Darryl Pinck­ney

Mas­ter Class

The New York Review of Books - - Contents - Darryl Pinck­ney *This es­say will ap­pear, in some­what dif­fer­ent form, as the in­tro­duc­tion to The Col­lected Es­says of El­iz­a­beth Hard­wick, to be pub­lished by New York Re­view Books on Oc­to­ber 17, 2017. Copy­right © 2017 by Darryl Pinck­ney

Come again, Pro­fes­sor Hard­wick said, do­ing that see­saw dance with her shoul­ders, as if to say, get a load of him. I’d no idea what she was talk­ing about. She nod­ded to­ward the blue-and-ma­genta pa­per­back on top of my note­book: it was by a distin­guished, el­derly mem­ber of the Columbia fac­ulty. If I was read­ing that for a class, then I should drop that class right away. Who, she won­dered, apart from the pro­fes­sor him­self, would make stu­dents read him on the Ro­man­tics. Not much of in­ter­est there, she fin­ished. The ex­change hap­pened faster than it has taken me to re­call it, from her get­ting set­tled in her seat, to me, the ap­ple-pol­isher, claim­ing first chair and open­ing an­other note­book. She’d laughed at the class for our think­ing we would want to take notes. Most of us per­sisted. She taught by quo­ta­tion and aside, ci­ta­tion and remark, stone down the well and echo. Most of her lessons were for later. She would peer over the book and ex­hale, trust­ing to For­tuna that some­body sit­ting around the ta­ble might get it even­tu­ally. Per­haps Pro­fes­sor Hard­wick wanted to drift off, through the win­dow and away, but she couldn’t. Lit­er­a­ture meant too much to her and was the only kind of writ­ing she wanted to teach, not that it could be taught. She hoped we’d learn to ask ques­tions of our­selves as we wrote. How can you sus­tain this tone? Then enough was enough, on to the next per­son and her or his fif­teen min­utes of lip-part­ing at­ten­tion. I’m afraid I don’t find that ter­ri­bly in­ter­est­ing as an ap­proach, she’d say. Your weekly of­fer­ing was not much com­mented upon; she much pre­ferred to be in­ter­ested in what she was read­ing. Bore­dom was not list­less­ness, it was a ner­vous strain, while to be oc­cu­pied with some­thing like a great book could be won­der­fully, some­times painfully, lib­er­at­ing. Ped­a­gogy—a word she would make fun of, start­ing from the dash. In the es­says of El­iz­a­beth Hard­wick that dash is of­ten a warn­ing—be­ware of sting.*

We, her fas­ci­nated and si­lent creative writ­ing class at Barnard Col­lege in 1973, knew who she was. Need­ful facts, as she would say: El­iz­a­beth Hard­wick, born in Lex­ing­ton, Ken­tucky, in 1916, left grad­u­ate school at Columbia Univer­sity be­cause she wanted to write. I don’t re­mem­ber if she told the class that or not. Her first novel, The Ghostly Lover, was pub­lished in 1945. The first thing I ever read by her was the open­ing chap­ter of Sleep­less Nights, the novel she was writ­ing then un­der the ti­tle The Cost of Liv­ing. That stun­ning first chap­ter was pub­lished in The New York Re­view of Books while I was in her class. She told me later—it has been one of the hon­ors of my life to have stud­ied with her and to have ben­e­fited from her gen­er­ous con­ver­sa­tions about lit­er­a­ture down through many years— that Stu­art Hamp­shire wrote her at the time to say that the chap­ter was so amaz­ing he couldn’t imag­ine how she’d be able to go on from there. As a be­gin­ning, it was an im­pos­si­ble act to fol­low. She said she found out that he was right and she ended up break­ing up the chap­ter and re­dis­tribut­ing it through­out the novel.

