Being Barbara Hardy

As a proud new member of NAVSA (better late than never!), I have just received a copy of the latest issue of Victorian Studies. Of the many interesting features in this issue (Volume 50 No. 1), I particularly enjoyed George Levine’s review of Barbara Hardy’s George Eliot: A Critic’s Biography, a book I own but haven’t yet read. One of my clearest recollections of my early days as a graduate student is being asked by one of my new faculty mentors to name a critic whose work on George Eliot I admired. “Barbara Hardy,” I promptly replied. The response was a tolerant smile and nod, and a bit of sage advice: “Of course, you can’t be Barbara Hardy any more.” True enough–unless, naturally, you actually are Barbara Hardy. Her steadiness in being herself is at the heart of Levine’s admiration of this new book:

Negative hermeneutics has never been Hardy’s mode, and her determination to take seriously what Eliot said said, without suspicion and cynicism as a premise of the reading, is one thing that might make this anti-biography suspect to modern critics. But that determination becomes a form of negative capability that is one of the most moving and satisfying aspects of the book. For Hardy, Eliot wrote as if she meant what she said and she said what she meant. In critical circles, this is an astonishingly fresh argument these days. (100)

I’ve put it at the top of my “t0 read” pile.

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