No 'Ordinary Day': The Hours, Virginia Woolf and Everyday Life

By Sim, Lorraine | Hecate, January 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

No 'Ordinary Day': The Hours, Virginia Woolf and Everyday Life


Sim, Lorraine, Hecate


Women artists have always played a leading role in integrating art and life ... To recognise this as a superior rather than an inferior aesthetic changes everything.1

There have been a number of recent biopics about twentieth-century women writers which focus upon their daily domestic lives; for example, 7ns (2001), The Hours (2002) and Sylvia (2003). Several critics have argued that these films over-emphasise the domestic melodramas and events that punctuated these women's lives and fail to pay sufficient attention to their creative practices and intellectual achievements.2 Indeed, illness and domestic melodrama are the dominant themes in these three biopics. These texts also oversimplify the woman artist's often complex relationship to the Ordinary day',s the everyday. Here I consider the representation of the women writer's relationship to everyday life in The Hours, particularly Virginia Woolf s4 attitude to the domestic quotidian and home in the film.

Cultural critics have long observed that film has tended to set famous people apart from the everyday. In "The Everyday and Everydayness' Henri Lefebvre writes that:

Images, the cinema and television divert the everyday by at times offering up to it its own spectacle, or sometimes the spectacle of the distinctly noneveryday; violence, death, catastrophe, the lives of kings and stars - those who we are led to believe defy everydayness.s

However, as Rita Felski argues in 'The Invention of Everyday Life', the everyday is a democratic concept; '[ejveryone', she writes, 'from the most famous to the most humble' is 'ultimately anchored in the mundane' material world.6 Biopics about famous artists favour the 'spectacle' of the noneveryday and imply that the artist seeks to, in Lefebvre's terms, 'defy' it. In her discussion of biopics about visual artists, including Pollock and Frida, Rebecca Lancashire suggests that such films seek to 'reinforce the romantic notion of creative genius' and observes that one of the problems with Hollywood's mythologising or demonising of artists is that 'it only serves to fuel public misconceptions about their lives and their role in society'.7 The Hours is a suggestive text in discussions about biopics, artists and the everyday, as the film formally privileges the concept of the everyday by representing one day in the life of Virginia Woolf. The film, I suggest, embodies a contradictory and troubled approach to the relationship between the woman writer and the theme of everyday life. While The Hours presents Woolf as an artist who is committed to capturing and celebrating the quotidian in her fiction, she is portrayed as desiring to transcend it. Furthermore, while the film formally suggests a kind of homage to the texture of Woolf s daily life by focusing upon one ordinary day in her life in 1923, it privileges melodrama and noneveryday spectacles. Woolfs 1923 diary illuminates how The Hours offers a somewhat misleading and ideologically loaded representation of her daily life and her attitude towards it.

The screenplay for The Hours, written by David Hare, is an adaptation of Michael Cunningham's novel by the same title, which was published in 1998. Both texts are, in turn, a reworking of Woolfs fourth novel Mrs Dalloway, which was published in 1925 and titled The Hours in an earlier draft.8 Like James Joyce's Ulysses (1922), Mrs Dalloway traces one day in the life of a person - a society wife named Clarissa Dalloway who is preparing for a party she is giving that evening. The Hours represents a day in the life of three women who live in different decades of the twentieth century; Virginia Woolf, Laura Brown and Clarissa Vaughan. Virginia Woolf is living with her husband, Leonard, at Hogarth House in Richmond, Surrey in 1923; Laura Brown is a pregnant housewife who lives with her husband and son in a suburb of Los Angeles in 1949 (1951 in the film); Clarissa Vaughan is a literary editor who lives with her partner, Sally, and daughter, Julia, in Greenwich Village, New York, in the iggos. …

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