The Hours: A Novel

The Hours: A Novel

by Michael Cunningham

Hardcover

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Overview

Beautifully repackaged as part of the Picador Modern Classics series, this special edition is small enough to fit in your pocket and bold enough to stand out on your bookshelf.

In The Hours, Michael Cunningham, widely praised as one of the most gifted writers of his generation, draws inventively on the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair. The narrative of Woolf's last days before her suicide early in World War II counterpoints the fictional stories of Samuel, a famous poet whose life has been shadowed by his talented and troubled mother, and his lifelong friend Clarissa, who strives to forge a balanced and rewarding life in spite of the demands of friends, lovers, and family.

Passionate, profound, and deeply moving, this is Cunningham's most remarkable achievement to date.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250239358
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 09/24/2019
Series: Picador Modern Classics Series , #1
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 205,977
Product dimensions: 3.79(w) x 6.08(h) x 0.78(d)

About the Author

Michael Cunningham was raised in Los Angeles and lives in New York City. He is the author of the novels A Home at the End of the World (Picador) and Flesh and Blood. His work has appeared in The New Yorker and Best American Short Stories, and he is the recipient of a Whiting Writer's Award. The Hours was a New York Times Bestseller, and was chosen as a Best Book of 1998 by The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Publishers Weekly.

Hometown:

New York, New York

Date of Birth:

November 6, 1952

Place of Birth:

Cincinnati, Ohio

Education:

B.A., Stanford University, 1975; M.F.A., University of Iowa, 1980

Reading Group Guide

About this Guide

The following author biography and list of questions about The Hours are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach The Hours.

About the Book

A daring, deeply affecting third novel by the author of A Home at the End of the World and Flesh and Blood.

In The Hours, Michael Cunningham, widely praised as one of the most gifted writers of his generation, draws inventively on the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair. The narrative of Woolf's last days before her suicide early in World War II counterpoints the fictional stories of Samuel, a famous poet whose life has been shadowed by his talented and troubled mother, and his lifelong friend Clarissa, who strives to forge a balanced and rewarding life in spite of the demands of friends, lovers, and family.

Passionate, profound, and deeply moving, this is Cunningham's most remarkable achievement to date.

About the Author

Michael Cunningham was raised in Los Angeles and lives in New York City. He is the author of the novels A Home at the End of the World (Picador) and Flesh and Blood. His work has appeared in The New Yorker and Best American Short Stories, and he is the recipient of a Whiting Writer's Award. The Hours was a New York Times Bestseller, and was chosen as a Best Book of 1998 by The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Publishers Weekly.

1. Clarissa Vaughan is described several times as an "ordinary" woman. Do you accept this valuation? If so, what does it imply about the ordinary, about being ordinary? What makes someone, by contrast, extraordinary?

2. Flowers and floral imagery play a significant part in The Hours. When and where are flowers described? What significance do they have, and with what events and moods are they associated? How do flowers affect Virginia? Clarissa?

3. Cunningham plays with the notions of sanity and insanity, recognizing that there might be only a very fine line between the two states. What does the novel imply about the nature of insanity? Might it in fact be a heightened sanity, or at least a heightened sense of awareness? Would you classify Richard as insane? How does his mental state compare with that of Virginia? Of Laura as a young wife? Of Septimus Smith in Mrs. Dalloway? Does insanity (or the received idea of insanity) appear to be connected with creative gifts?

4. Virginia and Laura are both, in a sense, prisoners of their eras and societies, and both long for freedom from this imprisonment. Clarissa Vaughan, on the other hand, apparently enjoys every liberty: freedom to be a lesbian, to come and go and live as she likes. Yet she has ended up, in spite of her unusual way of life, as a fairly conventional wife and mother. What might this fact indicate about the nature of society and the restrictions it imposes? Does the author imply that character, to a certain extent, is destiny?

5. Each of the novel's three principal women, even the relatively prosaic and down-to-earth Clarissa, occasionally feels a sense of detachment, of playing a role. Laura feels as if she is "about to go onstage and perform in a play for which she is not appropriately dressed, and for which she has not adequately rehearsed" [p. 43]. Clarissa is filled with "a sense of dislocation. This is not her kitchen at all. This is the kitchen of an acquaintance, pretty enough but not her taste, full of foreign smells" [p. 91]. Is this feeling in fact a universal one? Is role-playing an essential part of living in the world, and of behaving "sanely"? Which of the characters refuses to act a role, and what price does he/she pay for this refusal?

6. Who kisses whom in The Hours, and what is the significance of each kiss?

7. The Hours is very much concerned with creativity and the nature of the creative act, and each of its protagonists is absorbed in a particular act of creation. For Virginia and Richard, the object is their writing; for Clarissa Vaughan (and Clarissa Dalloway), it is a party; for Laura Brown, it is another party, or, more generally, "This kitchen, this birthday cake, this conversation. This revived world" [p. 106]. What does the novel tell us about the creative process? How does each character revise and improve his or her creation during the course of the story?

