The Life and Works of Elizabeth Hardwick

Elizabeth Hardwick in Castine, Maine. circa 1980s | Susan Wood/Getty Images

Elizabeth Hardwick was a renowned American literary critic, novelist, and writer whose contribution to literature remains influential to this day. Born in Lexington, Kentucky, on this day July 27, 1916, Hardwick’s love for literature emerged early in her life and followed her through her studies at the University of Kentucky and Columbia University. She eventually settled in New York City, a place that would inspire much of her work and provide the backdrop for her most famous novel, Sleepless Nights.

Hardwick’s career was multifaceted and extensive. She was a prolific essayist, known for her pointed criticism and keen observations on a wide range of subjects. Her essays were regularly published in prestigious publications like Partisan Review, The New Yorker, and The New York Review of Books, the latter of which she co-founded in 1963. This publication was established out of dissatisfaction with the current state of book reviewing and quickly became a leading platform for intellectual discussion.

As a novelist, Hardwick’s prose was celebrated for its lyrical beauty and emotional depth. She published three novels throughout her career: The Ghostly Lover, The Simple Truth, and Sleepless Nights. The latter is often regarded as her masterpiece; it is a semi-autobiographical work that blurs the line between fiction and memoir, between reality and dreams. Through her characters, Hardwick explored themes of love, loss, and the complexities of the human condition.

In addition to her novels and essays, Hardwick was also an acclaimed critic. She wrote extensively about literature and its place in society, providing insightful commentary on works by authors such as Herman Melville, William James, and Henry James. Her criticism was often sharp but always thoughtful, contributing significantly to literary discourse.

Elizabeth Hardwick passed away in 2007, but her legacy continues to thrive. Her work has left a lasting impression on American literature, influencing generations of writers and critics alike. Whether through her novels or her criticism, Hardwick’s writing remains an exploration of both the world around us and the depths of human experience.

“It is June. This is what I have decided to do with my life just now. I will do this work and lead this life, the one I am leading today. Each morning the blue clock and the crocheted bedspread, the table with the Phone, the books and magazines, the Times at the door. ”

-Elizabeth Hardwick

Curated by Jennifer

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