Elizabeth Hardwick is the only writer I have ever read whose perception of what it means to be a woman and a writer seems in every way authentic, revelatory, entirely original and yet acutely recognizable. She seems to have seen early on that the genteel provincial tradition of ‘lady’ novelists and essayists served mainly to flatter men, that there would be certain wrenching contradictions between growing up female and making any kind of sustained commitment to write. She understood at the bone the willful transgression implicit in the literary enterprise—knew that to express oneself was to expose oneself, that to seize the stage was to court humiliation, that to claim the independence implicit in the act of writing could mean becoming like the women she described in Sleepless Nights [also published by NYRB Classics], left to ‘wander about in their dreadful freedom like old oxen left behind, totally unprovided for’—and she accepted the risk. Every line she wrote suggested that moral courage required trusting one’s own experience in the world, one’s own intuitions about how it worked.
- from Joan Didion’s introduction to Seduction and Betrayal by Elizabeth Hardwick, in which she she considers the careers of women writers—the Brontës, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Wordsworth among others—as well as the larger question of the presence of women in literature. We thought this would be a good passage to share in honor of Hardwick and all literary women, both real and imagined.