I was about to say that be­cause I’d read her fic­tion first I al­ways thought of her as more than a critic. But I can hear how blis­ter­ing she’d be about that phrase—more than a critic. For her, lit­er­ary crit­i­cism had to be up there with its sub­jects; real lit­er­a­ture should elicit crit­i­cism wor­thy of the achieve­ment in ques­tion. We got that from her straight off. The kind of mod­ern lit­er­ary crit­i­cism she was talk­ing about—Vir­ginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, Ed­mund Wil­son, Ran­dall Jar­rell, R. P. Black­mur, John Ber­ry­man, F.W. Du­pee, Mary McCarthy—was as stim­u­lat­ing as the work it was ex­plor­ing. Then, too, she wanted us to take se­ri­ously the es­say as a form. The Amer­i­can es­say— Thoreau, Emer­son—was an im­por­tant part of Amer­i­can his­tory.

Pro­fes­sor Hard­wick had a fear­some rep­u­ta­tion on cam­pus. She wasn’t reg­u­lar fac­ulty; she was that lowly thing, the ad­junct, a very New York po­si­tion in a city full of writ­ers who sup­ple­mented their in­come or saved them­selves by the odd teach­ing job. She did not un­der­take her du­ties lightly. She stood for some­thing. The New York Re­view of Books, for starters, and that was in­tim­i­dat­ing enough, once I learned what it was. From the very be­gin­ning, I un­der­stood that El­iz­a­beth Hard­wick was what used to be called a writer’s writer.

We would all be bet­ter off in law school, be­cause writ­ing wasn’t a pro­fes­sion ex­actly, and cer­tainly not much of a life. She dis­cov­ered that I thought Grub Street was a novel by Dick­ens. She made fun of your choices, what you were wast­ing your time on, but she never made you feel odd for not hav­ing heard of some­thing. It was just what you didn’t know yet. Grub Street in Sa­muel John­son and Alexan­der Pope was an ex­pe­ri­ence to look for­ward to, like Giss­ing’s novel, as she once had, up from the Univer­sity of Ken­tucky, re­fus­ing to be buried alive in grad­u­ate school. More­over, the more you read, the more dis­crim­i­nat­ing you be­came about what you read. She lived to read. Her pas­sions were in­struc­tive.

Of Hard­wick’s pub­lished work, a slen­der vol­ume of short sto­ries, The New York Sto­ries of El­iz­a­beth Hard­wick, took a life­time to ac­crue, and her three nov­els, The Ghostly Lover, The Sim­ple Truth, and Sleep­less Nights, are sep­a­rated by many years. We think of the es­say as a con­stant in Hard­wick’s writ­ing life. She pub­lished her first re­view in Par­ti­san Re­view in 1945. In the late 1940s, Hard­wick, then in her early thir­ties, was al­ready do­ing the “Fic­tion Chron­i­cle” for Par­ti­san Re­view, writ­ing, for ex­am­ple, about Kay Boyle, El­iz­a­beth Bowen, Theodore Dreiser, Wil­liam Faulkner, and the dread­ful Anaïs Nin. Philip Rahv, to­gether with Wil­liam Phillips, had re­vived the jour­nal in 1937 as the or­gan of the anti-Stal­in­ist left, and in the post­war years, Par­ti­san Re­view, that ring of bul­lies, she called it, was cen­tral to the New York in­tel­lec­tual scene, an­ti­com­mu­nist, dis­si­dent.

