The social and philosophical paradigms last century has been characterised by wide scale and extremely rapid change as both Modernism and early 21st century United States were shaped by extraordinary social upheaval. This is demonstrated through the connection of the values and choices between the 1925 novel Mrs Dalloway, which presents a day’s span of Mrs Dalloway and Stephen Daldry’s 2002 film The Hours, an appropriation and extrapolation of the novel which focuses on one day through the perspectives of three different women whose rich inner lives are juxtaposed with their outer lives constrained by their respective contexts. Both texts show overlapping and interwoven ideas that reveal their contextual concerns such as the decay of faith in authority figures, changing ideas about sexuality and the concept of mortality. Essentially, both the novel and the film convey these ideas through the appropriate techniques of the Modernist and Post Modern contexts.
In the context of the modernist period from which Virginia Woolf composed her text, the concept of isolation is the emotional and spiritual alienation felt by an individual trying to come to terms with the rapidly changing values and attitudes of the post WWI world. The composition and form of Virginia Woolf, draws upon the modernist’s preoccupation with alienation of the individual to construct prose which aim to capture the subjectivity of meaning, through an omnipotent, third person ‘steam of conscious’ narrator. For Woolf, characterisations capture the anxiety and fear of her generation, particularly Septimus as he inevitably moves towards depression and suicide. Woolf’s concerns with the aftermath of WWI, and the state of it’s forgotten veterans is evidence by her narrative scope, in which the responder is placed firmly in the powerful subjectivity of Septimus’ growing madness. “He was quite alone, condemned, deserted, as those who are about to die are alone, there was a luxury in it, an isolation full of sublimity; a freedom which the attached can never know.” The sense of torture, and the entrapment felt by the shell shocked victims of WWI such as Septimus is captured in the duality of his conflicted emotions. The anxiety and fear of death is exhibited by the accumulation and tri-colon of “alone, condemned, deserted,” conveying the deep sense of alienation. Yet, this movement is disrupted by the antithesis of “an isolation’ that is also ‘a freedom’. Woolf, though this duality, captures the madness of depression, and using her unique narrative style, put responders into the shoes of a WWI veteran. The deep sense of isolation that is felt by the veterans is also evidenced by imageries pertaining to religious purgation, reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno. “Miracles, revelations, agonies, loneliness, falling through the sea, down, down into the flames… for he had a sense, as he watched Rezia trimming the straw hat for Mrs Peters.” Through the stream of consciousness style, responders come to acknowledge the impossibility of individuals who have not experienced the war in understanding the emotional and spiritual needs of individual such as Septimus. The appropriation of imagery pertaining to the layers of hell in capturing Septimus’ emotional turmoil in a setting as pedestrian as observing a straw hat been made, creates his sense of isolation. The juxtaposition of oxymoronic terms, “miracles” against “agonies… down into the flames,” create the sense of angst and frustration felt by individual of this epoch. It captures the alienation and loneliness of individual who will never find compassion in a society that sees their mental illness as a burden, and a unwelcome remind of a darker time.
In 1950s America, it was a time of extreme conservatism as men returned from war, relegating their wives to domesticity. Stephen Daldry’s The Hours stresses the isolation of individuals through the characterisation of Laura Brown, stuck in 1950s suburbia America. Laura’s relationship with Dan, her husband is meaningless, reflected through the close up shot of Laura trapped behind a glass window while waving off her husband to work. Her shadow reflects her lack of soul as the perfect housewife, and her inability to create a sense of control. Her facial expression falls and is distant, emblematic of the isolation she feels in the hollow world of the American Dream. The kitchen becomes Laura’s central environment; it is meticulously sterile and symbolic of entrapment for women as they undertake trivial domestic tasks. Laura Brown’s initial failed attempt at baking and her repressed lesbian desires for her friend Kitty underscore the intensity of domestic seclusion. Ironically, despite her despair she believes that the men returning from war, “they deserve us”, and a sliver of dialogue reflecting the loss of control of mind and soul. Daldry comments on how individual isolation impinge on the fear that things will never change, making life and unfulfilling relationships unbearable.
The Modernist idea of the fulfilling sexual stereotype in the early 20th century context to conform to English social standards and escape from it is explored through both texts. Through the focus on Miss Doris Kilman’s desire for Elizabeth, Clarissa’s daughter, homosexuality was prevalent but was considered unaccepted morally and low class. It can be referenced in the line “Miss Kilman could not let her go!… this girl, whom she genuinely loved!”, that Miss Kilman repressed feelings challenged the normality of sexual relations even though she is unaware and is subconsciously not acknowledged. The physical imagery in “if she could clasp her, if she could make her hers absolutely and forever… the thick fingers curled inwards”, further reinforces Miss Kilman’s desperation to obtain both Elizabeth’s beauty and love. Her thoughts of clasping Elizabeth resonate with her own physical gesture, creating ominous feelings. However, due to homosexuality being considered unaccepted morally, Clarrisa finds it repulsive. Similarly, homosexual relations are prevalent through the characters of Septimus and Evans, his commanding officer who is described as being “undemonstrative in the company of women.” The narrator describes Septimus and Evans behaving together like “two dogs playing on a hearth-rug” who, inseparable, “had to be together and share with each other”. Woolf confirms that these repressed homosexual desires rob the protagonists of fulfilment and thus their lives become emotionally poorer.
Similarly, the fluid nature of sexuality and repressed desires are explored in The Hours where the three parallel protagonists share a kiss. Daldry first explores the constraints people had put upon themselves in order to be considered ‘normal and proper’ in the 1950s through the characters of Laura Brown and Kitty. The close-up shot of Laura sharing a kiss with Kitty establishes Laura’s true sexuality, which she does not get over as she continually asks “you didn’t mind”, in comparisons to Kitty who stares at her in disbelief, disregards what happened and instead instructs Laura to feed her dog “half a can in the evening and check the water now and then”. It is evident that Laura led a life of devotion to her husband to fulfil the role of a stereotypical housewife due to the contextual restrictions and strict social code of conduct when all that was not her essence. However, the values in early 21st century have evolved and same sex relationships have become more accepted. This is demonstrated through Clarissa Vaughn’s kiss with Sally Seton and hence their romantic relationship. Essentially, Daldry examines how through the passage of time, the traditional values on homosexuality that were upheld in the early 20th century has transformed and have been more widely accepted in the 21st century as people are able to break free from the conservative and ideal images of relationships.