I often feel as though contemporary fiction gets the shaft here at The Literary Omnivore; while I do read it, it just rarely appeals to me as a setting—while I’ll pick up a book for being set in, say, pre-war China, I’ll rarely do the same for a more contemporary setting. So today we’re going to look at two contemporary (ish!) novels, both of which have something to do with a one Virginia Woolf.
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Heralded as Virginia Woolf’s greatest novel, this is a vivid portrait of a single day in a woman’s life. When we meet her, Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway is preoccupied with the last-minute details of party preparation while in her mind she is something much more than a perfect society hostess. As she readies her house, she is flooded with remembrances of faraway times. And, met with the realities of the present, Clarissa reexamines the choices that brought her there, hesitantly looking ahead to the unfamiliar work of growing old.
“Mrs. Dalloway was the first novel to split the atom. If the novel before Mrs. Dalloway aspired to immensities of scope and scale, to heroic journeys across vast landscapes, with Mrs. Dalloway Virginia Woolf insisted that it could also locate the enormous within the everyday; that a life of errands and party-giving was every bit as viable a subject as any life lived anywhere; and that should any human act in any novel seem unimportant, it has merely been inadequately observed. The novel as an art form has not been the same since.
“Mrs. Dalloway also contains some of the most beautiful, complex, incisive and idiosyncratic sentences ever written in English, and that alone would be reason enough to read it. It is one of the most moving, revolutionary artworks of the twentieth century.”
–Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours
I’ve never read Virginia Woolf. There, I said it. It’s an odd gap in my literary education, and I’ve never really sought out to correct it—but it’s required reading for The Hours, and I’m all about books with required reading. (Like The Magician’s Book!) So I think it’s time to correct this glaring oversight.
Lu at Regular Rumination found it short, beautiful, and thoughtful, especially when it comes to exploring the concept of identity. Eva at A Striped Armchair finds it enchanting, praising the richness of it and the writing style.
Mrs. Dalloway was published on May 14, 1925.
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
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.
A long time ago, I watched the 2003 film adaptation of The Hours on a flight and I was mesmerized, although I don’t recall much about it now. (It was my first encounter with a Virginia Woolf of any kind.) I don’t know when I realized it was based on a book, but when I did, I knew I wanted to read it (and, thus, read Mrs. Dalloway to fully appreciate).
Anastasia at Birdbrained(ed) Blog enjoyed it as an homage, but found that Cunningham occasionally makes shortcuts, such as quoting directly from Mrs. Dalloway. Ana at things mean a lot adored it (her review being her second read of the novel), especially praising the treatment of queer issues, which means a lot to me.
The Hours was published on November 11, 1998.