Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Elizabeth Hardwick, September 20, 1979

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:01 - Hardwick and Robert Lowell in the fifties

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Partial Transcript: Uh, I'd like t, to just talk a little bit today about your meeting with Robert Lowell, and say, your life in the fifties.

Segment Synopsis: Hardwick met Robert Lowell at a party given by Phillip Rahv, the publisher of the Partisan Review. Hardwick also met Allen Tate at this party. This was after the publication of "The Ghostly Lover."

Keywords: "The Ghostly Lover"; "The Golden Stallion"; "The Woman Who Was Poor"; Allen Tate; Anna Dodd; Jean Stafford; Partisan Review; Phillip Rahv; Robert Lowell

Subjects: Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center; Hardwick, Elizabeth.; Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977; Partisan review (New York, N.Y. : 1936); Selections; Short stories.; Stafford, Jean, 1915-1979; Tate, Allen, 1899-1979

00:03:49 - Friendship with Allen Tate

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Partial Transcript: I was much friendlier with Allen Tate, who was very close to them.

Segment Synopsis: Hardwick describes her friendship and correspondence with Allen Tate, whom she describes as a gentleman. Tate did not like Robert Lowell's book, "Life Studies," and Elizabeth wrote a strong letter in defense of "Life Studies." Tate and Hardwick corresponded through the 1970s. Hardwick refers to Lowell as Cal.

Keywords: "Life Studies" (by Robert Lowell); Allen Tate; Cal Lowell; Correspondence; Robert Buffington; Robert Lowell

Subjects: Buffington, Robert; Correspondence; Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977; Tate, Allen, 1899-1979

00:12:29 - Allen Tate / Hardwick and Lowell's marriage

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Partial Transcript: No, no I don't want to give--it's hard to give the impression of the old school, uh, kind of old school, sort of, uh, I don't know what to call it.

Segment Synopsis: Tate's relationship with Hardwick was not intensely romantic. Hardwick and Robert Lowell married in July, 1949. Robert Lowell used to read what he had written to Hardwick every night.

Keywords: Allen Tate; Library of Congress; Literary criticism; Robert Lowell

Subjects: Hardwick, Elizabeth; Library of Congress; Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977; MacLeish, Archibald, 1892-1982; Tate, Allen, 1899-1979

00:18:25 - Lowell's nervous breakdown

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Partial Transcript: And then, um, after Yaddo, um, before you were married, Lowell went on his trip, west, or--

Segment Synopsis: Lowell was traveling during his nervous breakdown. Lowell went to a hospital for the first time. After he left the hospital, Lowell and Hardwick married. They traveled in Europe, and then worked in Iowa and other places.

Keywords: Bernard Berenson; George Santayana; Mental health; Mental illness; Nervous breakdowns; Perry Miller; Robert Lowell; Yaddo

Subjects: Berenson, Bernard, 1865-1959; Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977; Miller, Perry, 1905-1963; Neurasthenia; Santayana, George, 1863-1952; Yaddo (Artists' colony)

GPS: Yaddo, an artists' community in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Map Coordinates: 43.06848, -73.75813
00:23:30 - Hardwick and Lowell's early years of marriage

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Partial Transcript: There was that, and then when we finally came back from Europe, we went back to Iowa, to earn some money for a term.

Segment Synopsis: Lowell and Hardwick went to Iowa and then Cincinnati to teach, in order to earn money after their trip to Europe. After Cincinnati, they moved to Ducksburg, then Boston for seven years. After Boston, Lowell and Hardwick moved back to New York. Lowell planned to write an opera about Benito Cereno, but that opera was never written. Women's employment was not good in Boston at this time.

Keywords: Benito Cereno; Boston (Mass.); Ducksbury (Mass.); Iowa; Opera; Robert Lowell; Rockefeller Foundation; Roger Strauss; Theater; Women's employment

Subjects: Cereno, Benito; Hardwick, Elizabeth; Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977; Opera; Rockefeller Foundation; Strauss, Roger; Theater; Women--Employment

GPS: Ducksbury (Mass.)
Map Coordinates: 42.041667, -70.672778
00:29:52 - The Lowell family

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Partial Transcript: You know, and I'm quite close to Cal's relatives.

Segment Synopsis: Hardwick mentions the names of several relatives of Robert Lowell. She is close to many of these relatives. T. Berry Brazelton was the pediatrician of Harriet Lowell.

Keywords: Alfred Lowell; Alice Winslow Meade; Harriet Lowell; Sarah Lowell; T. Berry Brazelton; Winslow family

Subjects: Brazelton, T. Berry, 1918-; Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977.

00:32:52 - Marriage to someone ill

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Partial Transcript: You seem to, uh, uh, be very brave to me t, to take on Lowell in, in '49 when he was having this sickness.

Segment Synopsis: Hardwick states that people who are subject to mental illnesses suffer greatly. The main suffering of mental diseases is to the person who suffers, more than they burden others. Lowell was productive and supported his family. Hardwick was interested in arts, politics, history, music, and literature before she met Lowell.

