The Hours: A Novel

The Hours: A Novel

by Michael Cunningham

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Overview

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel becomes a motion picture starring Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman, directed by Stephen Daldry from a screenplay by David Hare

The Hours tells the story of three women: Virginia Woolf, beginning to write Mrs. Dalloway as she recuperates in a London suburb with her husband in 1923; Clarissa Vaughan, beloved friend of an acclaimed poet dying from AIDS, who in modern-day New York is planning a party in his honor; and Laura Brown, in a 1949 Los Angeles suburb, who slowly begins to feel the constraints of a perfect family and home. By the end of the novel, these three stories intertwine in remarkable ways, and finally come together in an act of subtle and haunting grace.

The Hours is the winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429957946
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 07/31/1998
Series: Picador Modern Classics Series
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 230
Sales rank: 173,960
File size: 327 KB

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.


MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM is the author of the novels A Home at the End of the World, Flesh and Blood, Specimen Days, By Nightfall, and The Snow Queen, as well as the collection A Wild Swan and Other Tales, and the nonfiction book Land’s End: A Walk in Provincetown. He is the recipient of a Whiting Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and his work has appeared in The New Yorkerand The Best American Short Stories. The Hours was a New York Times bestseller, and the winner of both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Raised in Los Angeles, Michael Cunningham lives in New York City, and is a senior lecturer at Yale University.

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

Read an Excerpt


Excerpt from The Hours by Michael Cunningham. Copyright © 1998 by Michael Cunningham. To be published in November, 1998 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.


She hurries from the house, wearing a coat too heavy for the weather. It is 1941. Another war has begun. She has left a note for Leonard, and another for Vanessa. She walks purposefully toward the river, certain of what she'll do, but even now she is almost distracted by the sight of the downs, the church, and a scattering of sheep, incandescent, tinged with a faint hint of sulfur, grazing under a darkening sky. She pauses, watching the sheep and the sky, then walks on. The voices murmur behind her; bombers drone in the sky, though she looks for the planes and can't see them. She walks past one of the farm workers (is his name John?), a robust, small-headed man wearing a potato-colored vest, cleaning the ditch that runs through the osier bed. He looks up at her, nods, looks down again into the brown water. As she passes him on her way to the river she thinks of how successful he is, how fortunate, to be cleaning a ditch in an osier bed. She herself has failed. She is not a writer at all, really; she is merely a gifted eccentric. Patches of sky shine in puddles left over from last night's rain. Her shoes sink slightly into the soft earth. She has failed, and now the voices are back, muttering indistinctly just beyond the range of her vision, behind her, here, no, turn and they've gone somewhere else. The voices are back and the headache is approaching as surely as rain, the headache that will crush whatever is she and replace her with itself. The headache is approaching and it seems (is she or is she not conjuring them herself?) that the bombers have appeared again in the sky. She reaches the embankment, climbs over and down again to the river. There's a fisherman upriver, far away, he won't notice her, will he? She begins searching for a stone. She works quickly but methodically, as if she were following a recipe that must be obeyed scrupulously if it's to succeed at all. She selects one roughly the size and shape of a pig's skull. Even as she lifts it and forces it into one of the pockets of her coat (the fur collar tickles her neck), she can't help noticing the stone's cold chalkiness and its color, a milky brown with spots of green. She stands close to the edge of the river, which laps against the bank, filling the small irregularities in the mud with clear water that might be a different substance altogether from the yellow-brown, dappled stuff, solid-looking as a road, that extends so steadily from bank to bank. She steps forward. She does not remove her shoes. The water is cold, but not unbearably so. She pauses, standing in cold water up to her knees. She thinks of Leonard. She thinks of his hands and his beard, the deep lines around his mouth.

