The Dolphin Letters, 1970-1979: Elizabeth Hardwick, Robert Lowell, and Their Circle

Edited by Saskia Hamilton. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $50 (560p) ISBN 978-0-374-14126-4
The push and pull of love and anger course through this riveting collection of correspondence between onetime literary power couple Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Hardwick. Beginning soon after Lowell’s move to England, without Hardwick, to teach, the book then tracks her discovery of his infidelity, their 1972 divorce, and his 1973 publication of The Dolphin, a sonnet sequence drawing extensively on her letters to him. It then covers the aftermath, which saw Hardwick deeply hurt, and their friends (including Elizabeth Bishop, Mary McCarthy, and Adrienne Rich) rallying around her. Though Lowell is perhaps better known, Hardwick emerges as the collection’s central figure. Her voice resonates more deeply, with frustrated but loving concern for Lowell—who struggled with manic-depressive disorder—and with protectiveness toward their daughter, Harriet. Despite such pressures, Hardwick also, as Harriet noted, “was never freer or more lively” than after the divorce, when she was able to focus on her own creativity rather than on her feckless husband. Bolstered by a helpful introduction and timeline by poet and Barnard professor Hamilton (Corridor), this compulsively readable collection illuminates a tumultuous time in two celebrated writers’ lives. (Dec.)
Reviewed on : 10/04/2019
Release date: 11/19/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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