8. How might Richard's childhood experiences have made him the adult he eventually becomes? In what ways has he been wounded, disturbed?

9. Each of the three principal women is acutely conscious of her inner self or soul, slightly separate from the "self" seen by the world. Clarissa's "determined, abiding fascination is what she thinks of as her soul" [p. 12]; Virginia "can feel it inside her, an all but indescribable second self, or rather a parallel, purer self. If she were religious, she would call it the soul . . . It is an inner faculty that recognizes the animating mysteries of the world because it is made of the same substance" [pp. 34-35]. Which characters keep these inner selves ruthlessly separate from their outer ones? Why?

10. Each of the novel's characters sees himself or herself, most of the time, as a failure. Virginia Woolf, as she walks to her death, reflects that "She herself has failed. She is not a writer at all, really; she is merely a gifted eccentric" [p. 4]. Richard, disgustedly, admits to Clarissa, "I thought I was a genius. I actually used that word, privately, to myself" [p. 65]. Are the novel's characters unusual, or are such feelings of failure an essential and inevitable part of the human condition?

11. Toward the end of Clarissa's day, she realizes that kissing Richard beside the pond in Wellfleet was the high point, the culmination, of her life. Richard, apparently, feels the same. Are we meant to think, though, that their lives would have been better, more heightened, had they stayed together? Or does Cunningham imply that as we age we inevitably feel regret for some lost chance, and that what we in fact regret is youth itself?

12. The Hours could on one level be said to be a novel about middle age, the final relinquishment of youth and the youthful self. What does middle age mean to these characters? In what essential ways do these middle-aged people—Clarissa, Richard, Louis, Virginia —differ from their youthful selves? Which of them resists the change most strenuously?

13. What does the possibility of death represent to the various characters? Which of them loves the idea of death, as others love life? What makes some of the characters decide to die, others to live? What personality traits separate the "survivors" from the suicides?

14. If you have read Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, would you describe The Hours as a modern version of it? A commentary upon it? A dialogue with it? Which characters in The Hours correspond with those of Woolf's novel? In what ways are they similar, and at what point do the similarities cease and the characters become freestanding individuals in their own right?

15. For the most part, the characters in The Hours have either a different gender or a different sexual orientation from their prototypes in Mrs. Dalloway. How much has all this gender-bending affected or changed the situations, the relationships, and the people?

16. Why has Cunningham chosen The Hours for the title of his novel (aside from the fact that it was Woolf's working title for Mrs. Dalloway)? In what ways is the title appropriate, descriptive? What do hours mean to Richard? To Laura? To Clarissa?

