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The Hours | Study Guide

Michael Cunningham

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The Hours | Chapter 20 : Mrs. Woolf | Summary



Leonard and Virginia have decided to move back to London. Virginia anticipates engaging in the cultural life of the city. She looks forward both to the stimulation of her artist friends and having time to write her own novels.

Virginia remembers kissing Vanessa and thinks the kiss was quite innocent. Yet, she can feel that it conveyed a deep and strong life force, complex and "full of love." The meaning of the kiss is as mysterious as life itself, Virginia thinks. Virginia decides that her character, Mrs. Dalloway, will have had a female lover in her youth and that the lovers would have shared just one kiss. The kiss will express the most intense love Mrs. Dalloway will ever experience.

Virginia is excited by this idea. She gets up to leave the room and promises Leonard that she'll be in bed by 11 p.m. Virginia envisions Mrs. Dalloway as mourning the loss of that great potential love. But Virginia will not have Mrs. Dalloway kill herself, because "she'll be too much in love with life, with London." Instead, Virginia will create a character, someone who is a keenly intuitive and transcendent genius, a deranged poet or artist, who will be the character in the novel to die.


Virginia's ideas for her novel foretell events that take place decades after 1923. The remembered kiss with Vanessa mirrors the long-ago kiss Clarissa withheld from Richard in that both the giving and withholding have enormous significance and consequences. Virginia's kissing Vanessa represents an intense love and mysterious life force beyond understanding but full of profound, transcendent meaning. Clarissa now knows that her former denial of a kiss has robbed her of this profound love, which would have been the love of her life that she can never have. Virginia's idea that her novel must contain a poetic genius clearly mirrors the dying Richard, whose insanity and illness cause him to die as Virginia Woolf's poet will die. In a way, the death of the unstable poetic genius also relates to Virginia Woolf's own suicide.

Virginia is stimulated at the thought of living in London, a place so full of life that it will make her life worth living again. She will "write and write," which is how she finds the deepest meaning in her own life. Until the move, however, Virginia refrains from self-assertion to placate Leonard.

Virginia's move to London is a rebuke of mundanity. The London life Virginia describes might be akin to the life Laura Brown longs for. It's highly unlikely Laura has even a fraction of the talent Virginia has, but she may long for the same chances to express herself fully.

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