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English 11-12

How to Write a Comparative Essay on Mrs Dalloway and The Hours | Free Exemplar Essay

Struggling to write a Module A essay? Not sure how to write about Textual Conversations? In this article, we explain how to write a comparative essay on Mrs Dalloway and The Hours for Module A that will score you a Band 6!

Want to write the perfect Textual Conversations essay, but don’t know where to start? In this article, we’ll explain how to write a comparative essay on Mrs Dalloway and The Hours for Module A that will score you a Band 6.


How to Write a Comparative Essay on Mrs Dalloway and The Hours

In our last article, we discussed the fundamentals of analysing Mrs Dalloway and The Hours for Module A Textual Conversations. In this article, we’re going to build on that foundation and show you how to develop your study notes and use them to scaffold your essays so you can write a high scoring comparative essay.


We’re going to discuss,


Comparative essay structure

As you probably know, an essay should contain an Introduction, Body, and Conclusion. But as a Module A Essay is comparative, there are particular essay structures that help to draw out comparison well. The two dominant structures are the integrated and divided approaches.

Let’s see what these looks like:

comparative essay on mrs dalloway the hours essay scaffold integrated approach

The integrated approach combines textual analysis of both texts in each themed paragraph.

The divided approach analyses only one text in each paragraph, where each two paragraphs share a theme.

An integrated structure is more efficient in comparing texts, but a divided response can convey things with more clarity.

Both these structures contain a minimum of 12 pieces of evidence. Note that the integrated structure requires the student to examine one more theme than the divided approach. Although it’s sometimes said that the integrated approach enables students to make stronger links between texts, either approach is perfectly acceptable to use. You won’t gain or lose marks on your essay purely on the choice of scaffold, your marks are defined by how you analyse the text and respond to the question.

comparative essay on Mrs Dalloway and The Hours flowers

Writing body paragraphs

The structure of a body paragraph is given in the previous section. One of the most common weaknesses in a body paragraph is when the textual evidence is not appropriately connected to the topic sentence or not relevant to the theme. Another common error in Module A essays is when the contextual link is not clearly connected to the evidence provided in the paragraph.

Let’s take the following topic sentence on feminist values:

“Mrs Dalloway interrogates the restrictions placed on women due to gender norms.”

Now we need to find 3 language and narrative techniques that are specifically connected to the above statement. We want to use the Technique/Example/Effect formula in our textual analysis of these techniques. For example:

“The use of REPETITION when Clarissa contemplates her own identity in, ‘this being Mrs Dalloway; not even Clarissa anymore; this being Mrs Richard Dalloway,highlights her lack of confidence in herself.

We can see the TECHNIQUE, example, and effect in the above piece of analysis, however the explanation of effect is not clearly tied to the topic sentence about restrictions on women. A better piece of textual analysis for this paragraph might be:

“The use of REPETITION when Clarissa contemplates her own identity in, ‘this being Mrs Dalloway; not even Clarissa anymore; this being Mrs Richard Dalloway,highlights an anxiety about how she is defined by her marriage to a man, rather than by her own merits. Her estimation of self is bound up in the social perception that a woman’s primary role is as a wife and mother.”

In the above piece of textual analysis we can see that the effect of the repetition is specifically in how it reveals Clarissa’s anxieties. These anxieties are related to ‘gender norms’ in the topic sentence through the focus on ‘social perception’ about the gender roles of wife and mother. Finally, the analysis is connected to ‘restrictions’ (again, in the topic sentence) through the phrase ‘bound up’. It’s a good idea not to repeat the exact wording of the topic sentence over and over again in your body paragraph. Try to use similar words of phrases instead.

A contextual link highlights how the example(s) you highlight is shaped by the context in which the text was created. We need to do this because we must show how feminist values in Mrs Dalloway are different to those in The Hours: this is because they were written in different times with different commonly accepted feminist values. We want to make sure the contextual link is relevant to the evidence.

