Edel Grace

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Review

Thoughts on The Hours and Mrs. Dalloway

Dec 3, 2018 | Comments

Warning: Spoilers for The Hours and Mrs. Dalloway. Also, mentions of mental illness, suicide, sexuality, and death

The Hours is exactly the type of book that I would fully expect to love. It hits emotional high notes, it touches on topics that I feel strongly about, and is decent enough prose. However, it pales in comparison to the book that it pays tribute to, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. I couldn’t help but think while reading The Hours that it was a poor imitation, amateurish even.

There are three main storylines in The Hours. There is Clarissa Vaughn who is throwing a party for her former lover, Richard, who is dying of AIDs. Then there is Virginia Woolf herself, struggling with her mental health being surrounded by her loved ones. Lastly, there is Laura Brown, a quiet housewife who is enraptured by the book, Mrs. Dalloway.

Nevertheless, I don’t blame Cunningham for writing The Hours. I was similarly inspired and wrote a short story, vaguely borrowing characters from Mrs. Dalloway, imagining what if they had taken different paths. For me, I couldn’t bear to think that their stories ended there. Maybe Cunningham felt the same way.

I also don’t blame Cunningham for not being able to match Woolf’s quality of work. There is a certain subtlety in Woolf’s writing. Yes, the reader knows exactly what the characters are thinking due to Woolf’s stream of consciousness style, but there is something very human about it. Cunningham’s reflections feel manufactured. They are very clear and direct, no deduction required. They do make for lovely, quotable lines but that’s it. They felt like cheap shots, like a jump scare in a horror movie.

I will give Cunningham credit, though. I had actually read (or had I tried to read, I can’t remember anymore) The Hours many years ago. I remember the opening chapter very vividly: Virginia Woolf walking to the river bank, putting stones in her pocket, Leonard (her husband) finding her suicide letter, and Virginia being swept by the current. The Hours made me want to read Mrs. Dalloway. I was immediately enraptured by the image of Virginia Woolf committing suicide in the river and I wanted to experience her work for myself. I was immediately interested in this tragic figure.

But I admit that I’m biased. I loved Mrs. Dalloway and I’m sure that Cunningham did too. Cunningham’s interpretation was a noble attempt, he did win a prize for it, after all. One of the things that I thought The Hours did well was mirroring Mrs. Dalloway.

While I was comparing the two novels, I was writing out a venn diagram of all the possible themes. It hit me that Mrs. Dalloway is jam-packed with content. Interestingly enough, The Hours hits on every single one of those themes and then adds some.

Time and Aging

The Hours references time right in its title. Woolf’s working title for Mrs. Dalloway was actually The Hours, which was pretty clever on Cunningham’s part. In Mrs. Dalloway, the characters are ever cognizant about the time. The Big Ben strikes every so often, signalling the end of the day nearing closer and closer. Mrs. Dalloway herself reminds the people she encounters during her day to remember her party at five o’clock.

As Mrs. Dalloway reunites with people throughout the day, she notices how they have changed over the years and they do the same to her. The entire day, Mrs. Dalloway is reminiscing over her past.

When Mrs. Dalloway’s former lover, Peter Walsh, comes in for a visit, they both inevitably talk about the past. What Clarissa notes is how exactly the same Peter is. He still plays with his pocket knife, he is still incredibly passionate, and still critical.

Peter brings them back to the present by confessing that he is in love. Immediately, Clarissa thinks, “That he at his age should be sucked under in his little bow-tie by that monster!” Clarissa’s reaction was extremely telling. Peter protests that he is not old, that life is not over for him yet, even at his age. But for Clarissa, it essentially has. Earlier in the day, Clarissa had mused to herself, “She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible; […] there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, but only […] being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa any more; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway.” She had lived her life and there is nothing more for her except to throw parties. She no longer had all the possibilities of love and the life that can come with it.

In The Hours, there is a lesser sense of foreboding with time. Clarissa Vaughn reminisces over her past with her former lover, Richard. She thinks about the lost opportunity she had by not spending the rest of her life with him. There is a strong sense of regret. In the end, Clarissa comes to terms with it.

