The Quality to be Tragic

Elizabeth Hardwick is having a moment — and why not? The last two years have brought The Uncollected Essays, an addendum to The Collected Essays of 2017; Cathy Curtis’ biography, A Splendid Intelligence; and Come Back in September, Darryl Pinckney’s memoir of his writerly apprenticeship at Hardwick’s feet. Like Joan Didion, a very different sort of talent and sensibility, Elizabeth Hardwick was a lion of the 1960s and 1970s (and 1980s and 1990s). Lavishly frank, instinctively original, elegant, intimate, and when she wanted, very, very funny, Hardwick was one of the great critics and great prose writers of the second half of the twentieth century. It is fit and fine that her work and example be forwarded to a new generation of readers.   My own interest in Hardwick is tangled up in a larger obsession with the New York intellectuals, that storied gaggle of talkers and writers — cultural critics, political philosophers, editors, polemicists, controversialists — who bestrode American thought in the decades after World War II. Readers conversant with the group may be surprised to hear this, for of the figures typically enumerated among its members — Lionel Trilling, Alfred Kazin, Dwight Macdonald, Irving Kristol, Irving Howe, Sidney Hook, and a dozen or two others — Hardwick has never been one. It is not because she was a woman: Hannah Arendt was a key presence; Susan Sontag, the youngest of them all, is regarded as a kind of last hurrah. It is not because she wasn’t Jewish, though Macdonald and Mary McCarthy, Hardwick’s best friend, were the only gentiles. It is not because she didn’t share the same milieu. Hardwick lived in New York throughout the 1940s, left for ten years, then returned for good. She went to the parties, holding her liquor and holding her own. She

Already have an account? Log in

Want to keep reading? Join our community:


Support great writing by becoming a full subscriber to Liberties Journal.

Subscribe Today

Free Preview

Sign up with your email address, and access two free articles per month.

We hope you've enjoyed your free articles!

Become a full subscriber for only $50/year, (33% off cover price).

Thank you for supporting great writing.

Subscribe Today
Log In Subscribe

Sign Up For Free

Read 2 free articles a month after you register below.

Register now