She thinks of Vanessa, of the children, of Vita and Ethel: So many. They have all failed, haven't they? She is suddenly, immensely sorry for them. She imagines turning around, taking the stone out of her pocket, going back to the house. She could probably return in time to destroy the notes. She could live on; she could perform that final kindness. Standing knee-deep in the moving water, she decides against it. The voices are here, the headache is coming, and if she restores herself to the care of Leonard and Vanessa they won't let her go again, will they? She decides to insist that they let her go. She wades awkwardly (the bottom is mucky) out until she is up to her waist. She glances upriver at the fisherman, who is wearing a red jacket and who does not see her. The yellow surface of the river (more yellow than brown when seen this close) murkily reflects the sky. Here, then, is the last moment of true perception, a man fishing in a red jacket and a cloudy sky reflected on opaque water. Almost involuntarily (it feels involuntary, to her) she steps or stumbles forward, and the stone pulls her in. For a moment, still, it seems like nothing; it seems like another failure; just chill water she can easily swim back out of; but then the current wraps itself around her and takes her with such sudden, muscular force it feels as if a strong man has risen from the bottom, grabbed her legs and held them to his chest. It feels personal.

More than an hour later, her husband returns from the garden. "Madame went out," the maid says, plumping a shabby pillow that releases a miniature storm of down. "She said she'd be back soon."

Leonard goes upstairs to the sitting room to listen to the news. He finds a blue envelope, addressed to him, on the table. Inside is a letter.

Dearest,
I feel certain that I am going
mad again: I feel we can't go
through another of these terrible times.
And I shant recover this time. I begin
to hear voices, and cant concentrate.
So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have
given me
the greatest possible happiness. You
have been in every way all that anyone
could be. I dont think two
people could have been happier till
this terrible disease came. I cant
fight it any longer, I know that I am
spoiling your life, that without me you
could work. And you will I know.
You see I cant even write this properly. I
cant read. What I want to say is that
I owe all the happiness of my life to you.
You have been entirely patient with me &
incredibly good. I want to say that--
everybody knows it. If anybody could
have saved me it would have been you.
Everything has gone from me but the
certainty of your goodness. I
cant go on spoiling your life any longer. I dont think two
people
could have been happier than we have been. V.

Leonard races from the room, runs downstairs. He says to the maid, "I think something has happened to Mrs. Woolf. I think she may have tried to kill herself. Which way did she go? Did you see her leave the house?"

The maid, panicked, begins to cry. Leonard rushes out and goes to the river, past the church and the sheep, past the osier bed. At the riverbank he finds no one but a man in a red jacket, fishing.

She is borne quickly along by the current. She appears to be flying, a fantastic figure, arms outstretched, hair streaming, the tail of the fur coat billowing behind. She floats, heavily, through shafts of brown, granular light. She does not travel far. Her feet (the shoes are gone) strike the bottom occasionally, and when they do they summon up a sluggish cloud of muck, filled with the black silhouettes of leaf skeletons, that stands all but stationary in the water after she has passed along out of sight. Stripes of green-black weed catch in her hair and the fur of her coat, and for a while her eyes are blindfolded by a thick swatch of weed, which finally loosens itself and floats, twisting and untwisting and twisting again.

She comes to rest, eventually, against one of the pilings of the bridge at Southease. The current presses her, worries her, but she is firmly positioned at the base of the squat, square column, with her back to the river and her face against the stone. She curls there with one arm folded against her chest and the other afloat over the rise of her hip. Some distance above her is the bright, rippled surface. The sky reflects unsteadily there, white and heavy with clouds, traversed by the black cutout shapes of rooks. Cars and trucks rumble over the bridge. A small boy, no older than three, crossing the bridge with his mother, stops at the rail, crouches, and pushes the stick he's been carrying between the slats of the railing so it will fall into the water. His mother urges him along but he insists on staying awhile, watching the stick as the current takes it.

Here they are, on a day early in the Second World War: the boy and his mother on the bridge, the stick floating over the water's surface, and Virginia's body at the river's bottom, as if she is dreaming of the surface, the stick, the boy and his mother, the sky and the rooks. An olive-drab truck rolls across the bridge, loaded with soldiers in uniform, who wave to the boy who has just thrown the stick. He waves back. He demands that his mother pick him up so he can see the soldiers better; so he will be more visible to them. All this enters the bridge, resounds through its wood and stone, and enters Virginia's body. Her face, pressed sideways to the piling, absorbs it all: the truck and the soldiers, the mother and the child.

What People are Saying About This

Michael Cunningham

What had at first been "schematic and precious" became improvisational, aiming for..."the loose, riffish quality of Mrs. Dalloway....I wanted my book to have its own life, not to be just an annex to Woolf's." In the end it became a triptych....Each story resonates within the others.
— Interviewed in The New York Times, April 20, 1999

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.

Customer Reviews

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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.