Study Guide

Mary Krull in The Hours

By Michael Cunningham

Mary Krull

Mary Krull is the radical queer theorist who, according to Clarissa Vaughan, has Clarissa's daughter, Julia, "in thrall" (1.31). If you ask us, though, we'd say it's the other way around: Mary is quite obviously in love with Julia, despite the fact that her feelings for the younger woman are just as obviously unreciprocated. Tough break, Mary.

Mary is a lecturer at NYU, and she takes her politics seriously. Even Clarissa has to admit that there's something admirable about the way that Mary lives "on the verge of poverty" and is willing to be arrested for her activism (1.31). On the other hand, Clarissa also believes that Mary is, at heart, "too despotic in her intellectual and moral intensity, her endless demonstrations of cutting-edge, leather-jacketed righteousness" (1.31). Just take a look at the thoughts that run through Clarissa's mind when Mary swings by on the day of Clarissa's party:

Fraud, Clarissa thinks. You've fooled my daughter, but you don't fool me. I know a conquistador when I see one. I know all about making a splash. It isn't hard. If you shout loud enough, for long enough, a crowd will gather to see what all the noise is about. It's the nature of crowds. They don't stay long, unless you give them reason. You're just as bad as most men, just that aggressive, just that self-aggrandizing, and your hour will come and go. (14.58)

For her part, Mary dislikes Clarissa just as much as Clarissa dislikes her. While Clarissa makes her mental list of Mary's fraudulent, self-aggrandizing qualities, Mary is thinking a few choice thoughts of her own: "Fool, Mary thinks, though she struggles to remain charitable or, at least, serene. No, screw charity. Anything's better than queers of the old school, dressed to pass, bourgeois to the bone, living like husband and wife. Better to be a frank and open asshole, better to be John f***ing Wayne, than a well-dressed dyke with a respectable job" (14.57).

Basically, these two women just don't like each other's lifestyles. Each of them thinks the other is doing the "queer" thing wrong.

So, what exactly does Mary's anti-establishment, anti-bourgeois style look like? When Louis Waters passes her on the street, he sees a woman "whose face looks like a fresh bruise" (11.141). Later, when Mary comes up to Clarissa's apartment, the narrator puts things this way:

Here then, once again, is Mary—Mary the stern and rigorous, Mary the righteous, shaved head beginning to show dark stubble, wearing rat-colored slacks, breasts dangling (she must be past forty) under a ragged white tank top. Here is her heavy tread; here are her knowing, suspicious eyes. Seeing Julia and Mary together, Clarissa thinks of a little girl dragging home a stray dog, all ribs and discolored teeth; a pathetic and ultimately dangerous creature who ostensibly needs a good home but whose hunger in fact runs so deep it cannot be touched by any display of love or bounty. (14.33)

Talk about an unflattering portrait.

At heart, Mary isn't just anti-establishment and anti-bourgeois: she's the novel's anti-Clarissa. Whereas Clarissa expresses her lesbian identity in relatively conventional ways—ways that include a long-term and monogamous relationship, motherhood, and a bright and cheerful home—Mary chooses a more radical expression of queer politics and identity, and devotes her energies to raging against the machine.

To find Mary's literary counterpart in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, look for a bitter, mackintosh-wearing tutor named Miss Kilman.