The Life of Elizabeth Hardwick

Hardwick3 Lisa Levy in The Believer:

Say it’s 1958, you are the wife of a famous poet, and it is your turn to have the Partisan Review gang over for drinks and barbed conversation. Maybe the line from Delmore Schwartz’s poem (“All poets’ wives have rotten lives”) runs through your head as you finish the grunt work of the hostess: emptying ashtrays, dumping half-eaten food into the trash, piling up as many glasses as you can carry to the sink. If you are Elizabeth Hardwick, your husband, Robert Lowell, is most likely passed out drunk or off having an affair-slash-breakdown with another woman. If the situation is the latter, he has renounced you and your daughter, Harriet, for a fascinating creature he suddenly cannot imagine living without, or he’s in an institution of some sort to treat the manic depression that inspires these cyclical acts of renunciation and affirmation. Lowell or no Lowell, there is much to do before you sleep: sweeping the floors, rubbing rings off places where coasters should have been, making a cursory pass over the upholstery, opening the windows to air out the smoke of a hundred pensive and hostile cigarettes. Thus the rhyming line of Schwartz’s poem: “Their husbands look at them like knives.”

Thinking about Hardwick in the domestic context should not detract from her status, as her friend Diane Johnson put it, as “part of the first generation of women intellectuals to make a mark in New York’s literary circle.”