Robert Lowell's closest friends castigated him for using his estranged wife Elizabeth Hardwick's anguished letters to him in his Pulitzer-Prize winning collection "The Dolphin."
Elizabeth Bishop, Lowell's poetry soulmate, told him "art just isn't worth that much."
Now, the letters between the heart-broken Hardwick and Lowell after he left her for the British writer Lady Caroline Blackwood will be published Dec. 10 in "The Dolphin Letters 1970-1979: Elizabeth Hardwick, Robert Lowell and Their Circle."
Saskia Hamilton, who earlier edited collections of Lowell's letters and his correspondence with Bishop, is the editor of the new book. New York Times critic Parul Sehgal in a review Wednesday said the new collection revives arguments about the use of private material in works of art.
Hardwick, who saw Lowell through many mental breakdowns and infatuations with young women during their marriage, has received renewed appreciation recently for her novels and critical essays. She considered Lowell a more important writer than herself, according to an abject letter quoted by Sehgal. After the republication of Hardwick's books, she's seen as just as major as Lowell, if not more so.
Lowell, whose reputation as a poet fell after his death in 1977, has been the subject of several recent books analyzing his bipolar illness and love affairs. His poetry has also received fresh acclaim following the publication of his collected poems, edited by the poet Frank Bidart, who knew Lowell and Bishop.
Along with the Dolphin letters, Hamilton has edited a new edition of "The Dolphin," which won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize despite the controversy over Lowell violating Hardwick's privacy.
After marrying Blackwood and having a child with her, Lowell decided to return to Hardwick. Lowell died in 1977 in a New York City cab on his way to Hardwick's apartment. When the heart attack felled him, he was clutching a portrait of Blackwood painted by her former husband, Lucian Freud.
The "Dolphin Letters" raises the question of whether Hardwick's private anguish is again being exploited.
Excerpts reprinted in Sehgal's review put Hardwick in a bad light, revealing her as devastated by Lowell's abandonment. The scandal has been aired in numerous biographies, Hamilton's previous collections and Lowell's poems. Will republishing Hardwick and Lowell's letters add anything new?