What she re­mem­bered as the cut­ting re­views of her youth were long ago. At­tacks on in­flated rep­u­ta­tions were moral bat­tles for young writ­ers just start­ing out. She said of­ten that it is much harder to write about what you like than it is to write about what you don’t like. One of the things she ad­mired about Su­san Son­tag, she said much later, was that her es­says were mostly ap­pre­ci­a­tions, en­thu­si­as­tic in­tro­duc­tions to an Amer­i­can au­di­ence of the avant-garde Euro­pean cul­ture she cared about. It was a plea­sure to dis­cover a for­got­ten writer—one who was worth it. Some­times a cam­paign on some­one’s be­half doesn’t work. Hard­wick didn’t think she’d done any­thing for Christina Stead—as yet. But one day her view of Stead might be more widely shared. She was amused by Gore Vi­dal’s at­tempts to re­vive Fred­eric Prokosch’s for­tunes. When Dawn Pow­ell’s nov­els were com­ing back into print, Hard­wick said she knew that Pow­ell had had a hard life and it was very much like a man for Ed­mund Wil­son to have lost in­ter­est in her be­cause she was not pretty, but even so she did not want to write about her enough to do it. Sym­pa­thy for an in­ten­tion was not go­ing to make a book any bet­ter than it re­ally was, and the dan­ger of writ­ing from a pre­con­ceived po­si­tion was the harm hav­ing to be false does to a writer. No con­stituency was worth the sac­ri­fice, she cau­tioned, in those days of fem­i­nist and black-na­tion­al­ist pres­sure.

El­iz­a­beth

Hard­wick wrote about what en­gaged her. Over the years, I would hear her say that she’d had to tell an ed­i­tor she didn’t want to write about a cer­tain book or au­thor be­cause she found she didn’t have any­thing in­ter­est­ing to say af­ter all. It pleased her that John Updike re­viewed books, so few nov­el­ists of his stature did. She paid at­ten­tion to what went on in her world, that of se­ri­ous lit­er­a­ture, in English and in trans­la­tion, and mat­ters of cul­tural and so­cial in­ter­est, an all-hands-on-deck kind of ser­vice. She was rea­son­ably aware of au­di­ence, of just who was pick­ing up what at the news­stand. But it didn’t mat­ter if she was writ­ing for glossy pub­li­ca­tions with her eye on the word count, for a ven­er­a­ble quar­terly with a thick spine, or for a news­pa­per book-re­view sec­tion not look­ing for con­tro­versy. Ev­ery as­sign­ment got Hard­wick at full sail, all mind and style. Noth­ing is ca­sual, she said. You are al­ways up against the lim­its of your­self.

Hard­wick pub­lished four orig­i­nal vol­umes of es­says in her life­time. The ma­jor­ity of the es­says gath­ered in A View of My Own: Es­says on Lit­er­a­ture and So­ci­ety (1962) first ap­peared in Par­ti­san Re­view. Sev­eral of them are, as she would say, of con­sid­er­able length, and in them she is read­ing let­ters, diaries, mem­oirs, news­pa­pers, nov­els, poetry, so­ci­ol­ogy, psy­chol­ogy; she is go­ing to plays and look­ing back on cities where she has lived. The ti­tle per­haps as­serts the value of her opin­ions, of their be­ing hers—when A View of My Own was pub­lished she had been mar­ried for more than a dozen years to Robert Low­ell. She’d been one of the few women writ­ers as­so­ci­ated with Par­ti­san Re­view, and she was the only other one to join Mary McCarthy and Han­nah Arendt as women writ­ers who had their own iden­ti­ties at the mag­a­zine and weren’t known as lit­er­ary wives. In 1959, in an ar­ti­cle that ap­peared in Harper’s, “The De­cline of Book Re­view­ing,” Hard­wick at­tacked what she de­scribed as the “un­ac­count­able

slug­gish­ness” of book-re­view sec­tions. There “had been room for de­cline... and the op­por­tu­nity has been taken.” Sun­day morn­ings with the book re­views is “of­ten a dis­mal ex­pe­ri­ence.” She was just get­ting started. “The flat praise and the faint dis­sen­sion, the min­i­mal style and the light lit­tle ar­ti­cle, the ab­sence of in­volve­ment, pas­sion, char­ac­ter, ec­cen­tric­ity—the lack, at last, of the lit­er­ary tone it­self—have made The New York Times into a pro­vin­cial lit­er­ary jour­nal.” The drama of the book world was be­ing slowly, pain­lessly killed, she went on; she de­plored the lack of strong ed­i­to­rial di­rec­tion in such pub­li­ca­tions:

The com­mu­ni­ca­tion of the de­light and im­por­tance of books, ideas, cul­ture it­self, is the very least one would ex­pect from a jour­nal de­voted to re­view­ing of old and new works. Be­yond that be­gin­ning, the in­ter­est of the mind of the in­di­vid­ual re­viewer is ev­ery­thing. Book re­view­ing is a form of writ­ing.

