Remembering Denny Essay - Critical Essays

Calvin Trillin

Remembering Denny

REMEMBERING DENNY is the re-creation of the life and eventual suicide of Calvin Trillin’s Yale classmate of the 1950’s, Roger “Denny” Hansen. Hansen was a true golden child of the era, a varsity swimmer, Phi Beta Kappa, and Rhodes Scholar, whose 1957 graduation from Yale College was covered by LIFE magazine. Hansen eventually became a professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins’ Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, as well as the author of an influential book on north-south relations. When Trillin learned of Hansen’s suicide in 1991, he was led to investigate how such a promising start and apparent success could have ended with suicide at middle age.

Trillin begins with a remembrance of the way things were for “Denny,” the talented graduate of a small California public school, who conquered Yale with what seemed to be an unstudied ease. At Yale, Denny first came into conflict with the privileged private school set: as Trillin notes, public school students such as he and Denny felt that they were there because of their merit, not family connections. After graduation Denny began to confront the real difficulties presented by the standards of the old school crowd. Despite a reasonably successful stay at Oxford University, Denny was turned down for a state department appointment. Denny became estranged from his Yale friends at this point, even preferring to be known as Roger Hansen. Trillin examines the possible reasons for Denny’s suicide: failed expectations at Johns Hopkins, manic-depression, health problems, and latent homosexuality realized late in life. He concludes that Denny’s life was ultimately over-determined, an example of a fifties idealist confronting the cynical winding down of the twentieth century.

Sources for Further Study

America. CLXVIII, May 8, 1993, p.2.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. April 4, 1993, p.3.

The Nation. CCLVI, June 7, 1993, p.784.

The New Leader. LXXVI, May 17, 1993, p.11.

The New Republic. CCIX, June 5, 1993, p.31.

The New York Review of Books. XL, April 22, 1993, p.20.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, April 4, 1993, p.9.

Newsweek. CXXI, June 14, 1993, p.66.

Publishers Weekly. CCXL, April 19, 1993, p.16.

Time. CXLI, April 19, 1993, p.67.