Michael Cunningham superimposes certain characters from Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway into The Hours. For example, Cunningham's Clarissa Vaughn is essentially Virginia Woolf's Clarissa Dalloway. In the beginning of their respective stories, both women are preparing to host parties.
Clarissa Vaughn is hosting a party to honor her poet/writer friend,...
Richard, who is dying from AIDS. She goes flower shopping, and so does Virginia Woolf's Clarissa Dalloway. Both women happen upon old friends during or after running their respective errands. Cunningham's Clarissa Vaughn bumps into Walter Hardy during her excursion, while Woolf's Clarissa Dalloway is surprised by her old suitor, Peter Walsh, when she returns home.
Like Richard in The Hours, Walter Hardy is a writer and a homosexual; unlike Richard, however, Walter is not suffering from AIDS. Instead, his partner, Evan, is the one grappling with the prospect of dying from AIDS. Here, we can see that Cunningham has utilized similar types of characters to highlight Woolf's themes of mortality, homosexuality, and disillusionment in his own novel. Woolf's Clarissa Dalloway is unhappily married to Richard Dalloway, while Cunningham's Clarissa Vaughn is equally disillusioned about life with her live-in lover, Sally. Both women wonder if alternate choices could have given them greater happiness in life.
Cunningham also highlights Woolf's theme of mortality and death by exploring the idea of suicide in his novel. In Woolf's novel, Septimus (a World War One veteran) suffers from depression; he is numbed by his battle experience, and memories of war atrocities have destroyed his faith in human nature. Septimus lives with his wife, Lucrezia, but contemplates suicide daily. His psychiatrist, Sir William Bradshaw, believes that he will be better served in a mental institution. However, Septimus cannot contemplate such a dehumanizing existence and eventually jumps to his death.
Similarly, Clarissa Vaughn's friend, Richard, jumps to a desperate death because he cannot reconcile his physical suffering with his will to live. Septimus and Richard are victims of life; both decide that suicide is preferable to a slow, agonizing death. Thus, in deciding the time and context of their deaths, both men believe that they have retained some semblance of control over their respective fates. Cunningham also explores the theme of disillusionment through the character of Laura Brown. Laura is married to her World War Two veteran husband, Dan (there's that war motif again-it helps us explore the themes of disillusionment and emotional paralysis in Cunningham's novel). Laura and Dan live a superficially normal existence, but Laura is privately unhappy.
She feels constrained by her responsibilities to her husband and son. Similarly, Cunningham's Virginia Woolf and Clarissa Vaughn experience frequent bouts of doubt and disillusionment. From these examples, we can see how Cunningham used characters, ideas, and themes from Virginia Woolf's Mrs.Dalloway to create his unique, contemporary novel.