Laura Brown’s battle with time comes in the form of completing her errands before her husband comes home from work, so she can throw him a birthday party. The twist at the end of The Hours is that Laura is Richard’s mother.

Richard had always resented his mother and even wrote about her in one of his novels. People continually bring up the novel to Clarissa and comment about how the novel seemed to be based largely on Richard’s life, Clarissa being a large part of his novel. So it is not just Clarissa who is seemingly stuck in the past.

But it seems that Clarissa is the most affected by the past. When Louis, Richard’s ex-lover drops by to visit, it shakes her. This scene is supposed to mirror Peter’s visit to Clarissa in Mrs. Dalloway. I was disappointed that there is no equivalent to Peter in The Hours. The scene between Peter and Clarissa is the one that struck me the most. However, Louis does add an interesting dynamic to Clarissa Vaughn’s relationship to Richard. It is Louis who Richard ultimately choses, not Clarissa.

Sexuality and Feminism

I don’t know if The Hours was progressive for its time. It definitely was a product of its time, being written in the 90’s, at the height of the AIDs scare. In The Hours, Richard is bisexual (having loved both Clarissa and Louis). Clarissa herself is also bisexual, being in a long term relationship with a woman, Sally. Clarissa’s daughter, Julia, is not straight, having a girlfriend of her own. Laura Brown shares a kiss with her neighbour, Kitty. Virginia Woolf shares a kiss with a woman. It makes me stop and think: does it matter? It doesn’t. But there is something about the representation here that does not sit well with me.

In Richard’s childhood, Laura depicts him as a sensitive child who is quite dependent on his mother. The fact that we see so much of Richard’s formative days (okay, it was only one day but I assume much of his days were like that), there could be an argument that Cunningham was trying to insinuate that was the “cause” of Richard’s sexuality. I hope that it’s unintended but it’s hard not to wonder.

The sexuality in Mrs. Dalloway is a little more innocent. It isn’t so far-fetched that Clarissa would have married her friend, Sally Seton in Mrs. Dalloway if she could. Clarissa and Sally share a kiss while walking through the flowers. Clarissa looks on the memory fondly. She had been in awe of Sally, a real wild child, and utterly defiant. One of my favourite scenes is when Clarissa and company are talking about a woman who had a child before getting married. Clarissa is disgusted at this but Sally defends the woman and storms out. Sally is definitely a feminist.

In The Hours, Mary Krull fills the role of the feminist. Mary Krull is Julia Vaughn’s girlfriend. She is your stereotypical radical lesbian feminism in today’s age. She hates Clarissa for being so comfortable in her own lesbian relationship. I don’t understand Mary’s anger toward Clarissa but she does admonish Clarissa for her indulgence in capitalism (that, I can understand). It’s almost comical.

Mrs. Dalloway’s daughter, Elizabeth, also has a female love interest (it is not clear if they are in a relationship). Miss Kilman is someone who had the habit of making one “feel so small”. One of my favourite lines is Clarissa’s description of her: “she was never in the room five minutes without making you feel her superiority, your inferiority; how poor she was; how rich you were; how she lived in a slum without a cushion or a bed or a rug or whatever it might be.” While both Mary and Miss Kilman are very similar in values (except Miss Kilman is religious and I am 99.99% sure Mary would be a staunch atheist), I highly preferred Miss Kilman. Mary’s anger felt so misdirected and acting out for the sake of acting out. Miss Kilman came from a sense of insecurity, which I could sympathize with.

Motherhood

While I didn’t exactly enjoy reading Julia’s relationship with her mother (Mary might be a big part of it) in The Hours, it did capture the same sort of relationship Elizabeth has with her mother. Elizabeth is utterly unlike her own mother, not as charming and not as beautiful but alluring in the fact that she is confident in her own skin. Both daughters do have a small bit of annoyance towards their mother (of course, what teenager doesn’t?). However, the real mother-child relationship to look at is Laura and Richard in The Hours.

Laura’s neighbour, Kitty, comes over to tell Laura that she has a tumour in her uterus. The image of Kitty, a woman who cannot conceive, and Laura, already with a son and pregnant, is a wonderful contrast. But Laura feels great hesitancy in her role as a mother. She contemplates killing herself. She kisses Kitty. And Richard is witness to all of this. Despite being very young, Richard picks up on these cues and carries them to adulthood. You can see where this can kinda get hairy when you factor his sexuality into play.

