The correspondence between one of the most famous couples of twentieth-century literature
The Dolphin Letters offers an unprecedented portrait of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Hardwick during the last seven years of Lowell’s life (1970 to 1977), a time of personal crisis and creative innovation for both writers. Centered on the letters they exchanged with each other and with other members of their circle—writers, intellectuals, friends, and publishers, including Elizabeth Bishop, Caroline Blackwood, Mary McCarthy, and Adrienne Rich—the book has the narrative sweep of a novel, telling the storyof the dramatic breakup of their twenty-one-year marriage and their extraordinary, but late, reconciliation.
Lowell’s controversial sonnet-sequenceThe Dolphin (for which he used Hardwick’s letters as a source) and his last book,Day by Day, were written during this period, as were Hardwick’s influential booksSeduction and Betrayal: Essays on Women in Literature andSleepless Nights: A Novel. Lowell and Hardwick are acutely intelligent observers of marriages, children, and friends, and of the feelings that their personal crises gave rise to.
The Dolphin Letters,masterfully edited by Saskia Hamilton, is a debate about the limits of art—what occasions a work of art, what moral and artistic license artists have to make use of their lives as material, what formal innovations such debates give rise to. The crisis of Lowell’sThe Dolphin was profoundly affecting to everyone surrounding him, and Bishop’s warning to Lowell—“art just isn’t worth that much”—haunts.
Elizabeth Hardwick (1915-2007) was a literary critic, a novelist, and one of the founders ofThe New York Review of Books.She is the author ofSleepless Nights and two other novels, a biography of Herman Melville, and four collections of essays, includingSeduction and Betrayal, a study of women in literature.
Robert Lowell (1917–1977) was the renowned and controversial author of many books of poetry, includingDay by Day(FSG, 1977),For the Union Dead (FSG, 1964), andLife Studies (FSG, 1959).
Saskia Hamilton is the author of three books of poetry, includingCorridor, named one of the best poetry books of 2014 byThe New Yorker andThe New York Times Book Review. She is the editor ofThe Letters of Robert Lowell and coeditor ofWords in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. She teaches at Barnard College.
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