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The Hours | Study Guide

Michael Cunningham

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The Hours | Chapter 13 : Mrs. Woolf | Summary



Virginia and Vanessa sit in the kitchen at Hogarth House, chatting. Vanessa talks about shopping for her children. Virginia feels overwhelmed because "there is so much in the world," including children's clothing and the dead thrush in the garden on its pyre.

Virginia decides that she will not write that Clarissa Dalloway kills herself. She thinks that someone else in her novel will die, but she's not sure who. It should be someone with genius, she thinks. Then Nelly comes in from her trip to London, carrying the China tea and sugared ginger. Virginia sees Nelly as if she's eternal, as she is herself. She is happy sitting in the kitchen with her sister. Virginia leans forward and kisses Vanessa on the mouth. It is an innocent kiss but, at the moment, it feels like a "forbidden pleasure."


Virginia Woolf feels content with the ordinariness of the world and the infinite and wonderful things in it. At the moment, sitting there with her sister, ordinary life seems rich with meaning. Virginia is living completely in the moment. The kiss she gives Vanessa is an expression of Virginia's honest love for her sister and an open assertion of that love. That it is a forbidden pleasure only adds to Virginia's sense of truthfulness and contentment. It also has distinct undertones of homosexuality.

Virginia's contentment with the world leads her to reject the idea of Mrs. Dalloway's suicide. She will write her novel so that someone else, some sorrowful genius, will die likely by suicide. It's unclear if at the moment Virginia identifies more with Mrs. Dalloway or with the so-called sorrowful genius she'll write into her novel. She is happy now, so perhaps she's the ordinary woman she'll allow to live rather than the genius who can easily turn her back on the world. This suicidal genius relates to Richard and foreshadows his fate.

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