Other literary forms
Elizabeth Hardwick’s book reviews and literary and cultural criticism have been her most influential work. Her frank, fresh, intellectually audacious, and emotionally engaging comments provided a comprehensive critique of literary and popular culture. Her baroque style and contextual approach, yoking history with art, was formative in developing the particular brand of progressive criticism characteristic of The New York Review of Books and in the tradition of the Partisan Review, bent upon restoring texture and depth to reviewing. Her most influential essays from 1952 to 1961 were collected from the Partisan Review, Harper’s, Encounter, The New Republic, and The New York Times Book Review, as well as The New York Review of Books, in a volume titled A View of My Own: Essays on Literature and Society (1962), suggesting in the allusion to Virginia Woolf her intensely personal approach to criticism. Hardwick’s long-standing interest in feminist issues is reflected in her second collection of essays, Seduction and Betrayal: Women and Literature (1974). A third collection, Bartleby in Manhattan, and Other Essays, appeared in 1983.
An important Hardwick essay, “Domestic Manners in a New America,” perhaps best illustrates the connections between the public and the private self that she defined as “style,” a key concept that informs both her cultural criticism and her fiction. Appearing first in Daedalus (Winter, 1978) and later as “Domestic Manners” in A New America? (1978)—an anthology of influential articles by social commentators—Hardwick’s essay delineates the alterations in contemporary culture brought about by “the power of external forces” and a particular sort of inner change, a new expectation for the private life. The interior perception of life as a long process, one governed by cycles and seasons, is transformed by the deviation and dislocation of contemporary urban life, “the shortened life of the feelings” evidenced in the prevalent failure of will in human relationships, rules, customs, and habits. Hardwick sees in personal “style” the traumatic effects of modernity; for her, as for Jane Austen, style defines moral condition.