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4.0 out of 5 stars No Genius In Private, 15 Mar 2011
By 
Jack Lawrence (Southampton, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Hazlitt in Love (Hardcover)
I adored this little book, and am only surprised BBC4 haven't yet adapted it. A cautionary tale on how a man may be a lauded genius in public life, but as much of a vulnerable failure as everyone else in private when it comes to matters of the heart.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An Unattainable Ideal, 5 Feb 2013
This review is from: Hazlitt in Love (Hardcover)
Date: 13 August 1820. Place: 9 Southampton Buildings, Holborn, London. On this day, William Hazlitt, the forty-two-year-old essayist and political radical, moved into his new lodgings. His life was in disarray: he had an estranged wife, a young son, and a hostile crew of literary critics to pacify. Three days later, he met Sarah Walker, the landlady's daughter, and his life swiftly plunged into farce. Such, then, is the opening mood of Jon Cook's Hazlitt in Love.

For Hazlitt, falling in love was 'a literary as well as an emotional event'. There were, however, certain faults with this approach, as his head was riddled with Romantic literature, his views coloured by an unattainable idealism: the great heroines of literature were his acme and any deviation from their purity tore his heart asunder. Sarah Walker, a lowly and flirtatious nineteen-year-old, was in the unenviable position of being his heroine/muse. Ruthlessly, Hazlitt would go on to write Liber Amoris, knowingly treating 'his own life and hers as material for a literary experiment', which, on the evidence gathered here, wasn't a friendly experiment to perform.

Hazlitt was incredibly capricious and endlessly selfish. The whims of his love ensured he dragged his wife through illegally colluded divorce proceedings and exposed the Walker clan to snipes from the press. He entangled people in his schemes to out Walker as a whore, creepily followed her about, pined outside her house, and threw fits of childish rage. Although Cook warns the reader against taking such a standpoint, it's hard not to view Hazlitt's salacious persistence as 'the story of a middle-aged man's frantic attempts to manipulate a young woman into marriage'.

Sarah is rarely heard from. In reality, though, it didn't matter what she thought, as Hazlitt had moulded her into a fantastical being, and one he tried to pre-empt and manoeuvre at will. Everything she's reported as having said is filtered through her creator's unrelenting mind, a mind forever disassembling and rebuilding her words so as to condemn and/or laud her as he vacillatingly saw fit.

The book is a supremely novelised affair, but an enjoyable and informative one all the same. Cook's chapter titles - 'The Rival', 'The Wife', 'Madness' - create a good momentum, while the succinct descriptions of the epoch's divorce proceedings give great contextual detail.

But, on the basis of this brief affair, we can only speculate as to the horrors of a Hazlitt in Hate.
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Hazlitt in Love
Hazlitt in Love by Jon Cook (Hardcover - 1 Feb 2007)
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