He even writes vehemently about his mother in his novel, and kills her in his novel, by making her kill herself. In reality, Laura had attempted suicide after the birth of her second child. It failed and then she abandons her family to go to Canada. This is a great nod Mrs. Dalloway, where one of the characters propose sending people to Canada, so that they can have a better chance of establishing a better life there. Which brings me to my next topic.

Mental Illness and Suicide

In Mrs. Dalloway, there is a couple, Septimus and Lucrezia Warren Smith. Septimus met Lucrezia in Italy, during the war and brought her back to England to marry her. That wasn’t the only thing he brought back from the war. He also brought all the ghosts of the war with him. He regularly sees visions of his comrade, Evans, being killed. He hears voices telling him to kill himself for his sins.

Lucrezia brings Septimus to multiple doctors but they never find the help they want. Mental illness was not well understood in the 20’s (it’s still not well understood today, but we have made a lot of progress), and most doctors suggested isolation in the country or taking up hobbies.

One of the most heartbreaking scenes is when Lucrezia and Septimus are making hats together. They are laughing and chatting like nothing has ever happened. Then one of the doctors make a visit, and Septimus, terrified of being stuck in a home and separated from Lucrezia, jumps out of the window.

News of Septimus’ suicide makes its way to Clarissa’s party. The news of this affects Clarissa heavily. She retreats upstairs to think and contemplates suicide herself. She decides against it and instead admires Septimus. “The young man had killed himself; but she did not pity him; with the clock striking the hour, one, two, three, she did not pity him.” His death makes her confront the beauty of life. A rather odd way, a rather Clarissa way of looking at things.

Cunningham’s fictionalized Virginia Woolf suffers at the hands of her doctors. She feels suffocated by the doctor’s orders to move away from London. While her husband is patient, he doesn’t truly understand what she is going through.

This is something that I commend Cunningham for. He depicts the struggles of the caregiver as well. There was a line in Mrs. Dalloway that resonated with me that one of the doctors says to Septimus, “The people we are most fond of are not good for us when we are ill.” Cunningham really takes that and runs with it. Clarissa is one of these caregivers. She tends to Richard, comes to visit him, but ultimately doesn’t understand the nature of his illness. She reassures him that he is healthy but Richard is plagued by his mind slowly breaking down. She refuses to see the truth that Richard is dying. She is blinded by her love for Richard.

Love and Marriage

Each novel has the love square: Clarissa, Sally, Richard, and Peter (in Mrs.Dalloway)/Louis (in The Hours). In The Hours, Clarissa regrets not having taken a chance on Richard but she does come to terms with it. She realizes that she was only happy with the possibility but the real happiness was the moment. Her moment had come and gone.

Mrs. Dalloway already had that realization. Despite loving Peter so much, she broke up with him, convinced that “they would have been destroyed, both of them ruined”. But it doesn’t stop her from reminiscing, from envying the passion Peter has when he is in love. She dismisses love as something for the youth, as shown by her shock at Peter’s declaration for being in love.

It was interesting, how at the beginning of the book, Clarissa muses that, “there is a dignity in people; a solitude; even between husband and wife a gulf; and that one must respect.” This was one of the things that Peter did not respect. With Peter, “everything had to be shared; everything gone into.” At the end of the book, Clarissa ends her monologue with the idea that, ultimately, “one was alone.”

Which I think (after many paragraphs of writing), I think is my main takeaway from both The Hours and Mrs. Dalloway.

Each character is alone and isolated. They do not know what the other is thinking. At times it can be frustrating, when the other party can’t understand exactly what they are trying so hard to convey. On the other hand, there is importance in not sharing everything, in being able to be independent and to be assured that you can think for yourself and that you can know what is best for yourself. And there is something liberating about being wrong, because you can always overcome it, out of your own volition.

Book Review: 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam

Nov 26, 2018 | Comments

168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam

There are 168 hours in a week. This is your guide to getting the most out of them.

