Elizabeth Bruce Hardwick established a distinguished literary career through writing novels, short stories, and essays; she also became a reviewer, an editor, and—at age eighty-four—a biographer with an acclaimed study of Herman Melville. In addition to writing, Hardwick served as a professor of creative writing, and she, along with a few other literary figures, launched The New York Review of Books in 1963. Literature, the writing as well as the reviewing of it, proved the consuming interest of Hardwick’s life.
Hardwick was born on July 27, 1916, in Lexington, Kentucky. She came from a big family and grew up with many brothers and sisters. Her parents, Eugene and Mary Hardwick, were hardworking people of modest means. As a child, Hardwick was fascinated by books, and by the time she graduated from Henry Clay High School, she was ready to pursue her love of literature. She enrolled in the University of Kentucky and earned her B.A. degree in 1938. One year later, the university awarded her an M.A. degree.
Hardwick, like so many other literary people of her generation, went to New York City to perfect her art and seek fame as a writer. She enrolled in Columbia University to work on her doctorate in English literature. Hardwick withdrew from the program, however, after realizing that a Ph.D. would not help her get a teaching job; few women with doctorates at this time were hired for top teaching positions. When Hardwick left Columbia, she did not become idle: She devoted all of her energy to writing.
Hardwick’s first novel, The Ghostly Lover, was published in 1945. The novel, which is semiautobiographical, studies the entangled relationships and difficulties of communication within a middle-class family. Although the book received mixed reviews, it helped establish Hardwick’s reputation as a writer. Critics noted the subtle, witty quality of her novel, and magazine editors began to...
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