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The Hours | Study Guide

Michael Cunningham

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The Hours | Chapter 14 : Mrs. Dalloway | Summary



Julia sighs about "poor Louis," but Clarissa thinks at that moment that she wants to be Louis, "the strange person ... unscrupulous, loose on the streets." She wonders if Louis and Walter Hardy will ruin her party, and she questions the wisdom of having invited them. Clarissa feels a rush of love for her daughter, and she hugs Julia.

Clarissa is sure her party will be a failure. Richard will be bored. She chides herself for being so superficial, to care so much about a silly party.

Julia tells Clarissa that she's going shopping with Mary Krull, who's waiting outside and smoking a cigarette. Clarissa tells Julia to invite Mary in, but Julia clearly doesn't want to. Mary is too outrageous for Clarissa's conventional sensibilities. But Julia acquiesces and goes to get Mary because she wants Mary and her mother to get to know each other. Julia thinks Clarissa is afraid of Mary, and Clarissa covers this truth by "moving the vase an inch to the left." She really doesn't want to deal with Mary Krull. When Mary enters the apartment Clarissa is reminded of an endlessly hungry dog that "will just keep eating and eating."

The two women exchange a few trivial words of greeting. Mary announces that she hates to shop but is accompanying Julia anyway. Mary says she'd rather confront a line of riot police than go shopping. Mary is a radical who despises consumerism, who hates merchandise and the American penchant to "buy, buy, buy." When Clarissa offhandedly tells Mary to take good care of Julia, Mary curses Clarissa in her thoughts. Then Mary decides that it's not Clarissa's fault she is the way she is. It's society's fault, and Clarissa is only saying and doing what's expected of her.

Clarissa thinks Mary is a fraud, a woman who just wants to attract attention by "making a splash." Clarissa's dislike of Mary morphs into self-criticism when she labels herself "trivial. Someone who thinks too much about parties." Clarissa also wonders why her straight daughter is so friendly with a lesbian who clearly desires her. Clarissa feels a moment of intense love for Julia. Then the two young women leave.


Clarissa berates herself for adopting her bourgeois social role so willingly. For a moment she wishes she were Louis so she could experience his freedom being on his own in the streets. But this thought immediately makes her think of her party, something she admits to herself is trivial and mundane. She fears her party will be a personal failure. Although she knows worrying about the party is silly, Clarissa is too identified with her social role to free herself from her worry. Camouflaging her fear by again adjusting the placement of the vase reveals how Clarissa reverts to her bourgeois role to hide her true feelings. Clarissa even seems sincere in wishing that her marvelous daughter might grow up to be a cheerful wife from the 1950s. What could be more fake and bourgeois than that? Clarissa cannot resist the conventionality that defines her identity. In his review of The Hours in the Guardian, John Mullan points out that despite the bourgeois conformity, "[Clarissa] is no tragic protagonist ... [but a woman] 'destined to charm, to prosper.'"

In this chapter the author introduces another voice, that of Mary Krull. Mary serves to critique Clarissa's superficial concerns and her social conformity. Although Mary is aggressive and profane, some of her thoughts about Clarissa ring true. Mary reverses her condemnation of Clarissa as a "self-satisfied witch" when she realizes Clarissa is just following society's rules. Mary is no doubt correct that Clarissa's smug self-assurance belies her essential self-delusion that her conformity will keep people from attacking her for her lesbianism. Clarissa thinks her impeccable performance of her social role will save her, but Mary knows better.

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