In Martin Scors­ese and David Tedeschi’s doc­u­men­tary about The New York Re­view of Books, The 50 Year Ar­gu­ment (2014), Robert Sil­vers reads from Hard­wick’s ar­ti­cle on book re­view­ing. He’d been the young ed­i­tor, just back from The Paris Re­view and his house­boat on the Seine, who urged her to write the ar­ti­cle. In the film, he tells the Town Hall au­di­ence com­mem­o­rat­ing the Re­view’s fifti­eth an­niver­sary that El­iz­a­beth Hard­wick’s words were on his mind when, in 1963, Hard­wick, Low­ell, Ja­son Ep­stein, and his wife, Bar­bara Ep­stein, founded The New York Re­view of Books. They asked Sil­vers to be co-ed­i­tor, along with Bar­bara Ep­stein. For Hard­wick, The New York Re­view was free­dom. When­ever she chose, what she wrote could now have the most hon­or­able of des­ti­na­tions. “The drama of real life will not let down the prose writer,” she ob­serves in “Grub Street: New York,” her first pub­lished es­say in The New York Re­view.

The

New York Re­view distin­guished it­self for its un­ac­com­mo­dat­ing re­flec­tions by some of our best writ­ers on the catas­tro­phe of the Viet­nam War. Hard­wick liked what she thought was Poe’s phrase—it is Shel­ley’s, some­one wrote in to the ed­i­tors years ago—“the in­tense inane.” In her own pieces for “The Pa­per,” as the founders called it, dur­ing the tur­bu­lent 1960s, she thinks about Selma and Watts, and goes to the march of the strik­ing garbage col­lec­tors for whom Dr. King had come to Mem­phis, Ten­nessee, when he was killed. She con­sid­ers the coarse power of pop­u­lar works about the sex­ual rev­o­lu­tion. Her can­dor is a plea­sure, her judg­ments un­ex­pected. She once said that Low­ell was made un­easy by the thought of what she might con­trib­ute to The New York Re­view. Af­ter her es­say on Robert Frost ap­peared, Low­ell com­plained to her, only half jok­ingly, that she was just go­ing to at­tack all his friends.

In this pe­riod, Hard­wick went to the theater a great deal. (Low­ell’s adap­ta­tions for the stage were writ­ten in the 1960s.) Lin­coln Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts opened down the street from where she and Low­ell and their daugh­ter, Har­riet, lived—the Ep­steins and their two chil­dren were only a few doors away—and maybe she could es­cape her fam­ily obli­ga­tions long enough to im­merse her­self in a fleet­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, in imag­in­ing oth­ers. She has a way in her theater re­views of sound­ing as though she has just come in, still talk­ing about what she has seen. More­over, she is com­ing through the door and an­a­lyz­ing real peo­ple as she takes off her coat. Nora, Hedda, their prob­lems.