“Her estimation of self is bound up in the social perception that a woman’s primary role is as a wife and mother. This is related to Woolf’s prolific work with the Women’s Cooperative Guild supporting working women.

In the above example of a contextual link, it’s not clear how Woolf’s work with the guild relates specifically to the gender roles of wife and mother. It is necessary to find a more relevant contextual link. For example:

“Her estimation of self is bound up in the social perception that a woman’s primary role is as a wife and mother. Woolf herself was a staunch voice for women’s independence from domestic roles: her essay ‘A Room of One’s Own’ highlights how women were not able to write or be truly independent because they were held back by the time and space devoted to domestic roles.

Here, Woolf writing on domestic space/roles is clearly linked to the previous point about the gender roles of wife and mother. Personal context is perfectly acceptable to use in a contextual link.

comparative essay on Mrs Dalloway and The Hours female experience

It shows sophistication when, at least once in your essay, you provide evidence that speaks to the overall structure of the text. Sometimes if we use a series of fragmented examples that have no relation to each other, it can give the impression that we haven’t thought about the text as a whole. An example of a piece of textual analysis that considers the relationship of parts to the whole might be:

We see the RECURRING MOTIF of windows in Mrs Dalloway at the very beginning when Clarissa ‘burst[s] open the French windows’ and at the end when she contemplates the image of an old woman in a window in the building next door. The window suggests being boxed in, especially by domestic space, but it is also a portal to the outside. In both the examples given above, Clarissa contemplates the outside and gains rich insights about her life – especially at the end of the novel. Thus, the windows function as markers of both restriction and creative and intellectual freedom for women.

In this example we can see how the motif of the window ‘frames’ the novel, as it appears at the beginning and end: thus, creating an overall sense of structure and unity.

Lastly, while a paragraph on feminist values in The Hours will automatically create connections with a paragraph on feminist values in Mrs Dalloway due to the shared theme, it’s a good idea to make explicit connections through shared techniques or similar formal qualities. The Hours also contains a recurring theme of windows. But we don’t want to say the exact same thing about windows in both texts. We might develop on this focus with something like:

“All the protagonists in The Hours are FRAMED by windows or glass at some point in the film: e.g. Laura watching Dan leave for work, or Richard as a boy banging on the window at Laura who he thinks will abandon him. Like Mrs Dalloway, the windows suggest restriction and a longing for freedom, but they also create continuity between the different timelines. The parallel imagery makes windows portals into different times and they suggest the continued relevance of restricting gender roles for women from Woolf’s time to the present.”

Although the passage makes a similar point about the restricting box of the window, it adds that, in the case of The Hours, windows also create historical continuity between the different time periods depicted in the film. If you can make these kinds of connections between similar formal, symbolic, or conceptual elements of the texts, you can display a sophisticated form of comparative analysis.”

comparative essay on Mrs Dalloway and The Hours domestic

Want to see what makes a great essay great?


Comparative essay study notes

One common way to keep study notes is to order them by theme. This was you will have several pieces of evidence aligned with particular themes. This evidence can then be used in body paragraphs centering on those themes. It’s a good idea to prepare more themes than you would use in an essay. If you only prepare evidence for two themes, for example, you might get stuck if one of your themes is totally irrelevant to the question. We will talk more about this in the next section. It’s also a good idea to prepare more than the minimum amount of evidence per theme, in case some pieces of evidence are more pertinent to the essay question than others. Preparing more than the minimum amount of material allows you to have the flexibility to approach different types of questions. Here is an example of how your might prepare study notes on the theme of feminism:

Table: Evidence for the theme of Feminism
Mrs Dalloway
Repetition‘this being Mrs Dalloway; not even Clarissa anymore; this being Mrs Richard Dalloway’Anxiety about identity being bound by gender roles of wife and husband
Recurring MotifWindows: ‘burst[s] open the French windows’, image of an old woman in a window.Window as boxing in and portal to outside/freedom
Visual imagery‘feeling herself suddenly shriveled, aged, breastless’Clarissa’s self-worth bound up in femininity and attractiveness
Characterisation‘Both of them criticised her very unfairly, laughed at her very unjustly, for her parties’The men in her life see her parties are trivial and feminine.
Stream of Consciousness‘Much rather would she have been one of those people like Richard who did things for themselves, whereas, she thought, waiting to cross, half the time she did things not simply, not for themselves; but to make people think this or that’Highlights the sophistication of a woman’s mind which is rarely represented well in male dominated English literature.
Woolf’s essay ‘A Room of One’s Own’ highlights the lack of women writers in the literary tradition because of the restrictions of gender roles places on women and because of women’s exclusion from centers of power.
The Hours
FramingWindows frame several characters: Laura watching Dan leave for work, or Richard as a boy banging on the window at Laura who he thinks will abandon him.
CostumingClarissa wearing an apron when she imitates Richard implying ‘Your life is trivial. You are so trivial’
Facial expressionLaura’s lifeless facial expression when interacting with Dan
Close upWhen Laura says ‘they say it’s the worse thing a woman can do’Laura gains independence through abandoning role as wife and mother, but is demonised as a result
DénoumentJulia Vaughan physically embraces Laura, and Sally embraces ClarissaWomen support each other, independence from men.
Third wave feminism and queer movement mean that Clarissa has more rights and independence in some ways than Laura and Woolf. Postfeminist co-existence of feminist and anti-feminist attitudes.
comparative essay on Mrs Dalloway and The Hours scaffold

How to approach a Module A essay question

There are a few different types of comparative questions that can be posed in the HSC exam. It’s a good idea to be prepared to answer all of them, especially the more challenging ones. As mentioned earlier, if you have extra material prepared, you should be able to adapt to different kinds of questions.

The first kind of question we will address is the simplest one:

Everything is being dismantled, reconstructed, recycled. To what end? For what purpose?
To what extent is this statement true of the texts you have studied in this module?

This is the 2019 HSC question. It is quite open ended because it essentially provides you the opportunity to respond with your own argument and themes. It doesn’t give you a pregiven theme/concept to incorporate. However, it does imply that you should engage with the Module ideas in your response. Remember that the module states that students:

‘consider how their understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of both texts has been enhanced through the comparative study…’

You want to make the argument for this in your answer to the above question. Thus, an answer to the question might look something like:

“In examining how The Hours reconstructs and recontextualises many of the ideas in Mrs Dalloway, we gain a deeper understanding of how contextual influences shape literary and cinema texts.”

To what end? To the extent that we ‘gain a deeper understanding of how contextual influences shape literary and cinema texts’. Notice that we’ve used the word ‘reconstructed’ from the question but have also included another similar word of our own, ‘recontextualised’, to show our engagement with the ideas in the question. After this thesis statement, we can introduce our themes and show what we gain through comparing them in each text.

Another kind of question is one that gives you a theme or concept and leaves you with no choice but to engage with it:

How is the portrayal of intimacy in Mrs Dalloway reimagined for a new audience in The Hours?

You cannot ignore the concept of intimacy here and use your own themes. Intimacy must be related to each part of your essay. Let’s say that your prepared themes are:

  • Feminism
  • Queer Desire
  • Illness
  • Time

You will have to choose two of these themes and connect them clearly to intimacy. The best way to practice answering these questions is to do an essay scaffold. An essay scaffold will help you to answer the question and connect your thesis to each of the topic sentences, thus comprehensively responding to the question in your proposed essay structure. One way to answer respond to this question, in the form of an essay scaffold might be to use the themes of queer desire and time:

THESIS STATEMENTThe Hours reimagines Mrs Dalloway’s focus on intimacy by making the concept relevant to a contemporary audience.
 TOPIC SENTENCE 1 Certain characters in Mrs Dalloway exhibit a longing for forbidden queer forms of intimacy.
 TOPIC SENTENCE 2 The Hours depicts socially accepted queer relationships not necessarily as liberatory but as equally complicated as any relationship.
 TOPIC SENTENCE 3 Several characters in Mrs Dalloway are haunted by intimate friendships in their past.
 TOPIC SENTENCE 4 The past haunts several characters in The Hours in order to show the continuity between the past and the present.


