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

Farrar. 2019. 560p. ed. by ed. by Saskia Hamilton. ISBN 9780374141264. $50. LIT
In the spring of 1970, shortly after Lowell and Hardwick’s 20th wedding anniversary, Lowell, in Oxford on a scholarship, moved in with writer and muse Lady Caroline Blackwood, former wife of painter Lucian Freud. A distraught Hardwick disclosed her anger, humiliation, and depression in a series of letters to Lowell from 1970 to 1973. Without Hardwick’s knowledge or approval, Lowell quoted, paraphrased, and emended the letters, incorporating them in the sonnet sequence, The Dolphin (1973). Anguished at the betrayal of her privacy, Hardwick tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to retrieve the letters. She passed away in 2007 believing they were either lost or destroyed. Unpredictably, Blackwood, through an intermediary, had deposited the letters at Harvard’s Houghton Library on condition they be released after Hardwick’s death. The correspondence is published here for the first time with letters, extending to 1979, to Lowell and Hardwick’s daughter Harriet and close friends Mary McCarthy, Elisabeth Bishop, and Adrienne Rich.
VERDICT Replete with editor Hamilton’s masterly and well-researched footnotes, this will be an indispensable gloss to the reading and interpretation of The Dolphin.
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