Elizabeth Hardwick is one of the world’s most valuable essayists and literary critics. That is to say, her essays are of value to anyone interested in the ways in which women are made present in literature. In Seduction and Betrayal, readers are treated to the full reach of Hardwick’s deep intelligence: a hard, glinting, sophisticated, switched-on female intelligence. She understands what is at stake in literature, especially when talented women write it.
For a female writer, to risk stepping center stage in life and on the page, fully lit, a major player in a script she has written, will always mean she has transgressed from the societally sanctified role of being a minor player, lurking behind the velvet curtains (less exposing) in order to assist, flatter, dedicate her life to the male world and its undermining arrangements. Hardwick has no interest in flattery, nor in faux solidarity with minor writers. She cuts to the chase, offers her grateful readers new dimensions as to how literature is made and what it costs to make it. Hardwick is a shockingly astute reader, yet she never lets literary theory get in the way of the currents of life that blow into the writing itself. Her sentences are subversively beautiful for exactly this reason.
In her Art of Fiction interview, Hardwick is keen to point out that she does not write essays “to give a résumé of the plots.” Of the action of reading itself, she has this to say:
You begin to see all sorts of not quite expressed things, to make connections, sometimes to feel you have discovered or felt certain things the author may not have been entirely conscious of. It’s a sort of creative or “possessed” reading and that is why I think even the most technical of critics do the same thing, by their means making quite mysterious discoveries. But as I said, the text is always the first thing. It has the real claim on you, of course.