It’s an unquestioned truth of modern life: we are starved for time. We tell ourselves we’d like to read more, get to the gym regularly, try new hobbies, and accomplish all kinds of goals. But then we give up because there just aren’t enough hours to do it all. Or if we don’t make excuses, we make sacrifices- taking time out from other things in order to fit it all in.

There has to be a better way…and Laura Vanderkam has found one. After interviewing dozens of successful, happy people, she realized that they allocate their time differently than most of us. Instead of letting the daily grind crowd out the important stuff, they start by making sure there’s time for the important stuff. When plans go wrong and they run out of time, only their lesser priorities suffer.

Vanderkam shows that with a little examination and prioritizing, you’ll find it is possible to sleep eight hours a night, exercise five days a week, take piano lessons, and write a novel without giving up quality time for work, family, and other things that really matter.

Save your hours and don’t read this book. I am sure there are better time management books out there.

This was an absolute dull and boring read. I ended up skimming through the book after the second chapter, just keeping out for bolded words and headings. Thank goodness Laura made her book skimmable. I have no idea why so many “self-help” books insist on being about 100 pages longer than they should be. So let’s get this review out of the way.

I did, however, do the exercise to keep a log of what you do for a week and that was pretty fun. I will be posting results sometime soon!

The Good

  • Log what you do every day for an entire week at 15-minute increments to find out what you really spend your week doing
  • Find something that you can do in 30 minutes (or less) whenever you find yourself with 30 minutes of time
  • Spend more quality time with your kids (I have no kids but I agree, parents should spend time with their kids)
  • Interactive activities and questions to fill out

The Meh

  • Find out your core competencies and improve on them

The Bad

  • Do what you love as a career!
  • Hire someone to do your laundry, cleaning, etc.!
  • Hire an assistant! Since I’m a programmer, does that mean I should just hire someone to program for me??
  • Better yet, just don’t clean as much! You don’t really need a spotless house
  • Watch less TV! I already don’t watch TV
  • Cooking is a waste of time, just buy a ton of processed food
  • Who needs knitting? (I take much offense because I love knitting and crafts)
  • Random sentences were thrown in about religion (you do you, Laura, but don’t me what to believe in kthxbai)
  • Soooo many anecdotes. I don’t care, I just want the advice!

Book Review: Mrs. Dalloway

Nov 19, 2018 | Comments

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

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.

I picked up The Hours one day at the library. I did not know what it was about when I started reading it, and it captured me immediately. The scene of Woolf at the water’s edge, the stones in her pocket, made my heart drop. As I read on, I realized this was, essentially, a crossover with Mrs. Dalloway. I hadn’t read Mrs. Dalloway yet. So, even though I loved The Hours up to that point, I put it down so as not to spoil myself.

Finally, years later, I finished Mrs. Dalloway.

This was a hard book to read. I actually had gotten a copy of the audiobook from Audible (no, this post is not sponsored by Audible) and while listening to it, I knew I could not just listen to it, I needed to devour these words on a page. I put out a hold on the book at the library and eagerly started reading right away. However, it was incredibly hard for me to read. I would read a paragraph and not know what exactly was happening.

Annette Brownings, the narrator of the audiobook, breathed so much life into Woolf’s words that I ended up listening to the audiobook while I read the physical book. That could be why it took me so long to read this book. But it was a very interesting way to read it. I find that when I listen to audiobooks, my mind can tend to wander. While reading, sometimes I will have to reread sentences before they make sense. Reading and listening at the same time really anchored me and I was able to focus.

And it was great that I was able to focus on it. The characters in Mrs. Dalloway absolutely grabbed me. I have never loved a cast of characters more. They are all so inexplicably human. I don’t know what it’s like to grow old as I’m still pretty young but I could feel these things that the characters went through, were going through.

Woolf has a wonderful way of narrating, it seems a lot like casual conversation. Quirky enough that you could spot a Woolf novel a mile away. I adored it, plain and simple (I’m sure that’s one of her quirky isms and I’m taking it!). Woolf understands life. She suffered through it. I am so glad that she left the world with her words for us to muse and contemplate over. How intriguing it is, how one can leave behind a legacy.

If anybody could have saved me it would have been you.

Book Review: BUtterfield 8 by John O'Hara

Nov 12, 2018 | Comments

BUtterfield 8 by John O'Hara

“Ligget was precisely the sort of person who, if he hadn’t married Emily, would be just the perfect person for Emily to snub.