In this scaffold we have shown how queer desire is differently represented because of changed values around queer identity. We also showed that the theme of haunting (time) is updated in The Hours to create connections between the past and present.

The final type of question we will look at is one where you are given an extract from the texts and asked to incorporate them in your response. Take the following question from the 2016 HSC:

An exploration of intertextual connections reveals the relationship between context and key values.
Discuss this view with detailed reference to the extracts below and your pair of prescribed texts.

“There was nobody. Her words faded. So a rocket fades. Its sparks, having grazed their way into the night, surrender to it, dark descends, pours over the outlines of houses and towers; bleak hill-sides soften and fall in. But though they are gone, the night is full of them; robbed of colour, blank of windows, they exist more ponderously, give out what the frank daylight fails to transmit – … I am alone; I am alone!”
(from Mrs Dalloway)

comparative essay on mrs dalloway and the hours

This question contains a statement to respond to, as well as an extract/image from each text for you to engage with. A weaker response to this question would ignore the extracts in the introduction and only include a brief analysis of them in the body paragraph. A sophisticated response might engage with the extracts conceptually in the introduction in order to set up the argument and structure of the essay. For example, both these extracts seem to be about isolation, depression, hardship, or death. You could engage with one of these concepts to structure your essay. You might need to have a slightly extended introduction in order to provide a rationale that responds to the statement of the question and the extracts, and provides connections between the thesis statement and your thematic outline. One approach might look like:

 THESIS STATEMENT/THEMATIC OUTLINE Both the extracts from Mrs Dalloway of Clarissa looking into a dreary night and exclaiming ‘I am alone!’ and the image of Woolf contemplating death in The Hours highlight characters weighed down by personal hardship. In fact, both texts explore characters that struggle with mental illness in a cruel world. Having said that, they also both offer a sense of hope and triumph in the face of hardship. By comparing the different treatment of personal hardship in both texts we gain contextually specific insights into the difficulties and joys of life.

In this thesis statement, we have offered an analysis of what is represented in the extracts: we have said that they both depict ‘personal hardship’. We have used this notion of ‘personal hardship’ as a structuring concept for the essay. We have tied this concept to two themes: mental illness and hope. As you see, we didn’t just focus on hardship, we also examined responses to hardship that are more positive in nature. Lastly, we tied the introduction back to the statement of the question about ‘the relationship between context and key values’ by saying that we gain ‘contextually specific insights’ into the key themes of the texts.

If we had prepared the same themes as we had for the previous question, we could tie mental illness easily to illness and we might be able to tie hope to feminist ideas. Let’s see how this could be done by completing the scaffold:

TOPIC SENTENCE 1 Septimus’s struggle with mental illness reflects someone overwhelmed by the difficulties of life.
 TOPIC SENTENCE 2 Various characters in The Hours also contemplate or enact suicide due to struggles with mental illness.
 TOPIC SENTENCE 3 Despite the depictions of hardship, Woolf also explores the possibility of hope and empowerment for women.
 TOPIC SENTENCE 4The Hours similarly depicts the possibility of a bright feminist future for contemporary women.

In order to further respond to the question, we will have to make sure that in our body paragraphs we offer a more in depth textual analysis of the provided extracts and we must provide contextual links that highlight ‘the relationship between context and key values’.

Our response to this final question might seem a bit difficult to reproduce. If you are slightly overwhelmed by what has been provided here, just know that this kind of response takes practice to construct. You can improve on your ability at answering difficult questions by giving yourself plenty questions to attempt and providing essay scaffolds in response to them.

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Written by Timothy Steains

Dr Timothy Kazuo Steains has been a teacher at Matrix since 2013. He has written and contributed to various textbooks for Matrix students. He is also a lecturer in Gender and Cultural studies and researches in the areas of Asian Australian studies, and boys studies.


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