The Hours

The Hours, I think, is the only Michael Cunningham novel I have not read (I think) but I have watched the film by Stephen Daldry (with a screenplay by David Hare) over two evenings and found it wholly compelling.

There is a beautiful, illuminating moment on the train platform at Richmond where Virginia Woolf has 'gone for a walk' and Leonard Woolf, panicked, finds her. She refers to her sense of captivity and the way she is not allowed into her own life, surrounded by the care of doctors and the disciplines of treatment. That is exactly how it must feel - even when those treatments are keeping you alive, potentially returning you to a life - you are stripped of your autonomy, keeping you from dimensions of yourself.

Those dimensions might, of course, be crucifying rather than liberating, but they may not. They may be simply a part of a differently normal. I was reminded of a Dutch study of schizophrenia where people had been encouraged to 'talk back' to their voices, to relativise them yet incorporate them into their daily reality. As a result, the people, rather than being possessed and diminished, expanded and regained a renewed autonomy.

All three of the central characters in The Hours give you a sense of being afflicted principally by not being listened to - they may be loved but not truly seen and heard - whole dimensions of themselves remained hidden from view either ignored or policed lest the fullness of who they were (including their derangement) broke the bounds of what could be handled. Our love, however, deeply felt, rarely has the purity of being able to handle all things.

Recognition might have been liberating but rarely are we seen or let ourselves be.


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