Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
John McAuliffeBill Manhire in Conversation with John McAuliffe
(PN Review 259)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Patricia CraigVal Warner: A Reminiscence
(PN Review 259)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Gwyneth Lewis ‘Spiderings’ Ian Thomson ‘Fires were started: Tallinn, 1944’ Adrian May ‘Traditionalism and Tradition’ Judith Herzberg ‘Poems’ translated by Margitt Helbert Horatio Morpurgo ‘What is a Book?’
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PN Review 276
PN Review Substack

This review is taken from PN Review 264, Volume 48 Number 4, March - April 2022.

Cover of A Splendid Intelligence: The Life of Elizabeth Hardwick
Tony RobertsSunglasses
Cathy Curtis, A Splendid Intelligence: The Life of Elizabeth Hardwick (Norton) £25.00
As a writer, Elizabeth Hardwick (1916–2007) showed an impressive critical intelligence, her work stylish, experimental – and tough. She was married to Robert Lowell from 1949 to 1972, a recurrently traumatic experience given his bipolar episodes, which she handled with courage and dignity. Their marriage also promoted her career and influenced its thematic concerns.

After a Kentucky childhood and time spent at the universities of Kentucky and Columbia, Hardwick dropped her studies to concentrate on a writing career in fiction and criticism. Eventually she found her way into the circle of the anti-Stalinist left Partisan Review, and went on to co-found The New York Review of Books in 1963. Her pieces on literary, social and cultural subjects have most recently re-appeared in The Collected Essays (2017). There were also short stories, three novels (the last, the admired Sleepless Nights) and a biography of Herman Melville.

The essays are Hardwick’s most enduring work. When in admiration – on Margaret Fuller, Simone Weil, Billie Holiday, for instance – she wrote with memorable subtlety. Of William James, whose letters she edited, she offered: ‘An equable, successful man is not the ideal subject for portraiture, perhaps, but in the case of William James there is something more: a certain unwillingness to take form, a nature remaining open to suggestion and revision.’

Alternatively, Hardwick could be ruthless: on the ‘sluggishness’ of book sections, on theatre and contemporary authors (including fellow Southerners, Faulkner and Capote). Even her close friend Mary McCarthy suffered a merciless parody. Later, making amends, she could not resist ...


Searching, please wait... animated waiting image