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It has played to sold-out audiences since it premiered on stage at New York’s Lincoln Center on Nov. 22. PBS Newshour called it, “The opera event of the year.” A Variety review claimed, “it’s Woolf who’ll make you swoon.”

Now, whether we can get to New York or not, we have the chance to see the Metropolitan Opera’s version of Michael Cunningham’s 1998 Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Hours, which was based on Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway (1925).

See it in a theater near you

How? The opera version of The Hours is coming to theaters around the country as a Fathom event and as part of the Met’s award-winning Live in HD series. Tickets for this three-hour-plus event range from $18 to $24.

The live performance in English will screen at 12:55 p.m EST on Dec. 10 with encore showings at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. EST on Dec. 14.

Search for the theater closest to your location on The Hours page on the Fathom Events website.

Trio of heroines

Soprano Renée Fleming, soprano Kelli O’Hara and mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato play the roles of the opera’s trio of heroines. Kevin Puts is the composer and Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts.

The opera is set in London suburb Richmond in 1923, LA in 1949, and Manhattan at the end of the twentieth century.

“The mere fact of this opera’s existence does an interesting thing: It cements ‘The Hours’ as a foundational piece of contemporary art,” according to Daniel D’Addario’s review in Variety. The Hours is on The Met stage through Dec. 15.

Rave reviews, a synopsis, and a program

You can read more rave reviews from critics, prepare for the performance by reading a synopsis, and download a program.

Woolf’s words live on through the generations, and the concerns and troubled thoughts of women echo, too, no matter how much progress seems to be made in the world outside Virginia, Laura, and Clarissa’s minds. – “‘The Hours,’ in Its Latest Adaptation, Is a Stunning Triumph for the Met: Opera Review,” Variety.

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At a time when inaccurate information spreads like wildfire via social media, it’s refreshing to learn that a major media outlet is interested in fact checking something as seemingly minor as a literary quote, particularly one attributed to Virginia Woolf.

“You cannot find peace by avoiding life” was the quote attributed to Woolf and shared more than 300 times by a Facebook group called “English literature and Linguistics.”

USA TODAY on the hunt

Then USA TODAY noticed. And reporter Rick Rouan, based in Columbus, Ohio, started checking into it. On his own, he was unable to find a record of Woolf saying or writing those words.

So he contacted a couple of folks in the Woolf community, including Blogging Woolf and Benjamin Hagen, assistant professor of English at the University of South Dakota who is heading up this year’s Woolf conference and serves as president of the International Virginia Woolf Society.

Woolfians join the search

I searched my copy of Major Authors on CD-ROM: Virginia Woolf and found no such statement in Woolf’s work. But Hagen traced it to the 2002 film “The Hours,” which is based on Michael Cunningham’s novel of the same title, inspired by Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway.

The Facebook group that posted the quote Rouan investigated has apparently removed it from its page. Fact-checking information shared online is something USA TODAY does regularly, Rouan told me.

Read more about the hunt for the quote and its origins in “Fact check: Quote attributed to Virginia Woolf was in a movie, not her primary work.”

A collection of memes found in a Google search that include the quote falsely attributed to Woolf

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I just stumbled across a saved email from two years ago that included a link to a 16-minute YouTube video that provides a photographic timeline of Virginia Woolf’s many looks, from youth to adult, from formal to playful.

The music accompanying the timeline, which I am belatedly sharing, is by Philip Glass, who also composed the music for the 2002 film “The Hours.”

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Mrs Dalloway in slipcase. Courtesy of SP Books

The full-length draft of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway was waiting for me when I returned in July from the Literature Cambridge course Virginia Woolf’s Gardens. Lucky me.

As I eagerly opened the heavy package, I thought I knew what to expect from this handwritten manuscript of what would become Virginia Woolf’s famous 1925 novel. After all, its publication had been highly publicized by the mainstream press and widely shared on social media.

What I didn’t expect was its beautiful detail, its literal weightiness, and the fact that Woolf’s draft would be so very different from the final product we know, love, study, and write about today.

June 3, 2019, tweet from @BookBrunch

A lusciously weighty volume

Published by SP Books, the volume is luscious and large. Measuring 13″ x 9.5″ it is hand-bound, with linen-textured covers of dark green and a slipcase to match. The lettering on the cover and slipcase, including Woolf’s distinctive signature, is a rich metallic gold. Each volume is hand-numbered from one to 1,000. All of these beautiful features indicate the importance of this limited edition classic book, as well as the author we love.

The manuscript reproduces the three handwritten stitched notebooks, much of them written in Woolf’s trademark purple ink, in which she drafted “The Hours.” Written between June 27, 1923, and October 1924, these notebooks would eventually become her classic novel Mrs. Dalloway.

Virginia Woolf’s Signature. Courtesy of SP Books

Holding genius in one’s own hands

One usually must visit a library, a museum, or some other official place to study Woolf’s writing process in detail. When we visited the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge as part of our Literature Cambridge course, we saw the first draft manuscript for Woolf’s classic feminist polemic A Room of One’s Own (1929). Each of us had a few precious minutes with the manuscript, noting Woolf’s edits and marginal notes and taking photos.

