Elizabeth Hardwick (1916–2007) was born in Lexington, Kentucky, and educated at the University of Kentucky and Columbia University. A recipient of a Gold Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she is the author of three novels, a biography of Herman Melville, and four collections of essays. She was a co-founder and advisory editor of The New York Review of Books and contributed more than one hundred reviews, articles, reflections, and letters to the magazine. NYRB Classics publishes Sleepless Nights, a novel, and Seduction and Betrayal, a study of women in literature.


Melville in Love

Herman Melville died in 1891 at the age of seventy-two. He was buried next to his son Malcolm in a cemetery in the Bronx. His death was marked negatively, as it were, by an absence of public ceremony; just another burial of an obscure New Yorker. This obscurity, or neglect, was to become part of the dramaturgy of Melville’s image, even for those who hadn’t read him in the past, as well as for those, more than a few, who haven’t read him in the present.

Billie Holiday

She was fat the first time we saw her, large, brilliantly beautiful, fat. She seemed for this moment that never again returned to be almost a matron, someone real and sensible who carried money to the bank, signed papers, had curtains made to match, dresses hung and shoes in pairs, gold and silver, black and white, ready. What a strange, betraying apparition that was, madness, because never was any woman less a wife or mother, less attached; not even a daughter could she easily appear to be. Little called to mind the pitiful sweetness of a young girl. No, she was glittering, somber, and solitary, although of course never alone, never. Stately, sinister, and absolutely determined.

Reflections on Fiction

Art, of course, lives in history. We are obliged to consent that a work is not today what it was yesterday, neither as a whole nor in its details. It is easy enough to agree that time alters the past and all its terms, but the agreement is rather abstract.

Selma, Alabama: The Charms of Goodness

What a sad countryside it is, the home of the pain of the Confederacy, the birthplace of the White Citizens Council. The khaki-colored earth, the tense, threatening air, the vanquished feeding on their permanent Civil War—all of it brings to mind flamboyant images from Faulkner.

Grub Street: New York

Making a living is nothing; the great difficulty is making a point, making a difference—with words. Here in New York you walk about the shattered, but still unreformed, streets and it seems the city has suffered a scar or wound that has not only changed its appearance but altered its …


On Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath, 1959; photograph by Rollie McKenna
In Sylvia Plath’s work and in her life the elements of pathology are so deeply rooted and so little resisted that one is disinclined to hope for general principles, sure origins, applications, or lessons. Her fate and her themes are hardly separate and both are singularly terrible. Her work is brutal, like the smash of a fist; and sometimes it is also mean in its feeling. Literary comparisons are possible, echoes vibrate occasionally, but to whom can she be compared in spirit, in content, in temperament?

Barbara Epstein (1928–2006)

Barbara Epstein, my friend and fellow editor for forty-three years, died on June 16. She did much to create The New York Review and she brought her remarkable intelligence and editorial skill to bear on everything that appeared in these pages. We publish here memoirs by some of the writers …

Susan Sontag (1933–2004)

Except in unusually desolating circumstances, human beings do not want to die. Medicines, hospitals, and so on are called upon to do what they can, and, that failing, there is not much to do except to surrender. It was otherwise with Susan Sontag, who fought death, challenged it. Her death …

Funny as a Crutch

Nathanael West: Novels and Other Writings

selected and with notes by Sacvan Bercovitch

Nathanael West

by Robert Emmet Long
Nathanael West (1903–1940) published four novels, wrote many screenplays, and left strewn about among his papers “Unpublished Writings and Fragments.” West had the masochist’s subtle attachment to his failures, a recognition which is, in its fashion, somehow self-affirming. He reports that the income from his first three novels was $780: …

Among the Savages

The Golovlyov Family

by Shchedrin, translated from the Russian by Natalie Duddington, with an introduction by James Wood

Sketches of Provincial Life

by Saltykov-Shchedrin, translated from the Russian and with notes by Frederic Aston
The Golovlyov Family, a novel from the late 1870s by the Russian writer M.E. Saltykov (pen name Shchedrin), is a curiosity of world literature in its relentless assault on the common sentiments of family life. The Golovlyovs, mother, father, three sons, and a daughter, live on their estate in the …

On ‘The Unpossessed’

The Unpossessed by Tess Slesinger is a daring, unique fiction, a wild, crowded comedy set in New York City in the 1930s. The inchoate, irrational, addictive metropolis, ever clamoring, brawling between its two somehow sluggish rivers, is a challenge to its citizens and to the novelist’s art. In the end, …


‘Pale Horse, Pale Rider’: A Story of the 1918 Flu Pandemic

Albert Pinkham Ryder: The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse), 1900

Miss Hobbe had passed through, carrying a tray. “My dear child,” she said sharply, with a glance at Miranda’s attire, “what is the matter?”  Miranda, with the receiver to her ear, said, “Influenza, I think.”  “Horrors,” said Miss Hobbe, in a whisper, and the tray wavered in her hands. “Go back to bed at once… go at once.”  “I must talk to Bill first,” Miranda had told her, and Miss Hobbe had hurried on and had not returned. Bill had shouted directions at her, promising everything, doctor, nurse, ambulance, hospital, her check every week as usual, everything, but she was to get back to bed and stay there. 

A Solution to the Abortion War: The Celibacy Amendment

It would be honorable for the Republican platform to consider the following plank—a heavy piece of wood indeed. In their frequent suggestions for constitutional amendments, as if they were a corner stoplight, they might propose, on behalf of the contested unborn, a command that young men remain celibate until marriage. The Celibacy Amendment deserves the floor.