Why is Cunningham's novel titled The Hours and what does it signify to Woolf, Richard, Laura, and Clarissa?

Quick answer:

The Hours is an appropriate title for Cunningham’s novel because it was an earlier title of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and because of its multiple associations with time. For Virginia Woolf and Richard, "the hours" are especially associated with the end of life. For Laura, hours connote significant phases in her life. Clarissa both considers the hours leading up to the party and how time affects different people’s lives.

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Michael Cunningham’s novel is closely tied to Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway, which she had first given the title The Hours. Cunningham both includes Woolf as a character in The Hours, gives Clarissa the same first name as Mrs. Dalloway, and creates a plot that has numerous connections with Woolf’s life and elements of her novel.

Hours are meaningful in various associations with time, which differ for the main characters. One association is literal, referring to the divisions that constitute a day. Parts of both novels are concerned with a single day in which Clarissa prepares for a party. For the modern Clarissa, as for Woolf’s character, measuring out the events in association with the necessary tasks is a significant component of that day. The broader significance of hours as leading up to the end of life applies to both the real person Virginia Woolf and the fictional character of Richard Brown, as well as a character named Septimus in Mrs. Dalloway. All three of them die by suicide.

Longer stretches of time and the ways people’s identities and situations change over time are also implied by hours. Clarissa, like Mrs. Dalloway, spends part of the day remembering her earlier life and loves. The passage of time is marked by generational relationships, especially between mothers and children. For Laura, her early adult years spent trapped in an artificial marriage have largely been relegated to the past and are connected to her painful decision to leave her son as well as her husband. Clarissa also reflects on her relationship with her daughter. For Woolf and Richard, who are writers, the passage of time also involves recognition—or lack thereof—for their work.

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