Annotating The Hours was a potent reminder of the uncertainty that’s central to writing novels; of the countless choices one makes, without any particular conviction that they’re right. Once a novel is published it feels inevitable, not only to readers but, over time, to the writer as well, when, in fact, the book as printed is only one of a nearly infinite number of possible variations.
FIRST EDITION, CONTAINING WITHIN A TROVE OF NOTES, IMAGES, MUSIC, PHOTOGRAPHS AND TALISMANS INSERTED BY CUNNINGHAM AND SIGNED ON THE HALF-TITLE. From a CD inserted on the front free endpaper of the 5 songs he listed to “ad infinitum” while writing this novel to the extended acknowledgements inserted at the end of the novel, Cunningham provides a rich compendium of commentary about the writing of his novel. He fastens 11 photocopies of photographs of Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Monk’s House Rodmel, and other family members throughout the novel, attached at the top of the page so they can be lifted and the words underneath read. He also adheres 22 typed cards (containing approximately 40-400 words each) as well as a darkly comic drawing in his hand. Cunningham has also inserted 5 tokens, which were “some of the things tacked to my walls as I wrote The Hours at any rate, the ones that would fit inside the book,” comprising: a photograph of Customs House, London, a black and white photograph of a lighthouse, a paper doll’s dress, a rosary, and a heart-shaped votive. His notes throughout explain: the title (“The Hours was one of several titles Woolf was contemplating when she started writing the book she would ultimately title Mrs. Dalloway which left The Hours still available as a title”); his process (“When I’m working on a novel, I play music every morning before I start writing. It has something to do with setting a tone, and something to do with simply enlivening the molecules of the air in the room, which tend to go dormant overnight”); the development of the plot (“when I start a novel, I never know how it’s going to end”); his characters and their development (“Laura Brown was the most difficult character to write” and “I rarely base characters on people I know”); a short list of regretted inaccuracies (“Inaccuracies. They creep in, despite one’s best efforts”); and even one brief thought about the movie inspired by his novel (“The fact that I’m not often referring to the filmdoes not imply that I was unhappy with the film version. I was in fact quite happy with it, which possibly makes me the only living American novelist who has nothing disparaging to say about the movie based on his book”). In all, this remarkable assemblage tells the story of Cunningham’s creation of his Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel.
CUNNINGHAM, Michael (b. 1952). The Hours. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998. 8°. Original boards; pictorial dust jacket.