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City of London in the Book Mrs. Dalloway and in The Hours

Virginia Woolf’s story happening in London revolves around her walks in the English city of London. The story elaborates her use of city and the reasons why she likes it. Just like James Joyce’s and Marcel Proust’s novels, Virginia’s writings and stories are infused to a greater extent with London to the extent that some readers consider London as her living room. This book is a masterpiece; and it provided the basis upon which the novel The Hours by Michael Cunningham was written. In fact, many consider The Hours by Michael Cunningham as homage to Mrs. Dalloway written by Woolf. On the other hand, The Hours improvises the story composed by Woolf to come up with a unique piece of literature which is particularly appealing to readers. Michael Cunningham confronts the linear temporality and establishes a highly complex connection with Mrs. Dalloway; a novel written by Woolf. This essay seeks to compare the manner in which Virginia Woolf uses the city of London and Michael Cunningham uses the cities of New York, London and Los Angeles in their novels Mrs. Dalloway and The Hours respectively. Moreover, it will examine the roles played by the city in the development of plot in both novels. Hopefully, it will make possible for the one to tell whether there are any similarities in the ways the cities have been used in both novels.

The Use of the Cities

It is worth mentioning that both Woolf and Cunningham use the cities to depict the psychology of time although in different ways. They do this by interconnecting the past and the present very carefully and with the considerable intent. Looking at Woolf’s work, for instance, the time is used by her recurrently through the actions of her characters in the novel. With the help of the city of London, we do find that Woolf uses the characters and events to differentiate between two types of time. That is the internal timepiece and the physical clock time. The events in Mrs. Dalloway occur on a single day, and they do enable the one to foretell the consciousness of characters, and, as a result, to interpret the time. Moreover, London enables Woolf to construct a web like pattern, which leads the characters to a spiraling wave towards the centre. In that spiraling wave, she gives readers a slick preview of such characters as Paul Walsh and Elizabeth, and then drives them back into the hibernation only to reintroduce them later at Mrs. Dalloway’s party. Using the design of London, readers find such old structures as St. Paul’s Cathedral engulfed in a new one making it possible to excavate the channels behind the characters.

These tunnels provide an illusion of simultaneous connections, which are linking the past and present. These tunnels also give a representation of the multiplicity associated with the human mind. This multiplicity forges a relationship between the psychological time and the physical clock time. This unique ability to interpret the time bestowed upon the readers makes it possible to judge the effects of modernity in the frame of the popular culture. London gives a perfect example to showcase the effects of modernity and urbanization. Particularly, it provides a perfect ground for experimenting the modernist technique known as the ‘stream of consciousness’, because on one side of London readers see the Royal Opera House, the Covenant Garden and its elite cultures; while on the other side of it readers are presented with a scenario where the war and the ever expanding real estate developments have been done away with the food markets being initially in the Covenant Garden. Of the high importance is the fact that London and its features have been used to provide the stimuli, which triggers and refreshes the memory of characters in the past events. These memories, in their turn, play a pivotal role in the demonstration of the conflict generated by the psychological time and the physical time, otherwise known as the clock time. For example, the instance where Clarissa strides through the streets of London; the scenes of London force her into the situation where she recalls, perceives and, to some extent, generalizes, and in so doing, she suffuses her current experiences with the past feelings and the events that happened almost thirty years before that time. Though Michael Cunningham uses the cities to depict time, the way in which he depicts the psychology of time differs a great deal; for instance, the clock time in the cities used by Michael serves to separate the characters instead of uniting them as seen in the novel Mrs. Dalloway by V.Woolf.

These different cities provide different spaces, which the author uses to fit his characters making it possible for readers to identify and judge their personalities. The cities features such as water as seen in the in Clarissa’s visit to Richard’s apartment initiate a trend, which is used to ease the follow up of thoughts of each character mentioned in the novel as the consciousness does not switch suddenly. Moreover, through the city of Los Angeles, London and New York, Michael Cunningham develops the stream of consciousness which interconnects the characters in the narrative making it possible to identify their personalities (Virginia, 1925).