Keywords: Jazz; Mental health; Mental illness; Opera; Robert Lowell

Subjects: Hardwick, Elizabeth; Jazz; Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977; Mental illness; Opera

00:39:58 - Loneliness

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Partial Transcript: I mean you must have thought more about loneliness since you've been unmarried.

Segment Synopsis: Hardwick discusses loneliness. A writer has to have a little solitude. Literary women generally have energy and curiosity, and succeed in more areas of their lives.

Keywords: Friendship; Loneliness; Robert Lowell

Subjects: Friendship; Hardwick, Elizabeth; Loneliness; Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977

00:43:20 - City life / life as a writer

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Partial Transcript: Um, cities, cities are so different from Lexington.

Segment Synopsis: Hardwick discusses the difference between city life and life in Lexington, Kentucky. Friends drop by for dinner more often in the city than they would in Lexington. After raising a family, there is a different style of life than the life one lives while raising the family. Hardwick had help with the household work, which made life easier.

Keywords: Cities; Elizabeth Hardwick; Lexington (Ky.); Reading; Robert Lowell; Thinking

Subjects: Cities; City and town life; Hardwick, Elizabeth; Lexington (Ky.); Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977; Reading; Thought and thinking

GPS: Lexington (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.029722, -84.494722
00:47:36 - A break from writing

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Partial Transcript: You didn't write in Europe, in '50 to '53, whenever that was?

Segment Synopsis: Hardwick and Lowell did not write regularly during the time they were traveling in Europe. The trip in Europe involved a lot of reading and study to learn about the cultures. Except for the trip in Europe, Lowell wrote every day. Lowell constantly worked and refined his writing style.

Keywords: Elizabeth Hardwick; Europe; Poetry in meter; Prose literature; Robert Lowell

Subjects: Europe; Hardwick, Elizabeth; Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977; Prose literature; Versification

00:58:13 - Lowell's interest in history

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Partial Transcript: History, notebooks, all of that.

Segment Synopsis: Robert Lowell had a large history library. He read good history books. Hardwick does not like to go to poetry readings because poems are not written for the ear, but for the slow eye. Hardwick comments that she reads too fast.

Keywords: History; Napoleon Bonaparte; Poetry readings; Robert Lowell

Subjects: Bonaparte, Napoleon, 1769-1821; Hardwick, Elizabeth; History; Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977; Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, 1769-1821; Oral interpretation of poetry

01:03:46 - Description of Lowell's mental illness

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Partial Transcript: How about, um, Lowell's portrait of his parents in "91 Revere Street"?

Segment Synopsis: Hardwick remarks that she does not feel Lowell's portrait of his parents is mean. The portrait does not, however, show affection for them. The relationship was somewhat troubled. After Lowell's father left the Navy, he never really had an occupation. Hardwick does not believe that Lowell's mental illness was caused by his family, but that it had a more physical cause. When the manic episode comes on, the patient feels better, and so, does not seek treatment when the mania comes on. Manic attacks are characterized by disorganized thinking and bad ideas. Hardwick was only interesting when he was in a manic period. The medication is delivered in massive doses, which is draining. Lowell went willingly to the hospital when he was ill, after people talked him into it. He would attempt to work during the manic episodes, but lacked coherent thought. Lithium did not prevent episodes of the illness for Lowell. As he grew older, Lowell's hospitalizations were shorter.

Keywords: Bipolar disorder; Boston (Mass.); Lithium; Manic depressive illness; Mental health; Navy; Robert Lowell; Shock treatment; Thorazine

Subjects: Chlorpromazine; Hardwick, Elizabeth; Lithium; Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977; Manic-depressive illness; Shock therapy

01:23:08 - Caring for Lowell during a manic attack

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Partial Transcript: Yes, well, that's what I mean. You, you've made a--and, and you talk about you going to the doctor, you going to Columbia Presbyterian to find out these things...

Segment Synopsis: Hardwick discusses not minding taking effort to care for her husband. With each new doctor, psychiatric treatment, which was ineffective for Lowell, was considered again and again. Hardwick is convinced that the physical treatment of the disorder was much more effective.

Keywords: Bipolar disorder; Columbia Presbyterian Hospital; Manic depressive illness; Mental health; Mental illness; Robert Lowell

Subjects: Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center; Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977; Manic-depressive illness

01:26:20 - Writing "Sleepless Nights"

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Partial Transcript: Uh, one thing relating to all this that interests me about "Sleepless Nights" is how successful you are in writing around your life with Robert Lowell and not making an issue of him.

Segment Synopsis: Hardwick discusses "Sleepless Nights," and how many of the characters and events are fictional but within a framework of truth. People do not want to see themselves in the pages of literature, perhaps because they do not have a habit of reading literary fiction with much frequency. Hardwick feels her family is embarrassed by her literary success. Lowell also fictionalized some of the writing about Hardwick. Hardwick did not like the fact that Lowell used her voice to fictionalize her life in "Dolphins."

Keywords: Elizabeth Hardwick; Gore Vidal; Lexington (Ky.); Robert Lowell

Subjects: Hardwick, Elizabeth; Lexington (Ky.); Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977; Vidal, Gore, 1925-2012