The Hours | Study Guide

Michael Cunningham

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The Hours | Quotes


The voices are back ... [and] the headache that will crush whatever is she and replace her with itself.

Virginia Woolf, Epigraphs and Prologue

Here, Virginia feels the onset of a bout of insanity. She experiences mental illness as a force that will steal her identity, destroy her soul, and replace her soul with its own demented being. She cannot overcome it through any means but suicide.


She's slipped across an invisible line separat[ing] her from what she'd prefer to feel, prefer to be.

Laura Brown, Chapter 6

Laura is attempting to wholeheartedly embody her social role as mother, wife, and homemaker. She feels as if she has succeeded in relinquishing her true self and has replaced it with a new, socially acceptable one. At this point Laura is deluding herself. She will find she cannot live on the false side of the boundary between who she really is and the person she must pretend to be.


She will not lose hope ... not mourn her lost possibilities, her unexplored talents.

Laura Brown, Chapter 6

Laura is trying mightily to fit the social role prescribed for her. Even as she claims she will not lose hope or mourn what might have been, she is doing just that. Her true self is always just below the surface, and she grieves at having to live a false and shallow suburban life, one that doesn't give her the room to explore other—potentially far more satisfying—paths.


Sanity involves a certain measure of impersonation.

Virginia Woolf, Chapter 7

As Virginia pulls herself together before seeing her husband, Leonard, she assumes the role of a perfectly normal, sane person. The notion of "sanity" as something to be performed recurs throughout the novel. The quote implies that those who take on social roles so internalize their performance as to forget their true self. Virginia also may be saying everyone who appears sane is really just performing sanity; on some level everyone hides a seed of insanity within them.


That was the moment, right then. There has been no other.

Clarissa Vaughn, Chapter 8

Clarissa is mourning the true love and happiness that escaped her in the past. The "moment" is the kiss she shared with Richard Brown decades ago, when they spent time together in a country house. Only now does Clarissa recognize that moment as one of transcendent happiness and possibility. The quote expresses Clarissa's regret at spurning this most precious gift of love when she subsequently rejected Richard. Clarissa now sees that failing to recognize life's pivotal moments can have profound consequences.


She's come [to the hotel], in some obscure way, to escape a cake.

Laura Brown, Chapter 12

Laura has fled her home and taken a room in a hotel. She realizes she's there because she had to escape the birthday cake she made for her husband, Dan—or what it represents about her life. She has tried to be the perfect wife, mother, homemaker, but failing to make the "perfect" cake, sends her over the edge. The cake embodies all the trivial, insupportable aspects of Laura's life she can no longer abide.


It is possible to stop living ... as simple as checking into a hotel.

Laura Brown, Chapter 12

In the hotel room Laura longingly contemplates suicide. She wondered about it before, while counting sleeping pills, but now she understands killing herself is easily accomplished—as easy as walking out of one's life and into a hotel. She spends a good portion of her time in the hotel room contemplating suicide and thinking lovingly of death, but she doesn't go through with it. For now it's enough to know she can take control of her life by ending it.


[Richie] stares at her with teary suspicion, as if she's not his mother at all.

Richard Brown, Chapter 17

When Laura Brown picks up her son at Mrs. Latch's house, Richie—who will grow up to be Richard Brown—looks at her with a kind of tearful terror. It's clear he's sensitive to Laura's state of mind and her moods. His suspicion that "she's not his mother at all" does not refer to biology; rather, Richie sees his mother cannot love him or care about him as a mother usually loves her son. In this way she is not his mother at all.


I [can't] face this ... the party, and the hour after that, and the hour after that.

Richard Brown, Chapter 18

Time, hour by hour, has become unbearable for Richard, who is dying of AIDS. He can't endure living through the remaining hours of his life; they will be both trivial and filled with suffering. He refuses to continue living a hollow existence. This quote comes just before Richard commits suicide.


She herself is trapped here forever, posing as a wife.

Laura Brown, Chapter 19

Laura's suburban life requires her to maintain a perpetual performance, embodying a social role that is alien and painful to her. This quote comes when Laura serves her husband's birthday cake—the cake that nearly drives her out of her mind. By this point Laura realizes she can no longer endure burying her true self to enact the role of contented wife and mother. After her escape to the hotel, she finds acting out her life rather than living it may no longer be an option for her.


Richie is always making a wish ... mainly to do with continuance.

Richard Brown, Chapter 19

Even as a very young child, Richard Brown, known as Richie, senses his mother's distance from him. Richie desperately needs his mother, so his wish is for things to continue as they are—for his mother to stay with him and his father. That he wishes fervently for her to continue to be his mother shows he is keenly aware that in some fundamental emotional way she has already abandoned him.


She will never find a love like that which the lone kiss seemed to offer.

Virginia Woolf, Chapter 20

Virginia Woolf realizes the moment she kissed her sister, Vanessa, she felt a perfect, transcendent love, one she will never find again with anyone. The perfection of the moment parallels Clarissa Vaughn's perfect kiss with Richard Brown at the pond when both were decades younger. In both cases the moment of perfect love must be recognized and cherished because it can never be repeated or recaptured. Clarissa later ignores the significance of Richard's kiss, much to her subsequent regret. Here, Virginia understands the significance of her kiss, but she knows kissing Vanessa in the future will likely never replicate the emotional depth of this particular kiss.


Someone ... insane ... who sees meaning everywhere ... a deranged poet, a visionary, will be the one to die.

Virginia Woolf, Chapter 20

Here, Virginia Woolf is planning events she'll write into her novel about Mrs. Dalloway. The character Woolf will write about is like Richard Brown in many ways, from his insanity—due to illness—to his visionary brilliance as a poet. Woolf will have her poet character die in her novel. Richard, the genius and deranged poet in The Hours, will also die.


Here is the woman from Richard's poetry ... the woman who walked away.

Clarissa Vaughn, Chapter 22

This quote comes when Laura Brown visits New York after Richard Brown commits suicide. Clarissa has always known the character in Richard's novel was based on her. She also thought she was the muse who inspired his poetry—but she was wrong. Suddenly, she realizes Richard's poetry was inspired by his mother, Laura Brown, who abandoned Richard when he was a child. Richard's poetry expresses his obsession with his mother's lost love.


[We live for] an hour here or there ... [that] bursts open [giving] us everything we've ever imagined.

Clarissa Vaughn, Chapter 22

This quote, which comes at the end of the novel, describes how Clarissa has come to terms with living through the hours of her life. She accepts the passage of time and the tedium and pain it often brings. Yet, she's come to realize there are, among all the hours a person lives through, ephemeral moments of transcendent joy and profound understanding that makes life worth living.

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