Hard­wick’s de­trac­tors used to say that in her crit­i­cism she didn’t make enough dis­tinc­tion be­tween fic­tional char­ac­ters and the real world. While she was cu­ri­ous about dif­fer­ent tra­di­tions in the arts, re­al­ism on stage, on the page, spoke to her with the most force. She writes some­where that char­ac­ters can make struc­ture. But per­haps it is be­cause in re­al­ist drama and fic­tion much de­pends on a char­ac­ter’s mo­tives. It is through the con­scious or not-con­scious-enough de­pic­tion or pro­jec­tion of what is driv­ing the work that the writer’s mean­ing can be dis­cov­ered. Hard­wick had a thing about peo­ple, whether imag­ined or real, and what made them tick, what their sto­ries were. To have in­sights, or true in­sight, about hu­man na­ture and hu­man his­to­ries was the essence of her crit­i­cal spirit. An avid reader of old and new works, Hard­wick never stopped think­ing about the state of fic­tion. Then, start­ing in 1970, with an es­say on Zelda Fitzger­ald, came a se­ries of es­says on women writ­ers, tak­ing in trea­sured am­a­teurs, Dorothy Wordsworth, Jane Car­lyle, as well as the ge­niuses, the Bron­tës, Sylvia Plath, Vir­ginia Woolf. The es­says ac­cu­mu­lated quickly, for her, and be­came the vol­ume Se­duc­tion and Be­trayal: Women and Lit­er­a­ture (1974). The era pro­vided oc­ca­sions, new bi­ogra­phies of cul­tur­ally im­por­tant women, for in­stance, and there was a marked in­crease in in­ter­est in women writ­ers past and present. The sec­ond wave of fem­i­nism made an im­me­di­ate dif­fer­ence in Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture. Then, too, Hard­wick’s way of seem­ing to un­der­stand their lives from the in­side per­haps came from know­ing some­thing her­self about wo­man’s fate. Low­ell split up with her in 1970 and they were di­vorced in 1972. The fol­low­ing year, he pub­lished The Dol­phin, in which he tells through his poetry his ver­sion of the end of their mar­riage and his move to an­other coun­try in or­der to be with an­other wo­man. Hard­wick would draw on her work in The New York Re­view of Books to fill out two ad­di­tional books of es­says: Bartleby in Man­hat­tan and Other Es­says (1983), in which the ma­li­cious, hand­some Frost comes to life again, and Sight-Read­ings: Amer­i­can Fic­tions (1998), which was some­what re­vised for its pa­per­back edi­tion the fol­low­ing year as Amer­i­can Fic­tions.

I thought to look again at Melville’s story, “Bartleby the Scrivener,” be­cause it car­ried the sub­ti­tle: “A Story of Wall Street.”

There did not ap­pear to be much of Wall Street in this trou­bling com­po­si­tion of 1853 about a pe­cu­liar “copy­ist” who is hired by a “snug” lit­tle le­gal firm in the Wall Street district. No, noth­ing of the daunt­ing, hun­gry “Man­hat­tanism” of Whit­man: “O an in­tense life, full to re­ple­tion and var­ied!/The life of the the­atre, bar-room, huge ho­tel, for me!” Noth­ing of rail­road schemes, cor­ner­ing the gold mar­ket, or of that tense ex­clu­sion to be brought about by mis­takes and fol­lies in the pri­vate life which were to be the drama of “old New York” in Edith Whar­ton’s nov­els. Bartleby seemed to me to be not its sub­ti­tle, but most of all an ex­am­ple of the su­pe­rior uses of di­a­logue in fic­tion, here a strange, bone-thin di­a­logue that nev­er­the­less serves to re­veal a pro­foundly mov­ing tragedy.

The es­says of Sight-Read­ings, or Amer­i­can Fic­tions, like those of Se­duc­tion and Be­trayal, have a unity just in be­ing what they are about: the Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence, the as­sump­tions of na­tional char­ac­ter, even the in­flu­ence of the land­scape or the mythic land­scape. For Hard­wick, the poetry and nov­els of Amer­ica hold the na­tion’s his­tory.

