‘Liber Amoris or The New Pygmalion’ by William Hazlitt – More a Rant Than a Novel

 

Liber Amoris or The New Pygmalion’ by William Hazlitt (1823) – 112 pages

William Hazlitt was the great essayist and critic of the Romantic era in the early 19th century. He was an adept prose stylist and is regarded as the finest arts critic of his age.

However his one foray into fiction is a one-note rant of a novel dealing with his real-life obsession with Sarah Walker, the daughter of his landlord at one point. The story of William Hazlitt and Sarah Walker has been well documented, and there is little in the novel that has not been registered as fact.

H: “Tell me why you have deceived me, and singled me out as your victim?”

S: “I never have, Sir. I always said I could not love.”

H: “There is a difference between love and making me a laughing-stock.”

Hazlitt does not even disguise the first letters of their real names.

It all started when Hazlitt moved out of his family’s house, leaving behind his wife and son. He moved into this rooming house, and the landlord’s 19 year-old daughter Sarah would serve him breakfast. Hazlitt was 41 at the time. Soon this turned into something more than breakfast and Sarah would be “sitting and fondling a man sometimes for half a day together”.

…that you come up here, and stay as long as you like, that you sit on my knee and put your arms round my neck, and feed me with kisses, and let me take other liberties with you, and that for a year together; and you do all this not out of love, or liking, or regard, but go through your regular task like some young witch, without one natural feeling…”

Hazlitt went off the deep end over Sarah Walker.

Am I mad or a fool?” The correct answer would be “Yes”.

Hazlitt began making all these plans about marrying Sarah. Then Hazlitt finds out that Sarah is doing the same fooling around with one of the other guys who is staying at the rooming house. This unfortunate circumstance does not change Hazlitt’s intention to marry Sarah.

I gave way to all the fury of disappointed hope and jealous passion.”

‘Liber Amoris’ is a chronicle of Hazlitt’s “self-tormenting folly”. Most of the novel is in epistolary form consisting of letters to his friend regarding the Sarah Walker episode. At one point he actually has his friend rent a room at the same rooming house and try to seduce Sarah.

There is nothing in the world that can afford me a drop of comfort – this I feel more and more. Everything is to me a mockery of pleasure, like her love. The breeze does not cool me: the blue sky does not cheer me.”

I suppose William Hazlitt should get points for being honest, for letting it all hang out. However ‘Liber Amoris’ is a sad obsessive spectacle of “a half-disordered mind”.

S: “I have always told you I have no affection for you.”

H: “She was my life – it is gone from me, and I have gone spectral.”

 

Grade:    C-

4 responses to this post.

  1. I’d never heard of him. Was he a young man, rushing intemperately into print, like Goethe in The Sorrows of Young Werther?

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    • Hi Lisa,
      I’m a bit surprised you haven’t heard of William Hazlitt. He was an excellent essayist and probably the most quotable fellow ever, although I am getting a little tired of the dogmatism of his quotes. However this one-time foray into fiction was a disaster. He was so upset with his actual love life that he had to tell everybody about it. And we can’t blame his youth for it as he was already over 40 while this young woman who broke his heart was only 19. It certainly would have been a subject for the Me Too movement today.

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