Elizabeth Hardwick Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 793 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Elizabeth Bruce Hardwick’s own life provides a model of the committed intellectual, demonstrating the dialectic between history and the imagination, thought and feeling, which informs her essays and fiction. Born in Lexington, Kentucky, on July 27, 1916, one of the eleven children of Eugene Allen and Mary Ramsey Hardwick, she attended public schools and then the University of Kentucky. The sense of place so strong in Hardwick appears especially in her early work, the substructure of Kentucky rootedness juxtaposed to the restless, mobile style of middle-class yearnings. The opposite pole is New York, the “Lourdes” of cities, which educates and informs the self.

Although alert to and appreciative of southern literature, Hardwick nevertheless spoke of herself, in a letter of September, 1982, as never having felt drawn to being a southern writer but instead toward “the vague, but somewhat meaningful notion of the ’intellectual.’” In her later work, far from the dreamy southern settings of her first novel, with its matriarchal, mythical grandmother, the interwoven lives of black and white, the cockfights, the wild youth, and, finally, the journey to the wider world of the university and the city itself, Hardwick perhaps epitomizes for many the urban intellectual style.

Hardwick’s radical criticism and progressive aesthetic developed from her study of literature and culture, from graduate study at Columbia and the early influence of...

(The entire section is 531 words.)