Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Elizabeth Hardwick Passes

Elizabeth Hardwick -- critic, essayist, fiction writer and co-founder of The New York Review of Books, died on Sunday in Manhattan. She was 91.

From the The New York Times:

In a 1984 interview in The Paris Review, the writer Darryl Pinckney asked her about her feelings about getting older. “Its only value is that it spares you the opposite, not growing older,” she said, adding: “Oh, the dear grave. I like what Gottfried Benn wrote, something like, ‘May I die in the spring when the ground is soft and easy to plough.’

Her titles published by NYRB Classics are Sleepless Nights -- a semi-autobiographical novel signified by "love and alcohol and the clothes on the floor" and her collection of essays on women and literature -- Seduction and Betrayal.

I read Sleepless Nights earlier this year and it was a book I find difficult to write about. What do you say about a book that is inherent diffused in its structure? It defies the conventional narrative of coherence and meaning, more like a journal of a life lived in moments and memories -- but haven't I read enough Proust to realise that our lives are lived in intermittent memories?

I was -- dare I say, impressed -- by Sleep Nights with its elusive, smoke-like narratives. I wish now to read Seduction and Betrayal. Why does the death of the author drive us to read their books more?


Carl V. Anderson said...

Well, she didn't get her spring wish, but she certainly lived a long life and that has to count for something. I'm sure she lived a full one as well. I've said it before and I'll say it again...I think there should be a cosmic law against folks passing away during the holiday season. Regardless of the circumstances I find it profoundly more sad to know how much more difficult it is for people to deal with loss when holidays remind them of what they've lost rather than time they've spent together.

darkorpheus said...

Carl The idea of a cosmic law reminds me of the Chinese belief that it's "difficult" for the seriously sick and the elderly to survive the New Year. Somehow the new year demands its toll, and it will claim the lives of those not strong enough to pass onto the next year.

But I like your last thought. Let us all remember holidays as time spent together with the people we love, not moments of time lost.

Andi said...

I was intrigued when I began hearing tidbits of discussion about Sleepless Nights, and it is certainly a further push to read her work now that she's gone (sad). I suppose sometimes it takes these types of occurences to push an author to the front of our minds.

Ana S. said...

That is a good question. I don't know, but I guess that in general we tend to realize the real value of things only when they are gone. And although the death of an author doesn't mean their work will be gone, maybe that loss still makes us more aware of its importance.

Stefanie said...

I hadn't heard Hardwick died. Why is it I heard about Evil Kenevil but not Hardwick? Humph. Sad she is gone, she seemed like such a vital person and she did so much in her life.

As to why the death of an author drives us to their books, I wonder if it doesn't have to do with the sudden positive attention given to the author's work?

Imani said...

For some it takes their death for them to even come to my attention. I'm thinking of Gilbert Sorrentino and John McGahern -- both authors I'd never heard of until the first received a wave of attention when he died -- "writer's writer" and all that -- and TLS gave the second a huge review in the fiction section that more or less amounted to a "Commentary" style overview of all his books.

Then there was Vonnegut. I tried Slaughterhouse Five but that didn't really work out. I always feel guilty about only approaching a writer's work when they die, especially when you read of how some were so under-appreciated while they were still alive.