What mat­tered most in the end was a writer’s lan­guage. She adored Dick­ens for his wild­ness, Con­rad for his in­de­pen­dence of us­age, Henry James for his ec­cen­tric­ity, his stun­ning ex­cess, and Wil­liam James for be­ing such a nice guy about his ease of ex­pres­sion. Hard­wick did not write about ev­ery­thing that in­ter­ested her. Some­times she didn’t feel equal to the task, given what the work de­served or what had been said about it al­ready. You al­ways wish she’d said more about her sub-

ject—so did she, she once laughed, but she couldn’t. The help­less com­pres­sion of her fic­tion can be felt in the es­says. The econ­omy ex­presses her tem­per­a­ment. She won’t tell you what you al­ready know. Part of the free­dom of The New York Re­view was that she didn’t have to spell ev­ery­thing out. Its read­ers were so­phis­ti­cated, or wanted to be. That con­cise­ness, not want­ing to waste any­one’s time or mar her style with lum­ber, not only meant that it took a long time for the es­says to add up but that she did not con­ceive of book-length non­fic­tion projects. Spin­ning things out, beat­ing things to death, go­ing on and on just to get from cover to cover—that is what aca­demics did, and what­ever they did was not to be done. Never mind that many of the writ­ers she re­spected also taught. To have come of age at Par­ti­san Re­view maybe ac­counted for her lack of in­ter­est in the New Crit­i­cism of the McCarthy era and its con­cen­tra­tion on the text at the ex­pense of the so­cial or his­tor­i­cal con­text. She was sim­i­larly in­dif­fer­ent to de­con­struc­tion and its in­flu­ence on aca­demic crit­i­cism in the late 1970s and through­out the 1980s. What she held against aca­demic crit­i­cism was that most of it was so badly writ­ten. She blamed the com­puter for fin­ish­ing a lot of books that ought not to have been. And then she did com­mit to a book­length project, a crit­i­cal bi­og­ra­phy of Her­man Melville for the Pen­guin short bi­og­ra­phy se­ries. She said some­where that Faulkner was the great­est Amer­i­can writer, but in spite of his un­even­ness she maybe loved “the ex­tra­or­di­nary Amer­i­can ge­nius” of Melville more. Her­man Melville, her as­ton­ish­ingly mov­ing study, was pub­lished in 2000. It was to be Hard­wick’s last ma­jor creative ef­fort. An un­kind re­view from some­one who, she said, clearly had never read Moby-Dick made her re­signed, dif­fi­dent about bring­ing out any­thing else.

Her late es­says in The New York Re­view showed her fas­ci­na­tion with sen­sa­tional mur­der cases of the 1990s. She was look­ing for a way to write about mur­der in lit­er­a­ture and mur­der in real life, the dif­fer­ence be­ing that in lit­er­a­ture you can study mo­tive, get re­li­ably on the other side of the lies. She kept fewer notes on the sub­ject as time went by. She never liked pub­lish­ing a book any­way, she said. The vul­ner­a­bil­ity, she did not need to say. To pub­lish in The New York Re­view meant that she was pro­tected; but it also spurred her on to do her best be­cause of the es­says that she knew were go­ing to sur­round her, the com­pany she was go­ing to keep.

El­iz­a­beth Hard­wick’s non­fic­tion— imag­i­na­tive prose, she called it—spans six decades and in­cludes book re­views, theater re­views, thoughts on opera, travel writ­ing, lit­er­ary crit­i­cism, so­cial es­says, mem­oir. Most of the es­says in the new col­lec­tion are of her lit­er­ary sub­jects, her ex­cited con­tem­pla­tions of writ­ers on their paths. She ap­proaches their work through their lives, or looks from a work to the life. Hart Crane’s let­ters tell her that maybe he didn’t jump over­board, maybe he was hav­ing a happy life as a lover of men and of the grape. Three vol­umes of Ge­orge Eliot’s let­ters re­veal the drama of a wo­man of melan­choly ge­nius at the mercy of her in­tel­li­gence. Hard­wick paid at­ten­tion to the do­mes­tic, to the in­ti­macy—and lim­i­ta­tions—of let­ters and diaries. In her mas­ter­ful es­say “Mem­oirs, Con­ver­sa­tions, and Diaries,” she ex­plores what Boswell and the Gon­court broth­ers mean in their lit­er­ary cul­tures.

