Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

As early as 1959, Elizabeth Hardwick declared, “The proper study of mankind may be man, but the subject for women is other women. . . . It is a subject upon which one can speak with something like authority.” Seduction and Betrayal bears out that conviction. It collects essays on women that Hardwick, a founding editor of The New York Review of Books, originally published in that journal, though some have been altered and others expanded since their initial appearances. A few of the essays were read as papers: The title essay was presented at Vassar College in 1972, and the essays on Dorothy Wordsworth and Jane Carlyle formed part of lectures given for the Christian Gauss Seminar in Criticism at Princeton University. Although there is a unifying theme insofar as the book considers women and literature, Seduction and Betrayal has no central argument. The ten essays in the slim volume (208 pages long) address women as authors, novelists, or poets; as fictional characters; and as close associates of literary men. They do not offer close textual readings or historical data but rather sensitive interpretations of lives, personalities, and literary themes in accordance with the vision of a cultivated critic who is herself a novelist.

The essays are arranged in five sections. The long opening biographical essay on the Bronte sisters is followed by “Ibsen’s Women,” a section of three essays devoted to the female...

(The entire section is 434 words.)