At the behest of a cousin, I have started reading Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. I didn’t know a whole lot about this book before the past month, and what I did known had mostly to do with the fact that Nicole Kidman, at one point in time, wore a funny nasal prosthetic.
The book is a tri-part narrative, centered around the thematic lines of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, suicide, and yellow flowers. There are three narratives that Cunningham follows, one dealing with a housewife in the late 1940s, the other dealing with a publisher in the late ’90s, and the foremost dealing with Virginia Woolf herself, as she constructs Mrs. Dalloway. Reading the book has created an interesting question, which is this:
What’s the verdict on portraying artists in fictional settings? I know that Peter Schaffer’s portrayal of Mozart has seen its share of harsh criticism. Shakespeare in Love, while charming, provides what I feel is an extreme simplification of its subject.
I’m not enough of an authority on Woolf to cast aspersions on Cunningham’s portrayal, but I’m sure that purists will approach The Hours with hackles raised. Artists are so personal to us that I think any kind of a fictional portrayal that doesn’t match our personal interpretation runs the risk of seeming treasonous.
The Hours is a good book (artfully deployed themes, engaging characters, innovative structure), but it seems inevitable that it must have riled Woolf enthusiasts.
So what do you think? Portraying artists in fiction—necessary evil or oft-broken taboo?
Michael Cunningham has the most ludicrously handsome jacket photo I have ever seen.