Role of the Cities

As described earlier, the cities do play a vital role in the development of the narrative. London, for instance, acts as a trigger of its features, some of which are ancient and stimulate the characters’ memories of events and experiences that had occurred in the past years and days of their lives. These memories play a crucial role in the development of the tunneling technique widely used by Woolf in her story. Particularly, these memories, through the tunneling techniques, make it possible to dig into the characters’ past and to unearth his or her history. This makes it possible to reveal the split of personalities of characters, whereby they live both in the past and present. Furthermore, it presents the thoughts and memories that demonstrate to readers the identity of characters, while displaying their experiences and memories of their past that explain how their identity had come into being. This creates a conflict between the psychological and clock times because the memories of past experiences play a significant role in understanding the present events. This, in turn, helps in the definition of a person’s identity and creates a basis for understanding such a person.

The features of the city, such as Big Ben, also do play a role in the development of the narrative. Big Ben, for instance, creates the divisions in the narrative especially it creates the temporary units in the narrative which maintain a consistent prose unifying the various sections of novel. For example, in the paragraph where Big Ben strikes twelve o’clock, the text with a blank line suggesting a new episode is followed. Big Ben situated in London City also creates the reality in which the experiences of characters have been placed. Additionally, when Big Ben strikes the certain time, it creates a difference between the private and public time such that when Big Ben strikes an hour Woolf may sometimes start describing the thoughts of a given character and then to revert to the awareness of this character of the final strike of the clock. In this scenario, the clock’s strike stands for the public time, while the character’s thoughts represent the psychological time. In The Hours by Michael Cunningham, the cities of New York, London and Los Angeles also play their roles in the development of the narrative; in that, the cities create the space and time that help to separate the characters. The structures in those cities help a great deal to keep the focus on the characters’ consciousness. This focus further helps in the representation of thoughts and constructions of internal experiences through the use of the technique called as ‘the stream of consciousnesses’. For example, the instance in the novel, where Cunningham describes the suicide of Mrs. Wolf, represents this mentioned before. The river in which Mrs. Wolf’s body floats can be viewed as a symbol which displays the technique stream of consciousness (Michael, 1998).

 Woolf’s body is elucidated by the images from the outside world which pass through the river waters and are seen as influencing on the dead body of Mrs. Wolf. Additionally, the cities and their features also help in creating the imagery, which elucidates and distinguishes the past from the present, for example, the instance when Michael Clarissa stands at the pool’s edge gazing at the turquoise pool waters that lap and part with the tiles near the pool. This imagery creates the feelings which dive the characters back to their early years, and through their memories, they reveal their identities.

The roles of the cities have both the similarities and differences in both novels; the cities are used to depict the psychology of time and to create the imagery which makes it possible to identify the personalities of characters in the novels. Moreover, the cities are used to create a link between the past and present through memories. They have been used to highlight the technique of streams of consciousness which is widely used in both novels. This technique ‘opens up’ the characters and establishes a continuous link that connects the present with the past. However, there are the small instances where the roles of these cities differ; for example, in The Hours, the cities create different spaces, which are used to separate the characters, while in Mrs. Dalloway, the city has taken the design of the web whereby characters are not separated but interlinked with one another.

In conclusion, the roles of the cities used for both novels have played a significant role in the development of plot. Both authors have carefully designed their cities to create a perfect environment, where the characters can fit in and ooze the memories which are able to link their past and present.


This essay has introduced the books The Hours and Mrs. Dalloway and explained a bit the details that the novels tell about. These books are somehow interrelated; and one of the novels bases its events and plot on the other one. In the introduction, the thesis statement summarizes the essay and gives a preview of the things to be done. In the body, the essay has clearly explained the ways the cities have been used by the authors in both novels. It has gone to the extent of looking at the instances where the cities have been applied. Moreover, it has explored the impact of the city on the development of the plot in both stories.

First of all, the novel has explored the use of London City in Mrs. Dalloway by V.Woolf, and then proceeded to explain the impact of London, New York and Los Angeles in The Hours by Cunningham. As a matter of fact, it is evident that these cities have played a unique role in the development of the narrative. Moreover, they create the images which make it possible to link the past and present. The essay has also explored the features of the cities used as the symbols and helped in the identification of characters applied in the narratives. The essay has examined the roles played by the cities during the development of the narratives, and it has gone to the extent of explaining the instances where the roles are similar; and those instances as well where the roles are different. It is worth noting that these roles have also helped to learn about the characters more and to link the past and present. At this point we are enlightened of the huge impact the cities to the narratives.

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