Woolf’s Art is centrifugal. It moves continuously from centre to margins; it strives to expand its limits, to overcome its flaws, to surpass genre-boundaries. But also, Woolf’s Art is permanently longing for order, for a system of small hierarchies. Throughout her literary activity, Woolf struggled to find the necessary ‘tools’ by the means of which to express her own reality and vision, to express the centre of her creations. And from that centre derive and expand, like beams of light, the particularities of Woolf’s fiction.
Hence, in the heart of Woolf’s novels lies – despite the apparent fragmentariness and fracture – a solid shape, a well-structured backbone, which comprises recurrent themes, ideas, predilections that had dominated Woolf’s life and literary creations, elements from her life that contradicted and baffled her mind. She therefore transposed into her Art all humanity, all emotions, desires and conflicts that constitute her world, since behind the layers of Woolf’s novels lies her own life. All the feelings and ideas that transpire in her works are, most of the times, doubled by genuine moments of being.
On that account, in The Hours, Michael Cunningham had the intuition of the backbone behind Woolf’s novels. He extracted the structure and emphasized its components so as to stress the way in which all her novels communicate; to emphasize the caves built behind her fiction – caves, tunnels filled with meaning. From the outside, Woolf’s Art seems serene and peaceful, but deep down in its core, precisely like a volcano, ‘rests’ smouldering emotions, raw feelings, instincts.
In just a few hours, Cunningham’s novel tells the story of Virginia Woolf, Clarissa Vaughan and Laura Brown. A few hours that enclose the essence of their beings, a few hours that encompass all their lives. Cunningham brings Woolf into his territory; or he moves his territory closer to her. He shares Woolf’s literary creed of portraying Life in Art, Life in all its facets and colours; life and death (time), life and ugliness (mental disorder), life and attraction (love), life and loneliness (alienation), life and the way in which it structures Woolf’s fiction.
Even Stephan Daldry, the director of The Hours (2002), beautifully emphasized the connection between the destinies of the three women, and as someone nicely put it when reviewing the film, Virginia is writing a book. Laura is reading the book. Clarissa is the book.
To sum up, Woolf invites us into her Art and, implicitly, into her life. She lays it down before us, leaving to our appreciation whether to embark on the journey or not. Michael Cunningham engaged in this quest without hesitation and his great revelation, his epiphany was:
“Yes, Clarissa thinks, it's time for the day to be over. We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in Canada; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep – it's as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out of the windows or drown themselves or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us, the vast majority, are slowly devoured by some disease or, if we're very fortunate, by time itself. There's just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we've ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more.
Heaven only knows why we love it so."