Book Reviews - Autumn 2021

Her Pages Caught Fire

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A new biography of a ferociously talented and determined writer

By Rosanna Warren | September 7, 2021
Elizabeth Hardwick in 1967, several years after she helped to found The New York Review of Books (Everett Collection Historical/Alamy)
Elizabeth Hardwick in 1967, several years after she helped to found The New York Review of Books (Everett Collection Historical/Alamy)

A Splendid Intelligence: The Life of Elizabeth Hardwick by Cathy Curtis; Norton, 400 pp., $35

“A shilling life will give you all the facts,” declared W. H. Auden in his sonnet “Who’s Who.” Cathy Curtis’s A Splendid Intelligence: The Life of Elizabeth Hardwick costs more than a shilling, but it is rich in facts. In view of her subject’s suspicion of biography as a genre, it must have taken courage for Curtis, who has also published books on artists Grace Hartigan, Nell Blaine, and Elaine de Kooning, to embark on this one. Hardwick, after all, smacked aside Carlos Baker’s biography of Ernest Hemingway, calling it “bad news” and “only an accumulation, a heap.” Of Joan Givner’s account of Katherine Anne Porter, Hardwick wrote, “the root biographical facts have the effect of a crushing army. Everything is under the foot.” Curtis’s book has, strangely enough, a similar feel. Massive amounts of information are hauled in freight cars that slam into the railroad siding, chapter by chapter, to be unloaded and stacked in the reader’s mind. A lifetime of personal calendars and bibliography is delivered. Hardwick’s style and intellect appear only when her own words are quoted.

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