Daldry resonating similar values when Laura shockingly kissed Kitty in the absence of her husband highlighting a sense of release of Laura and Kitty from the forced housewife role fulfilling their desires. Daldry depicts Woolf as the living embodiment of female movement and homosexuality through historical context when she herself is shown in the film sharing a kiss with her sister. This kiss resonates across the novel and film as an extensive motif interconnecting the texts through similar events underlining the psychological effects of unfulfillment. Daldry similarly shows Clarissa Vaughan as an individual with more opportunities as she possesses authority to throw a party. However, in the presence of an authorative figure such as Louis Waters, she is depicted through submissive camera angles as powerless. Daldry also utlises setting and propping by illustrating Clarissa’s societal role through her floral clothing and rubber gloves in the kitchen. This showcases her housewife roles while ignoring her authority in planning the party. Mrs. Dalloway explores the restrictions of societal restraints towards females during the modernism period through one time whereas The Hours depicts the slow shift of the role of women within society through different times and perspective. This slow progression is shown through Virginia where she is under complete submission of her husband to Clarissa who is depicted with minor independence almost decades later. This is showcased through language features in conjunction with tone where Virginia is shown speaking indirectly to her husband asking for permission as societal expectations in, “May I go for a walk?” Whereas, Clarissa is represented with action of independence as she can make her own decisions and choices, “I will buy the flowers myself?” Thus the notion of achieving personal fulfillment while breaking free from societal restraints along with its psychological effects on characters and relationships is heavily exhibited through both texts while offering deeper insights into the resonances and dissonances.

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Resonances and Dissonances of the Hours and Mrs. Dalloway: Analytical Essay. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from
“Resonances and Dissonances of the Hours and Mrs. Dalloway: Analytical Essay.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
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