Band 5 /6 Mrs Dalloway + The Hours (Sexuality & Apathetic Society)

           Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway (1925) and Stephen Daldry’s film The Hours (2002), an extrapolation, both examine overlapping and interwoven ideas that reflect on controversies prevalent at the time of their productions. Woolf, set in the turn of the 20th century, examined the tension between individual and society as radical changes began to infiltrate the rigid custodianship of oppressive, patriarchal societies. Conversely, Daldry’s film is a post-modern transition through changing time periods in which the audience is invited to perceive the evolution of the individual’s resistance across various contexts of male dominance. Both composers feature the notions of Sexuality and Mental illness as a means to critique their societies and the apathy of such controlling, oppressive societies towards the irrepressible human desires for understanding.

Sexuality is a thematic concern used by Woolf as a means to critique the uncaring nature of her society. Clarissa, Septimus, and Evans, are pitted against a society that seeks to quash these natural, human longings. Clarissa, upper class and restrained, experiences only a single moment of sexual freedom, which comes unexpected and intoxicating. Woolf describes it as “the most exquisite moment of her whole life”. The hyperbole “exquisite” highlights the sudden outburst of unexpected emotion, and the release of sexual tension. Similarly, homosexual relations are also abhorred. Woolf depicts Septimus and Evans behaving together like, “two dogs playing on a hearth-rug” who, inseparable, “had to be together.” The innocent, familiar image of two dogs playing together allows us to visualise the holistic connection made by these two individuals. Conversely, the entrapment of society is conveyed by Woolf through the motif of restrictive windows, closed doors, and cramped attics. The analogy, “[Clarissa] felt like a nun who has left the world and feels fold round her the familiar veils and the response to old devotions,” draws extensively upon such motifs, with the comparative imagery of the ‘nun’, representing the repressed sexuality.  Therefore, through the expression of each character’ sense of loss and dislocation, Woolf has powerfully delivered a critique of her 1920s society.

Likewise, the film The Hours is another example in which Daldry has chosen homosexuality, a controversial topic; to demonstrate the struggles of female gender identity. This is reverberated where Laura shares an intimate, full mouth kiss with Kitty. Although Laura is living the 1950s American dream with a neat house and a family, she is struggles to express herself.  The rigid gender definitions of sexuality did not allow it. Similar to Clarissa, Laura is deeply affected by the kiss. The long, lingering close up, with the soft key lighting over their bent figures, communicate that Laura had initiated a lover’s kiss. The shift to a close up of Laura’s face, stunned by her actions, communicate that like Clarissa, this was for her too, an ‘exquisite’ moment. However, Kitty’s utter dismissal of Laura’s physical proposal, “You didn’t mind?” “What?” communicates Kitty’s complete disregard for Laura’s sexual feelings. Laura is overcome with guilt, evidenced in the shift to more dramatic, shadowed lighting, edited to a close up of Richard’s critical gaze as the eyes of society, where Laura lashes out, “What? What do you want?”  This demonstrates the constraints individuals felt in a 1950s society, and the impossibility of seeking sexual freedom outside of accepted norms. Therefore, both texts has demonstrated the restraints society has placed upon the protagonists as each author uses the constraints place upon sexuality to criticise their irrespective societies.

In Mrs Dalloway, Woolf critiques the ignorance of society through authoritarian figures such as Doctor Bradshaw and Holmes, who failed help post WWI shell shocked soldiers. Woolf integrates these problems metaphorically into the character of Septimus Smith to exemplify their alienation. This was evident as Septimus felt like an, “outcast who gazed back at the inhabited regions, who lay like a drowned soldier, on the shore of the world.” The simile inferences the state of WWI veterans as social casualties. This sense of isolation and alienation is evident throughout Woolf’s stream of consciousness narrative. This is reinforced by the callous rhetorical questions describing Septimus. “But he was not mad, was he? Sir William said he never spoke of “madness”; he called it not having a sense of proportion.” Finally, in an almost literal sense, Woolf captures the madness that consumes Septimus, achieved through the use of accumulation and contrast. The intense emotional eruption of “Miracles, revelations, agonies, loneliness, falling through the sea, down, down into the flames, all were burnt out,” in which oxymoronic expressions collide in an ‘eruption’ of desperation; powerfully juxtapose the pedestrian and calm imagery of, “Rezia trimming the straw hat…” Therefore, it is only through suicide that Septimus can communicate his need to the world, a powerful statement by Woolf, critiquing the apathy of her society.

Likewise, the post modern nature of The Hours also offers many examples and critiques of the continued apathy of society and the arrogance of authoritarian figures. Instead, those whom do suffer form depression are seen as misanthropes. Through Virginia’s condition, Daldry highlights the frustration pf victims trapped by “expert opinions”.   Daldry utilises powerful, intercutting shots of close ups, low angles, and high angles to communicate the transition of power between the Woolf and Leonard. Like the treatment of Septimus, Leonard’s accusation, “this is an aspect of your illness,” “it is not your voice…” represents this arrogant reliance on authority figures which ignore the subjectivity of the individual. As such, Virginia offers an ultimatum, and Daldry draws upon the high pathos and ethos of her words to overcome Leonard’s reliance on the advise of authority figures. The overture of the philosophical “choice” that is irrefutable to any human being is used by Virginia, her analogy, “This is my right, it is the right of every human being.” It is a powerful and critical statement that undermines the way society chooses to exert it’s own norms over that of individual needs. Her ultimatum, “I would choose death…” further stipulates that an individual would choose death than to live oppressed. Therefore, both composers criticise the ignorance of society and refusal to submit to individual’s needs.

Therefore, [Question] allows responders to gain a better understanding of both enduring themes across contexts, as well as how changing contexts change values and attitudes.


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