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The Hours 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 237 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Michael Cunningham's The Hours is a timeless piece of literary achievement that is deserving of its Pulitzer Prize. He remarkably and cleverly weaves the stories of three different women of three different time periods into one flowing story. There is Virginia Woolf in 1923, and her story is followed as she writes her greatest literary achievement, Mrs. Dalloway. Then, there is Laura Brown, a wife and mother from 1949, who struggles with the confinement of her life and seeks to escape it through reading Mrs. Dalloway. Then finally, there is Clarissa Vaughn, a curious reincarnation of Clarissa Dalloway, who is alive at the end of the twentieth century, and whose story follows the planning of a party for a friend. Each finds herself in an undesired position -one of dissatisfaction. These three stories are soon woven together, depicting each individual's triumphs and sorrows and eventually, the connection all three share, despite the passage of time. The book really gave me something to chew on. For one, Cunningham's depiction of the theme of confinement was certainly interesting. Though each woman is under a very different situation, each feels that they are somehow constrained. What is more interesting is how each woman handles her situation. Another thing that amazed me was Cunningham's ability to highlight the most everyday things, and give them the most expressive descriptions to make them come alive. He is able to portray that life does not just go on, but every waking moment of life is something special. Interestingly enough, he also contrasts that theme with the idea that life is just a fleeting picture. I personally found the book enjoyable. The imagery Michael creates is just stunning, and really brings out the essence of everyday life. At the same time, he is able to manipulate the imagery, syntax, and diction to create a different picture depending on the character. The plot is certainly unique and is very craftily put together. I enjoyed my time reading the book for its literary brilliance. At the same time, I feel that the book was a little over-done at times. While the descriptions certainly add to the life of the book, they do become slightly overwhelming or confusing at times. Also, there are a lot of names to keep track of, making certain parts feel like they're too much to swallow at once. I would recommend this book to those who are looking for a good read and a good piece of literature. After I finished reading, not only was I left wowed, but I was also left with a lot to think about. However, I wouldn't recommend this to someone looking for a climactic plot, or a thriller as this is one of those pieces that is simply done to show the power of the pen. Also, it is better suited toward juniors in high school and beyond, as it features some material that requires some maturity to appreciate. And so, through his great style of writing, Cunningham is able to entice the reader into getting lost in The Hours, much as Laura Brown fell into Mrs. Dalloway.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you've seen the movie and not yet read the book, I would highly recommend Mr. Cunningham's work. The successful transfer of his novel to motion picture says a great deal about David Hare, the man who wrote the screenplay,and did a beautiful job, I must say. The way the movie flows from one era to another is done so masterfully by all who worked to create the motion picture version of this work. Both the novel and screenplay are a 'NOT TO BE MISSED, MUST READ AND SEE'. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND BOTH!
Guest More than 1 year ago
THE HOURS is a book both beautiful and agonizing, portraying human emotion clearly, like a bell rung through a forest: you hear it, you want to run to it, but it is too far away. Lovely.
juliette07 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have just completed this book, the 1999 prize winner of the Pulitzer and Pen/Faulkner award. I have been completely immersed in the lives of three women as I have followed them to the end of a momentous day. This is a complex, hugely enjoyable yet deeply demanding book that begs as many questions as it answers.As soon as a question forms reflections flood in. All through I was struck by recurring themes and ideas. I would love to study this book in depth to explore further many of the puzzles¿..Puzzles Queries and Thoughts ¿Why hours?Is this a book of middle age and the relinquishing of youth?Kisses are laid before us with very careful almost precise language.Creativity .., so wonderful yet here so close to sanity and the converse.The joy of life and yet the shadow of death is never far from the writing.
im-imagined on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A really amazing book...one of my all-time favourites. Fascinating how Mr Cunningham manages to intertwine 3 very different women around Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway...Loved it - movie was good as well.
Myhi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well... meant as a parody of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, I cannot say I was strongly impressed: newer people, newer problems - populating the same old story. An actualization of the tale - using end-of-the-century people, with different problems and thoughts; well realized though - a great script for a bestselling movie.All the couples used are gay in this book - as opposed to the original one; that changes a lot on the main character, to me. In terms of a parody - unquestionably a good one.Kinda strange - to imagine one of Virginia Woolf's stories, with people wearing blue-jeans !
EyesofBlue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book was ok on the whole, I didn't like it until the last few pages with the paragraph that eloquently discussed how we view death - it's in how we live for the hours of bliss.
Cariola on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In his brief essay "First Love," Michael Cunningham recalls how, at the age of 15, he was not much of a reader, but he tried to impress a literary-minded girl by saying something smart about the poetry of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. She replied that if he was really interested in poetry, he needed to read T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf. Young Michael promptly headed over to the local Bookmobile, picked up a battered copy of Mrs. Dalloway, and, upon reading it, fell deeply and unexpectedly in love--not with the girl, but with the book. His 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winner, The Hours, is a tribute Woolf's remarkable novel.In what Cunningham likens to a jazz improvisation, The Hours weaves characters, themes, and motifs drawn from Mrs. Dalloway into an entirely new yet still recognizable form, told through the stories of one day in the lives of three different women. The novel opens with Virginia Woolf herself as a character, choosing a large stone to cram into her coat pocket as she walks towards the river Ouse. As the book proceeds, Virginia's story flashes back to 1923, the year in which she wrote her most famous novel. Clarissa Vaughan--affectionately called "Mrs. Dalloway" by her friend Richard, a poet losing both his sanity and his life to AIDS--is an editor in her fifties, living in 1990s New York not with an MP but with her longtime lesbian lover, Sally. She, like Clarissa Dalloway, sets out to buy flowers for a party she is hosting that evening. In the third story, set in California in 1949, pregnant homemaker and mother Laura Brown is torn between staying in bed to read Mrs. Dalloway and getting up to prepare for her husband's birthday celebration. As each woman's day moves along, she is haunted by memories and old dreams, hungers for moments of brilliance and creativity, faces the conflicts between domestic demands and a sense of selfhood, and ponders the stretch of time ahead of her.Part of the pleasure of reading The Hours--at least for lovers of Mrs. Dalloway--is to follow Cunningham's movements and variations, his reassignment of character names and traits and his revisioning of scenes from Woolf's novel. But in and of itself, The Hours is a stunning achievement.(My students, who were assigned both books, felt that The Hours also helped them to better understand Mrs. Dalloway--another tribute to Cunningham's skillful rendition.)
