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Liber Amoris

Liber Amoris by William Hazlitt
By: (1778-1830)

Liber Amoris is unlike anything Hazlitt wrote and probably like nothing you've come across before. On the face of it it tells the story of Hazlitt's infatuation with his landlords daughter. Hazlitt was middle aged and she young and pretty, a bit of a coquette from the sound of it. It turned out badly for Hazlitt and the book tells the story of this doomed love. Critics have always been divided about the merit of the piece. Even those who see its merit often feel more comfortable with his polished literary works, and perhaps rightly so. This is not a work to make you feel comfortable.
I'd like to propose though that there is more to this as a work of art. It was the beginning of the era of the auto-biography that was arguably started by Rousseau in his Confessions. Going beyond Rousseau's mild self criticism, Hazlitt gives a ruthless self portrait (as well as an unsparing portrait of the object of his affections) of the weakness and mental turmoil that he experienced during the love affair. In this it is much closer to the theatre of cruelty of Antonin Artaud in which a pure artisitc truth is revealed through 'shattering a false reality that lies like a shroud over our perceptions'. Hazlitt had this in spades.
So if you are looking for a polished stroll through the romantic sensibility this is not for you. This is about a close as you'll get to participating in a romantic car crash. A work of great art.
Notes: Nick Duncan

First Page:

LIBER AMORIS, OR, THE NEW PYGMALION

by

WILLIAM HAZLITT

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The circumstances, an outline of which is given in these pages, happened a very short time ago to a native of North Britain, who left his own country early in life, in consequence of political animosities and an ill advised connection in marriage. It was some years after that he formed the fatal attachment which is the subject of the following narrative. The whole was transcribed very carefully with his own hand, a little before he set out for the Continent in hopes of benefiting by a change of scene, but he died soon after in the Netherlands it is supposed, of disappointment preying on a sickly frame and morbid state of mind. It was his wish that what bad been his strongest feeling while living, should be preserved in this shape when he was no more. It has been suggested to the friend, into whose hands the manuscript was entrusted, that many things (particularly in the Conversations in the First Part) either childish or redundant, might have been omitted; but a promise was given that not a word should be altered, and the pledge was held sacred... Continue reading book >>


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