Elizabeth Hardwick Critical Essays


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In her three published novels, Elizabeth Hardwick demonstrates the complex interplay between the buried life of the emotions, “the cemetery of home, education, nerves, heritage, and tics,” and the emerging life in which the individual seeks self-definition by her own consciousness, her sense of autonomy and transcendence.

The Ghostly Lover

The protagonist of The Ghostly Lover, Hardwick’s first novel, is an obviously autobiographical figure. Marian, slowly coming to terms with family and hometown boyfriend, pursues her somewhat foggy destiny far from her southern home in a city university. She has depended on two illusions: that she can only be supported by some outside force, usually a man, and that she must herself support her two rootless parents, who have abandoned her and her brother since childhood. Parents, powerful in the imagination but in life weak and absent, first the “savage’s totem” from which “being and power” are derived, are lost in pursuit of the American Dream. Her mother, who has “been in too many places, had lives in too many houses, and been neighbor to too many people,” represents in her unformed femininity that immanence of which Simone de Beauvoir speaks, a “guide for the preordained destiny of the daughter” from which Marian must extricate herself at the end, when she is asked to loan the inheritance money on which her journey to the city depends.

Likewise she must reject Bruce, the father-lover of her adolescence who, replacing her own father, pays for her tuition, and then Leo, the city boyfriend, more a peer, but yet representing an escape into marriage and safety. The grandmother, who has reared the children, is an inscrutable matriarch in whom the archaic powers of home and family are located. She personifies that “animal nature,” “the hidden violence of union between the two sexes”; her experience, unredeemed by thought and judgment, is found to be not mysterious but simply illiterate.

In a reversal of the traditional scheme, the shy, repressed girl escapes, while the wild, resourceful brother, Albert, is trapped in the family home, conveniently married to a dumpy, unimaginative town girl. Hattie, the black servant girl, is Marian’s black double, the frightening other whose stubborn autonomy is at once fearful (“black...

(The entire section is 961 words.)