Lionel Trilling Essay - Critical Essays

Trilling, Lionel (Vol. 11)


Trilling, Lionel 1905–1975

Trilling was an American critic, novelist and essayist. The philosophy of Matthew Arnold he explored in his first book, Matthew Arnold, led to his adoption of that writer's concept of maintaining a "disinterested" mind. Trilling logically approached and dissected popular theories, ideals, and culture in his writings. His novel, The Middle of the Journey, manifests his belief that faults are inherent in the artistic liberal imagination. As a result, Trilling tries to reveal the author's responsibility to portray the complex nature of life. (See also CLC, Vol. 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.; obituary, Vols. 61-64.)

Jacques Barzun

[A distinct view of life is discernable in Trilling's works, revealed in the proposition that he] developed and illustrated throughout that galaxy of essays he published during the last 35 years. It is this. Intuition and perception alike show not merely that life overflows ideologies and coercive systems—so much is obvious: there would be no systems and ideologies if life were not impossibly hard to regiment. The contention is rather that the only things worth cherishing in life are necessarily destroyed by ideology and coercion from their first onset. In other words, variety and complexity are but different names for possibility; and without possibility—freedom for the unplanned and indefinite—life becomes a...

(The entire section is 1578 words.)

Mark Shechner

[Much] of what was fresh in American writing after the war came down in the fertile precipitate of ideas and attitudes released into [writers' and intellectuals'] thought by the chemistry of socialism on the wane. (p. 4)

It was in the post-war climate of stalemate and reassessment that Lionel Trilling came to prominence as a spokesman for ambivalence, moral realism (that is, the acceptance of "good-and-evil"), ideas in modulation, and the tragic view of life. He emerged in the forties as a pivotal figure among the New York intellectuals. (p. 8)

The Middle of the Journey, in its muted way, is … an account of spiritual death and rebirth, and the cycle of depression and...

(The entire section is 3689 words.)

Denis Donoghue

It was common for critics to maintain, during the years in which Trilling wrote his major books, that the relation between the individual artist and society was a relation between virtue and vice, or at least a relation between the highest aesthetic purity and the worst conditions which an indifferent society would impose upon a pure intention. Society was deemed to be a bourgeois conspiracy of the worst to thwart the best: the artist was regarded as a holy man in the degree of his victimage. Artist and critic were supposed to huddle together for comfort in the storm, since their motives were equally noble. The storm was a monster compounded of money and aggression.

Trilling was never persuaded by...

(The entire section is 5218 words.)