But as in­ter­ested as Hard­wick was in diaries and let­ters, she was al­ways trou­bled by bi­og­ra­phy, a genre that feeds on these things as raw ma­te­rial. A bi­og­ra­phy of Hem­ing­way that she was read­ing is just plain “bad news”—for Hem­ing­way. Her com­pas­sion for Dy­lan Thomas sug­gests that she may have seen him in the des­per­ate con­di­tion of his last years, and Del­more Schwartz, too. She knew Kather­ine Anne Porter and had been around Frost enough to re­mem­ber his aura. She wrote about Ed­mund Wil­son and Nor­man Mailer and their bi­ogra­phies, or the mess Capote made of mem­oir. It is clear in her es­say on El­iz­a­beth Bishop’s prose that she knew her, but also that she found the work strik­ing long be­fore she met Bishop, read­ing her in Par­ti­san Re­view down at the Univer­sity of Ken­tucky in 1938.

Hard­wick looks at the rid­dle of Gra­ham Greene’s nov­els about sin and heresy or pon­ders the fates of the two women in Hardy’s Jude the Ob­scure. She fol­lows By­ron’s and Paster­nak’s mis­tresses and sad Count­ess Tol­stoy into their af­ter­lives. She wrote about Au­den, Hux­ley, and Ish­er­wood in Amer­ica; the lit­er­ary gifts and ac­cu­mu­la­tion of losses that Nabokov brought with him to Amer­ica; and the last days of Dy­lan Thomas in New York City. But as time went by the in­di­vid­ual writ­ers whose work she ad­dressed tended to be Amer­i­can. Melville, Henry James, and Edith Whar­ton were foun­da­tional as nov­el­ists of cer­tain kinds of Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence that still have res­o­nance. Carl Sand­burg, Ring Lard­ner, Sin­clair Lewis, Nathanael West, and Thomas Wolfe are in them­selves Amer­i­can tales. Mar­garet Fuller, Gertrude Stein—who an­tic­i­pated Philip Glass, Hard­wick says—and Djuna Barnes are women writ­ers, rebels, but also Amer­i­cans abroad. Joan Did­ion ex­presses the rest­less­ness of the Amer­ica Hard­wick felt around her. Yet in the provoca­tive es­says in­cluded here on the writer’s life or the changes in Amer­i­can fic­tion and its pos­si­bil­i­ties over the years, her read­ing is wide, in­ter­na­tional.

When you open the doors, so to speak, to one of her es­says, you can sense there on the thresh­old that this is go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing. She al­ways makes you add to your read­ing list. In line af­ter line, she is say­ing things you had not thought of, or telling you some­thing that it is stir­ring to be told. Her love of lit­er­a­ture has in it a pro­found hu­mil­ity. There is noth­ing cruel in her in­tel­li­gence. Her wit and charm are unerring, un­fail­ing. You didn’t know the skep­ti­cal mind could be so grace­ful. Her con­cen­tra­tion is com­plete. El­iz­a­beth Hard­wick can sur­prise you. You didn’t know you would need to stop right there and go think about what she has just said. You reemerge, you look up, and you’d no idea her beauty of ex­pres­sion had taken you so far away. Or you didn’t ex­pect such ex­hil­a­ra­tion just from read­ing about read­ing. It isn’t only what she is say­ing, it’s how she is say­ing it. Her prose style is un­mis­tak­able and like no other.

El­iz­a­beth Hard­wick, New York City, 1991; pho­to­graph by Do­minique Nabokov

El­iz­a­beth Hard­wick with New York Re­view ed­i­tors Robert Sil­vers and Bar­bara Ep­stein, New York City, 1980s; pho­to­graph by Do­minique Nabokov

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