The Hours comprises three distinct but tightly intertwined tales; each of them centers on one woman in a different time and place, and the later ones build on material established in the earlier ones. Each of them embarks on a quest of self-discovery in highly distinct ways. The occasional perfect moment and single beautiful kiss each have a role in their stories.
The earliest portion features a fictionalized Virginia Woolf in England, primarily in the 1920s. She explores her inner self through her writings, and suffers greatly whenever her books are published. Her sections in The Hours relate to her writing the novel Mrs. Dalloway. Woolf finally decided to end her own life, and drowned herself in 1941, an event that provides this book’s prologue.
In Los Angeles in the 1940s, we meet Laura Brown preparing for her husband’s birthday. She reads Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, which is about a woman preparing for a party and questioning her identity. Pregnant and depressed, Laura contemplates suicide but rejects the idea. Her identity quest seems to revolve around her family and stereotypical domestic concerns. Through one kiss with another woman, she may be on the verge of discovering something meaningful about her sexual identity. After deciding to keep living, she moves away and becomes estranged from her family.
In New York in the 1990s, another party hostess works on preparations. She is Clarissa, and her old friend and former lover Richard, who is dying from AIDS-related causes, is receiving a literary award. Clarissa was also Mrs. Dalloway’s first name, and Laura is Richard’s mother. Although Laura reunites with Richard in this story, he decides to end his life by jumping from a window. Clarissa’s identity is bound up in her friendship with Richard, motherhood to Julia, and a relationship with her partner Sally. Although the most recent story, its protagonist is in many ways the most traditionally nurturing mother figure.