Module A: Mrs Dalloway and The Hours: The Form and Structure of Daldry’s Film

Module A’s pairing of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Stephen Daldry’s The Hours requires you to discern the ways in which textual differences are revealed within and alongside similarities. Mentioning Daldry’s ‘postmodern’ narrative structure in The Hours is a good start, but better essays will discuss its role in illuminating the resonances and differences across both texts.

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Julianne Moore as Laura Brown in Stephen Daldry’s The Hours

The multidimensional form and structure of The Hours actually bring out the core notion of the HSC Module A rubric – that ideas resonate across time, shaped differently according to particular contextual conditions:

For most of The Hours, the characters move in their separate prisms, their narratives charging forward independently of each other (albeit with a few earlier intertextual resonances between Virginia Woolf the writer, Laura Brown the reader of the writer’s novel, and Clarissa Vaughn, namesake of the novel’s eponymous character). After Richard’s suicide however, Laura Brown reaches across time and into the frame of Clarissa’s prism. (The character Virginia Woolf’s narrative converges with Richard Brown thematically, in that their fates reflect each other). This postmodern rejection of narrative linearity has the effect of highlighting both resonance and difference – conditions are repeated but they are also different. Laura Brown, a housewife of the 1950s, is able to touch Clarissa Vaughn deeply with the stroke of a ruthless decision to live her own life in spite of that decision’s immense cost to her family. She is Sally Seton from Woolf’s novel in her subversion of social expectations, but she is shaded with the particularities of her context – namely, the conservative post-war American society of the 1950s, where men and women were squeezed into stifling gender roles in the pursuit of normality and stability.

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The wonderful Allison Janney as Sally.

Consider also the Clarissa of 1990s New York and the Clarissa of Woolf’s 1920s London. Clarissa of the 1990s is a successful publisher living with a female partner (this reflects the particular environment of New York City: the increase of career-driven women, and the  openness in the late twentieth century with which same-sex couples live) yet she is faced with the same questions of why we live, who we live for, and how we face “the hours”, as Clarissa Dalloway in her conservative, upper-class life in 1920s England was. In this way, characters’ preoccupations reflect each other, but unfold in the distinct shades and tones of their historical contexts.

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“They’re here aren’t they? All the ghosts.” Jeff Daniels as Louis Waters in Stephen Daldry’s The Hours.