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The Hours


Summary of "The Hours"


  • Author: Michael Cunningham
  • Publication Year: 1998
  • Awards: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and PEN/Faulkner Award in 1999
  • Inspiration: Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway"
  • Themes: Stream of consciousness, mortality, mental illness, domesticity, and internal conflict.

Author's Biography

  • Born: Cincinnati, Ohio, 1952
  • Education: B.A. in English Literature from Stanford University (1975); M.F.A. from the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop (1980)
  • Debut Novel: "Golden State" (1984)

Main Characters

  1. Virginia Woolf: An English novelist living in Sussex, England, in 1923. Woolf is depicted struggling with mental illness, eventually leading to her suicide in the prologue.
  2. Laura Brown: A housewife in Los Angeles, 1949, dealing with her internal conflicts and dissatisfaction with domestic life.
  3. Clarissa Vaughn: A modern woman living in New York City in the late 20th century, echoing the character of Clarissa Dalloway from Woolf's novel.

Narrative Structure and Themes

The novel employs a retrospective narrative and stream of consciousness to explore its core themes. It interweaves the lives of the three main characters across different timelines, each reflecting on mortality, mental illness, and the complexities of domestic roles. Cunningham draws heavily from Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway" to craft a narrative that spans across time and consciousness, offering a postmodern critique of domesticity and mental health.


Cunningham was inspired to write "The Hours" after reading "Mrs. Dalloway" at age 15. He explores the profound impact of Woolf's work on his characters and narrative, showcasing the timeless relevance of Woolf's themes.