Bookmark. Courtesy of SP Books

Now, however, thanks to SP Press, any of us who can rustle up about £190 or $220, can own our very own Woolf manuscript, giving us the opportunity to study it in detail at our leisure.

The Woolf draft, along with others in the series, provide, “A return to ‘slow reading’ in a digital age” and “offer an intimate insight into the writer’s mind and thought-processes, showing their crossings-out, notes and revisions,” according to SP Press.

Female-centric and revolutionary

I admit that I haven’t had time to read the manuscript from cover to cover. Woolf herself had trouble reading her own handwriting at times, so imagine how difficult it is for the unaccustomed common reader to parse her penmanship.

First page of notebook 2 (purple ink). Courtesy of SP Books

But it’s easy to see from the opening pages that the draft Woolf produced is totally different in focus, tone, and structure from the novel she eventually created. While Mrs. Dalloway focuses on Clarissa, introducing her with the famous line, “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself” (MD 1),”The Hours” initially focuses on Peter Walsh and includes this opening line:

In Westminster, where temples, meeting houses, conventicles, & steeples of all kinds are congregated together, there is at all hours & halfhours, a round of bells, correcting each other, asseverating that time has come a little earlier, or stayed a little later, here or here. – “The Hours”

So a quote from Michael Cunningham‘s introduction to the SP Books facsimile of “The Hours” certainly rings true: “Had Woolf completed a novel called “The Hours,” it would not have been the Mrs. Dalloway that has become a cornerstone of 20th-century literature.”

The back story

The facsimile edition includes an essay from Woolf scholar Helen Wussow that provides the genesis of the character of Mrs. Dalloway, as well as that of the manuscript itself.

According to Wussow, Leonard Woolf wrote to Vita Sackville-West after Virginia’s death to tell her that her friend and lover had left a manuscript to her. Leonard’s job was to choose which Vita would receive. He decided upon Mrs. Dalloway, sending Vita the entire manuscript on June 21, 1941. The British Library eventually purchased it from her.

Wussow also details the whereabouts of the typescript (not yet found) and page proofs for the novel, as well as Woolf’s working methods.

More on SP Press

Other SP Press limited edition copies of handwritten manuscripts include classics such as The Great Gatsby, Jane Eyre and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Follow them on Twitter @saintsperes.

Title – 1 – 1923. Courtesy of SP Books

1st opening, on the 1st page of notebook 1. Courtesy of SP Books

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While doing research on Mrs. Dalloway a few years ago, one of the aspects of the novel I became interested in was the role of time construction in the narrative.

As we know, Mrs. Dalloway takes place in a few different times and places. However, a more curious question became how many hours, from Clarissa going to buy the flowers by herself, to the end of the narrative, “for there she was,” does the novel take place in?

Mrs. Dalloway can be broken down into three sections: the beginning, when Clarissa goes out to buy flowers at ten; the ending, her “rebirth” after a long, nearly fatal, illness, followed by the central part of the novel, including flashbacks and the preparation for the dinner party in the evening; finally, the third section of the novel, the 30 “dead,” years in between.

Anna Benjamin’s 1965 essay “Towards An Understanding Of The Meaning Of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway includes a chart detailing the times in which corresponding events take place in the text, according to textual evidence. While Benjamin admits the beginning and ending times for the novel “are not preciously stated” she, using textual evidence, concludes that the novel begins at ten in the morning and ends approximately around midnight.

At the time in which Benjamin is writing there is some contention as to how long the novel takes. Melvin Friedman argues for ten to ten. Dean Doner argues rather unreasonably for 17 hours, from ten to three in the morning. Molly Hoff has also written about this in more contemporary times. Nowhere in my research did I find a more conclusive chart than Benjamin’s:

10 a.m.

“First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air.

11 a.m.

Peter calls on Clarissa a little after eleven.

11:30 a.m.

“…struck out between them with extrordinary vigour, as if a young man, strong, indifferent, inconsiderate, were swinging dumb-bells this way and that.”

11:32 a.m.

“like a hostess who comes in her drawing room…”

11:45 a.m.

“…the quarter struck-the quarter to twelve…”

Noon

“…whose stroke was wafted over the nothern part of London; blent with that of other clocks, mixed in a thin…etheral way with the clouds and wisps of smoke…twelve o’clock struck as Clarissa….laid her green dress…

1:30 p.m.

…a sense of proportion, until the mound of time was so far diminished that a commericial clock…announced genially…

1:30-2 p.m.

Lunchtime in Mayfair.

3 p.m.

…for with overpowering directness and dignity the clock struck three…

3:30 p.m.

…that solemn stroke which lay flat like a bar of gold on the sea…

3:32 p.m.

“…came shuffling in with its lap full of odds and ends, which it dumped down as if Big Ben were all very well with his majesty…”

6 p.m.

Mrs. Dalloway’s letter reaches Peter.

8 p.m.

Peter sees young people heading to the pictures.

8 p.m.

Dinner is also over at the Dalloways. The first guests arrive for the party.

Midnightish

“…with the clock striking the hour…one, two, three…There!”

This chart makes the most sense to me. I have found it quite useful for both my own research on the novel and for discussion and understanding the text in general. I wonder if there is a more useful, or recent, chart out there amongst Woolf scholars?

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