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Elizabeth Hardwick | A N.Y. Review founder, 91

Elizabeth Hardwick, 91, a Kentucky-born author and critic whose incisive prose helped her fulfill her dream of becoming a "New York intellectual," has died.

Ms. Hardwick died Sunday in her sleep at Roosevelt Hospital, according to Catherine Tice, associate publisher of the New York Review of Books, which Ms. Hardwick helped found in 1963.

She had been hospitalized with a minor infection.

Ms. Hardwick was among the last survivors of a promiscuous, hard-drinking circle of intellectuals that included Lionel Trilling and celebrated poet Robert Lowell, with whom she had a famously difficult marriage.

She married Lowell in 1949 and suffered through his infidelities and manic-depression, endlessly leaving her and then changing his mind. They divorced in 1972.

Although she started out as a fiction writer, Ms. Hardwick received her greatest acclaim as a critic.

"Seduction and Betrayal," an analysis of such literary heroines as Hester Prynne of

The Scarlet Letter,

became required reading for studies of women in fiction.

Ms. Hardwick also helped found an essential highbrow publication: the New York Review of Books.

It was conceived during a newspaper strike in New York City, when she and Lowell were lamenting with friends Jason and Barbara Epstein over the poor state of literary criticism.

Her first novel,

The Ghostly Lover,

came out in 1945 and related the conflicts of a middle-class Kentucky family.

Diana Trilling, reviewing the book, compared her to Eudora Welty and D.H. Lawrence.

- Associated Press