Elizabeth Hardwick's Criticism of Washington Square

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Elizabeth Hardwick's Criticism of Washington Square


Aristotle said that art was one step away from life, and criticism was one step away from that. So what does that make a criticism of a criticism? Carry the one, divide by a and move the decimal point…I don't know, I was never that good at math, but it seems like we may need to drop bread crumbs like Hansel and Gretel to find our way back to the original text.

I enjoy criticism, sometimes for the purpose of learning something new and (factual and) exciting that I originally wasn't aware of in the text. Sometimes it is just fun to see where the critic's academic flight of fancy has taken them. Sometimes, and this is often true, a cigar is just a cigar…

Elizabeth Hardwick's (wasn't that Raleigh's wife's name?) article "On Washington Square" can't seem to decide whether it is fish or fowl; the reader has a hard time distinguishing between plot and character summary, New Historicist, Psychoanalytical, Formalist and all other manner of criticism. Nothing, I think was anything shockingly original or eye-opening, leaving me feeling that it was actually more review than actual literary criticism.

Hardwick dances from discipline to discipline throughout the course of the article, leaving the reader feeling spun every which way, swinging for a piñata that isn't even there. Interdisciplinary criticism is not necessarily a bad thing but, in two and-a half full pages of writing, the reader is given a whirlwind tour of too many subjects. She moves from an historical description of the time and setting of Washington Square to physical and psychological character summaries to a suggestion that the character of Austin Sloper may be James's portrayal of his brother William to a relatively long passage on the perfect balance and the source of the novel. Everything that was said was a complete thought, but there was no meat to the information; it was like gnawing on a soup bone while all you really want is a nice roast.

Actually, Hardwick's article was not at all faulty, just dry and altogether too short for the knowledge that it was trying to impart. It could have been three or four times longer and given ample attention to each point.

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"Elizabeth Hardwick's Criticism of Washington Square." 123HelpMe.com. 23 Jun 2018
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Even better, due to the space constraints of the New York Review, she could have just concentrated on one aspect of the novel that she considered noteworthy. In any case, for the purposes of "On Washington Square," Hardwick needed to give her readers a cogent analysis of one aspect of WS rather than shallow and frustrating glimpses of several, biting off more than something so brief could possibly chew.

Work Cited

Hardwick, Elizabeth. "On Washington Square." The New York Review of Books. 22 Nov 1990: 25-28.


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