Introduction

(Short Story Criticism)

Of This Time, Of That Place and Other Stories Lionel Trilling

American critic, essayist, novelist, short-story writer, and editor.

The following entry presents criticism on Trilling's short-story collection Of This Time, Of That Place and Other Stories (1979) from 1963 through 1988. See also Lionel Trilling Criticism (Volume 9), and Volumes 11, 24

Recognized as one of the foremost American literary critics of the twentieth century, Trilling also wrote several short stories that were published in periodicals during his lifetime. In 1979, four years after his death, five of his best stories were collected and published as Of This Time, Of That Place and Other Stories. Reviewers praised the stories as complex tales that explore characteristic thematic concerns of Trilling's fictional and nonfictional work. Although Of This Time, Of That Place and Other Stories has garnered little critical attention, commentators have commended the volume as a notable and underrated work.

Plot and Major Characters

Of This Time, Of That Place and Other Stories is comprised of five stories, all of which had been published previously in periodicals. “Impediments,” originally published in Menorah Journal in 1925, is the account of an uncomfortable encounter between two university students. “The Other Margaret,” which initially appeared in the Partisan Review in 1945, concerns an urbane, wealthy New York family and their African American maid, Margaret. In the story, the family's liberal ideas are challenged when Margaret proves to be a destructive, troubled young woman. When the daughter of the family, also named Margaret, tries to excuse the maid's mean-spirited behavior, the patriarch of the family realizes that despite her troubles, the maid is not excused from individual responsibility and societal obligations. “Notes on a Departure,” the third story in Of This Time, Of That Place and Other Stories, was originally published in the Menorah Journal in 1929. It chronicles the final days of a university professor on campus, as he prepares to leave his job for good. He reflects on his tendency to separate himself from his colleagues, the town, and the university in general. In “The Lesson and the Secret,” which initially appeared in Harper's Bazaar in 1945, Trilling explores the dynamics of a creative writing class frequented by older, society ladies who clash with their young male instructor. In the best-known story of the collection, “Of This Time, Of That Place,” which was published in the Partisan Review in 1943, Trilling once again returns to an academic setting to chronicle the relationship between an English instructor and poet, Joseph Howe, and two of his students: Tertan, a brilliant, but mentally ill student of philosophy and art; and Blackburn, a wily and unprincipled opportunist. Howe's eventual betrayal of Tertan's and Blackburn's professional successes leads Howe to reevaluate his own value system.

Major Themes

In several of his stories, Trilling strived to strip away the veneer of civility in societal interactions to expose inner lives of emotional strife, hidden motives, scruples, and self-discovery. As Trilling stated, fiction should “raise questions in our minds not only about the conditions but about ourselves, lead us to refine our motives and ask what might lie behind our good impulses.” Along with a ruthless examination of morality, he often addressed the limits of liberal ideology in his stories—several characters reject liberal values in favor of more conservative concepts of materialism, opportunism, and individual responsibility. Reviewers note that several of the stories in Of This Time, Of That Place and Other Stories concern maturation and explore the relationship between art and life as well as science and morality.

Critical Reception

Trilling is considered a renowned literary critic, and critics speculate that his reputation as a critic has overshadowed his fictional work, which includes Of This Time, Of That Place and Other Stories. Commentators note that the stories in the volume embody themes that occupy a prominent place in his critical work. Several of the stories are viewed as autobiographical in nature. Critics have speculated as to the origins of the characters in the stories, particularly “Of This Time, Of That Place.” The stories have been derided as being too literary and old-fashioned to attract much new critical attention. Yet reviewers praise them as erudite and complex tales befitting a critic of great reputation, and they urge greater critical and popular attention to Of This Time, Of That Place and Other Stories.