Seduction and Betrayal Essay - Critical Context

Elizabeth Hardwick

Critical Context

Elizabeth Hardwick’s place in contemporary feminist criticism lies among the more conservative critics. She has been grouped by more radical thinkers with critics such as Mary Ellmann in Thinking About Women (1968) as epitomizing the critic who does not write as a woman, who never says, “I, as a woman, think,” but instead talks about other women writers as if they were a third sex and is careful not to be too angry or earnest in her feminist pronouncements, thus deflecting male criticism. In terms of the influential distinction made by Elaine Showalter in “Towards a Feminist Poetics” between feminist critique and gynocritics, Hardwick practices feminist critique, that version of feminist criticism in which woman as reader principally seeks out the errors of omission and commission concerning women in past criticism, the terms of her investigation coming out of male critical thought. Feminist criticism, however, has thrived through the plurality of its approaches; although Hardwick’s book has become less significant than it was when first issued in 1974, hers is still a respected voice among the moderates. Notably, she was less conservative by the time of Seduction and Betrayal than she had been in her 1962 A View of My Own: Essays in Literature and Society, in which, repeating an opinion from the 1950’s, she was convinced that women writers could never compete with men because of their ineradicably differing life experiences. By 1974 she did not condone limitations on women’s performance. Whatever her changing views on women, an impeccable style of writing and an assured literary sensibility have been characteristic of Elizabeth Hardwick’s criticism from the start.