The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Elizabeth Hardwick, Writer, Dies at 91

Posted on: December 5, 2007

“I have always written essays as if they were examples of imaginative writing, as I believe them to be,” she once wrote in an autobiographical sketch.

Elizabeth Hardwick: News and Reviews from the New York Times archive

A selection of her contributions to the New York Review of Books. Few of them are available for free, but a notable one (per the NYT) is her exchange with John Cheever. I’m hoping the NYRB will free up a few of the others.

Slaves of Golconda on Sleepless Nights.

Christian Lorentzen on Hardwick’s work at Harper’s Magazine.

Hardwick in the New Yorker.

Paris Review 1985 interview:

Her home is clearly that of a writer constantly at work, and strewn throughout is a lifetime’s accumulation of furniture, objects, paintings, posters, photographs, records, heirlooms, and countless books. On either side of the living room are more books: ceiling-high shelves of histories, fiction, and poetry. It is a working library, accumulated with her late husband, the poet Robert Lowell. The daily effort to keep a large library in order has made Hardwick favor paperbacks, preferably those lightweight and storable ones that can be whipped out on a bus or an airplane—nonsmoking section—without too much fuss.

Just as there are books everywhere that indicate the life of the mind, so one frequently comes upon notebooks and notepads on the coffee table, and on the dining room table, things in which she has jotted down lines, questions, ideas. The typewriter goes from room to room, one day upstairs in her study, the next morning downstairs. And then there are the manuscripts from former as well as current students from her various writing classes, which she will read and comment on extensively.

This interview took place in her home, where she occasionally puttered, setting stray books in their places as we talked.

The Slate Magazine obit:

Literary criticism is a peculiar business…In latter years, the once-proud field has been split into two lesser parts, one occupied by the Assistant Professoriat, supplementing their incomes and their reputations with an appearance in this or that semipopular review, and the other occupied by newspaper men and women, who generally have to crank out shallow criticism by the column inch. Both camps are stocked with people who can’t write, or can’t read, and more than a few can’t do either.

Hardwick was something else: In fact, she was the best literary essayist of the last century. Better—yes—than Edmund Wilson, better than Trilling or Steiner or Sontag. She was not as broad as they were, but she was deeper, and line for line a better stylist.

Of course, I’ll now have to get that 1999 Bookforum issue to find Lewis’ review of American Fictions he mentioned further on.


6 Responses to "Elizabeth Hardwick, Writer, Dies at 91"

i’m trying to remember what i read of hers….

I ust found out today too. Odd that there hasn’t been more about her death in the news. She wasn’t even mentioned on public radio and I would expect at least that.

I JUST READ THIS ON NYT… the last of the good old New York City bohemians is dead, really, I mean… who else is left from that generation? Most of what I read from her were essays and reviews but they were very true and she definitely had a “voice.”

Oh I’m so sorry to hear this! I have fallen in love with her literary essays since finding them through the Slaves of Golconda reading. She was an incredibly original talent.

How sad to hear this. I am going to give Sleepless Nights a try again sometime, but I think I would enjoy her essays more.

It seems the media is just catching up with the Hardwick obituaries — NYT, LA Times, The Guardian. I suspect we will see more Elizabeth Hardwick from NYRB Classics in the near future.

Bookslut quoted one of those quirky lines from Sleepless Night that just made me smile, and set me yielding to re-read the book:

“You haven’t read Gibbon? How is that possible, you with such fine legs?”

Is it absurd to say, I am in love with her sentences? At 91, it is a good age to rest, and she had an amazing life.

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