george1295 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
'The Hours'--Brilliant. Michael Cunningham weaves a novel about three women whose lives span the 20th century. Their lives are oven into each others through the book 'Mrs. Dalloway'. Cunningham not only portrays his characters images, but he involves the reader in their thinking and emotions in such a way that one is drawn into their lives. This is serious literary art of the highest quality. The choice of words to depict scenes, emotions, memories and hours divulges an effort of labor and excellence that comes along rarely. The use of metaphore is exquisite. "The woman's head quickly withdraws, the door to the railer closes again, but she leaves behind her an unmistakable sense of watchful remonstrance, as if an angel had briefly touched the surface of the world with one sandaled foot, asked if there was any trouble and, being told all was well, had resumed her place in the ether with skeptical gravity, having reminded the children of earth that they are just barely trusted to manage their own business, and that further carelessness will not go unremarked."
mmyoung on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting literary conceit which did, in the end, live up to this reader's expectations.
PLReader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In my opinion this book was just a pale shadow of Mrs. Dalloway. There really is no comparison with the Virginia Woolf novel - neither the writing or the story is particularly notable. I think it is highly overrated!
bookheaven on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Deep and introspective
richardderus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rating: 4.75* of fiveThe Book Report: Three women mirror the facets of the life of Clarissa Dalloway, heroine of the novel Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. One life is Mrs. Woolf herself, shown in the depths of despair as she convalesces from one of her crippling bouts with depression in the suburban aridity of Richmond while pining for life in London's Bloomsbury, writing her novel of the exquisite nature of the quotidian. Another is the life of Mrs. Laura Brown, dying a million deaths every day in suburban Los Angeles, raising a son and pregnant again by a good man she doesn't love, as she reads Mrs. Dalloway and ponders escape. Lastly the life of Clarissa Vaughn, whose long unrequited love for Richard Brown, her gay poet/novelist friend, has led her to care for him tenderly in his final years as an AIDS patient. He long ago nicknamed her ¿Mrs. Dalloway,¿ both for her first name and for her exquisitely self-abnegating strength.Over the course of one day in the life of each woman, everything she knows and feels about her life is sharply refocused; it is made clear to each that, to escape the trap she is in, she must accept change or die in the trap. The ending of the book brings all three strands to their inevitable conclusions, with surprising overlaps.My Review: I first read this when it came out in 1998. I fell in love instantly, as I had with Mrs. Dalloway at a slightly earlier date. I loved the imaginative structure of interwoven lives, commenting on each other and riffing off the events in each world, echoing some facet in every case the events in the iconic novel Mrs. Dalloway.I can't give it five stars because, in the end, I wondered a bit if the clever-clever hadn't gotten in the way of the emotional core of the book, which I saw as the gritty determination of the women to live on their own terms and in their own lives not dependent on convention. In making the book conform to this ideal, I felt that some plot strands weren't honestly dealt with but rather forced into a shape required by the author's plans.That cavil aside, the book is beautifully written and wonderfully interestingly conceived. I'd recommend it heartily, and suggest reading it in conjunction with the movie.
jharlton on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Three interconnecting narratives. Very cool. Different kinds of love, different kinds of art.
qarae on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I don't usually compare books and their movies, but I have to say that I enjoyed the movie more than the book. I feel the book left too many holes in the descriptive sense, so I couldn't connect with the characters, I didn't even have a true sense of who they were. I feel the movie did a better job of this.
coolpinkone on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I can't say enough on the brilliance of this story. I love the interwoven rich characters. I will note that the movie version is a little different but it was really well done.
Elleneer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The most beautifully crafted novel I've read in contemporary fiction.
cefeick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had mixed feelings about this one. While it was overall a moving experience, parts of the book were slow. I did enjoy how Cunningham tied everything together in the end.
katchoo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"She stands tall, haggard, marvelous in her housecoat, the coffee steaming in her hand. He is still, at times, astonished by her. She may be the most intelligent woman in England, he thinks. Her books may be read for centuries. He believes this more ardently than does anyone else. And she is his wife.She is Virginia Stephen, pale and tall, startling as a Rebrandt or a Velazquez, appearing twenty years ago at her brother's rooms in cambridge in a white dress, and she is Virginia Woolf, standing before him right now."
Allovertheboard on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This may be the worst book written in the English language, nay the worst purchase in the Western hemisphere. I would put it before a crash-landing baloon ride and a very expensive driving iron (that I managed never to be able to hit) as life events I never would wish I had spent money on.
pzmiller on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A wonderful book -- made even more enjoyable if one has read Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway."
readingrat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was swept away in the parallels of the lives of the three women in the story (four if you count Mrs. Dalloway). I even went out to get Mrs. Dalloway to read because since I had not yet read that book I'm sure I missed many of the literary references therein. The ending was just the icing on the cake.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I saw this as a wonderful look at our human difficulty in living a life that is at once both everyday and exceptional. An incredible book that held up very well to a second reading.
JQuist on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading the hours. The author does a great job of combining the stories of three fascinating women with very tragic lives. This book has definitely made me want to read Mrs. Dalloway.
gregory_gwen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I kept waiting for it to get better, but it didn't, really. Maybe I just didn't get it, or I haven't read Mrs. Dalloway enough.