On Elizabeth Harrower

In “Either/Or,” Kierkegaard talks about the idea that against God we are always in the wrong. He means that God’s love is always greater than anything we can offer Him, and this, combined with our sinfulness, means that we are always in error in relation to God. This is a good thing, Kierkegaard says—we should desire that edifying wrongness. Harrower’s female characters have something of this Protestant masochism. It isn’t quite that these women mistake abuse for devotion, though perhaps they do. It is that they mistake themselves for the people they live with. The pity they feel is really self-pity, and the suffering they feel “connected to” is really their own. It is not Felix who has been “hurt into this shape” but Laura who has been “hurt into this shape” by Felix. Laura is describing herself when she tries to describe Felix.

James Wood, Rediscovering Elizabeth Harrower, The New Yorker October 20th 2014

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