This book captivated me. From the moment Gloria stepped on to the page, I was hooked. This young and feisty woman is surprisingly progressive for her time: sleeping around, smoking, staying up all hours of the night. She is your classic bad girl whom everyone has their eyes set upon her. Of course, this only ends in tragedy.

I’m a hopeless romantic so there is one scene in the entire book that stuck out the most Gloria and Eddie, two close friends, are on the verge of sleeping together. They are probably the most suited together out of all the possible combinations of Gloria and other men. Then, at that moment, Gloria sees Eddie as just another man who wants to get into her pants. Suddenly, the magic is lost. I find it tragic.

Gloria throws herself at men and declares love for men in a way that I totally do not understand. She says she would marry Ligget but I don’t see the attraction or at least any evidence that Gloria would have any attraction to such a prospect. Does she just want to be comfortable with a somewhat wealthy man even if he’s twice her age? On the other hand, Ligget is so weirdly obsessed with Gloria for what seems like just because she is young and daring and it’s frankly tiring.

Even though I’m complaining, this makes for such a good story. I wanted to know everything. The ending was a bit disappointing but kudos for not making me see it coming until two paragraphs before. It’s tragic.

Also, don’t be fooled by Gloria being ahead of her time. This book is still a product of its time. It’s rife with sexism and blatant racism. I wasn’t sure if this was a modern take on the post-Depression era but the lack of sugarcoating on these things and the authenticity of the characters made me realize that O’Hara is definitely from this time.

I don’t know what it is but American literature from the 30’s/40’s have a very golden-like quality to them. I can feel the hazy smoke in the bars, hear the jazzy swing music, see the dated cars. It’s definitely such a prominent aesthetic that you just inherently know even if those things aren’t all explicitly detailed.

Yeah, I’d say I enjoyed this book.

Book Review: The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

Nov 5, 2018 | Comments

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

The suburbs of north London are an unlikely spot from which to witness the total breakdown of society, and yet in 1897-8 that is what happened—at least in the imagination of H.G. Wells. In The War of the Worlds Martians lands in Woking, and then make their way remorselessly towards the capital, wreaking chaos, death, and destruction. The novel echoes anxieties about a possible invasion of Great Britain at the turn of the century, and growing concerns about imperial expansion and its impact, while drawing on the latest astronomical knowledge to imagine a desert planet, Mars, turning to Earth for its future. The Martians are evolutionarily superior to mankind, and the fate of civilization remains in doubt until the final pages. Disturbingly realistic and peopled with believable characters, the novel exemplifies the mixture of scientific scepticism and vivid imagination that made Wells the father of modern science fiction.

This new edition and introduction examines the literary and social climate in which Wells wrote and lived, and contains notes on contemporary geographical and cultural references.

This book was a pleasant surprise. I did not know what to expect from this book as I’ve never watched the movie. What surprised me the most was how long ago this was written. It was written in the late 1800’s. I never realized that. Growing up, I always thought this was written in the 30’s or something like that. This just astounds me. It’s incredible to me to think that H.G. Wells had so much imagination in the 1800’s to think of such a story. Admittedly, I don’t know how prevelant the concept of aliens are.

What really intrigued me about this book was how it ended. These huge giant Martian monsters are wiped out only due to their own biology not being able to cope with Earth’s environment. I never saw that coming. When I think about it, it would be totally plausible. What I’m surprised at is how the reverse didn’t happen as well. Think about all the different bacteria and viruses on Mars!

Everything else about this book is very typical science fiction. Of course, there is the scene where a man loses his mind during the apocalypse. People are largely in disbelief during the onset of the invasion. Masses killings. The military trying their best and pretty much failing at killing aliens.

I don’t want to say this fell flat for me but it was a pretty average book. That doesn’t mean the significance of it is lost on me. I can imagine this made a big splash back then. And H.G. Wells is a very good writer. Definitely worthy of being a classic!

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My name is Edel Grace Altares. My programming interests include full stack development and back end development. My languages of choice are Python and Java. Outside of programming I enjoy crocheting, video games, cats, historical fiction, and reading.

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