Of This Time, Of That Place Essay - Critical Essays

Lionel Trilling

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


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.

Principal Works

Of This Time, Of This Place and Other Stories 1979

Matthew Arnold (criticism) 1939

E. M. Forster (criticism) 1943

The Middle of the Journey (novel) 1947

The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society (essays) 1950

Freud and the Crisis of Our Culture (essays) 1955

The Opposing Self: Nine Essays in Criticism (essays) 1955

A Gathering of Fugitives (essays) 1956

The Scholar's Caution and the Scholar's Courage (essays) 1962

Beyond Culture: Essays on Literature and Learning (essays) 1965

Sincerity and Authenticity (essays) 1972

Mind in the Modern World (essays) 1973

The Works of Lionel Trilling. 12 vols. (essays and criticism) 1977-80

The Last Decade: Essays and Reviews 1965-1975 (essays) 1979

Prefaces to the Experience of Literature (essays) 1979

Speaking of Literature and Society (essays) 1980

The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent: Selected Essays (essays) 2000


John V. Hagopian (essay date July-September 1963)

SOURCE: Hagopian, John V. “The Technique and Meaning of Lionel Trilling's ‘The Other Margaret’.” Etudes Anglaises 16, no. 3 (July-September 1963): 225-29.

[In the following essay, Hagopian examines Trilling's narrative technique in “The Other Margaret.”]

When an eminent literary critic, especially of a moralistic Arnoldian persuasion, takes a hand at writing fiction, the result is rarely as distinguished an achievement as Lionel Trilling's short story, “The Other Margaret.” As is to be expected, Trilling's fiction embodies ideas and values which occupy a prominent place in his criticism. “The greatness of fiction”, he has said, “and its practical usefulness lay in its unremitting work of involving the reader himself in the moral life, inviting him to put his own motives under examination, suggesting that reality is not as his conventional education has led him to see it.” (“Manners, Morals, and the Novel,” in The Liberal Imagination, London, 1951, p. 222.) No statement could more aptly describe not only the effect of “The Other Margaret,” but also its substance; for in the story we see a man who, as a result of his contemplation of a work of art, is provoked into a ruthless examination of his own moral life and a rejection of the false values of his liberal education. More specifically, Trilling dramatizes the epiphany of a “moral realist,” i.e., one who has “perception of the dangers of the moral life itself.”

Perhaps at no other time has the enterprise of moral realism ever been so much needed, for at no other time have so many people committed themselves to moral righteousness … / … We must be aware of the dangers which lie in our most generous wishes … We have books that point out bad conditions, that praise us for taking progressive attitudes. We have no books that raise questions in our minds not only about conditions but about ourselves, that lead us to refine our motives and ask what might lie behind our good impulses.

(pp. 219, 221)

“The Other Margaret” is appropriately a serious, slow-paced, meditative narrative because the controlling intelligence is that of Stephen Elwin, a 41-year-old publisher of scientific books and an intellectual who cannot observe or act without considering the meaning of every gesture. Hence, the style is E. M. Forster. It is not so much the language but the events that have neither poetic nor dramatic, but meditative—à la Henry James and symbolic power. Two processes of moral education are delineated—the long, slow build-up to an “explosion of light” for Elwin and, at the end, the more swiftly developed insight of his 13-year-old daughter Margaret.

The first part of the story is made up of two public experiences of Stephen Elwin—an examination of a reproduction of Rouault's painting, “The King,” in the company of an art dealer and a young lieutenant; and a disturbing episode on a bus when a mean-spirited conductor cruelly mistreats two little boys. Later, these experiences are recapitulated in the privacy of the Elwin family. All this serves as an elaborate introduction to the heart of the narrative—the episode involving the other Margaret, the Negro maid.

Neither of the two men who observe the Rouault painting with Elwin really understands it or appreciates it. Mark Jennings, the art dealer, eager to satisfy his friend and customer, pretends to admire it but is really more concerned with the frame he has made. (Whether this was unconsciously suggested by Trilling's concern with the “frame” of his story is impossible to say.) The young lieutenant, who insincerely comments “Very nice,” is himself a considerable contrast with the fierce old warrior depicted in the painting. He hasn't the courage of his own convictions: “He used to be against anything like that [militarism]—he said he did not want to miss sharing the experience of his generation.” The art dealer and the lieutenant are not men who “ask what might lie behind our good impulses.” As for Elwin, he is attracted to the picture because he feels that the old king “had passed beyond ordinary matters of personality and was worthy of the crown he was wearing.” The king represents the very qualities that Elwin himself aspires to—wisdom and authority of experience and a stern sense of justice. Later, when he shows the Rouault to his daughter, she too rejects it: “It said something to her that was not in her experience or that she did not want in her experience.” The innocence of youth and the authority of age are incompatible; but at least Margaret is honest enough to admit she doesn't like it. The bonds of family love make it possible to avoid hypocritical politeness and to sustain itself despite occasional disagreement and differences of taste.

The second episode occurs aboard an ancient Didion bus that reminds Elwin of his youth. He has already been meditating about age and death, recalling with poignancy a line from Hazlitt: “No young man believes that he shall ever die.” Elwin realizes that he is no longer a young man, but if age brings an awareness of death it also brings a heightened sense of responsibility which only the wise can bear. As he meditates on these matters he observes two boys waiting for the bus; they seem the kind who “half in awe, half in rowdy levity, troop incessantly through the Egyptian room of the...

(The entire section is 2263 words.)

Diana L. George (essay date winter 1976)

SOURCE: George, Diana L. “Thematic Structure in Lionel Trilling's ‘Of This Time, Of That Place’.” Studies in Short Fiction 13, no. 1 (winter 1976): 1-8.

[In the following essay, George identifies the basic themes of “Of This Time Of That Place”—art and life, subjectivity and objectivity, science and morality—and investigates how they are connected to each other by a complex structure.]

Lionel Trilling has favored his readers with generous explanations of the genesis and meaning of his short story “Of This Time, Of That Place”1; yet the story is extraordinarily subtle, and its meanings are richer than Trilling and his critics have yet...

(The entire section is 3943 words.)

P. N. Furbank (review date 21 August 1981)

SOURCE: Furbank, P. N. “The Gravities of Grown-upness.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4090 (21 August 1981): 951.

[In the following favorable review, Furbank traces a connection between the stories in Of This Time, Of That Place and Trilling's critical work and identifies growing up as a central theme in the collection.]

Lionel Trilling's fictional output was, so far as I know, a very small one: one published novel and a small handful of stories, from which Diana Trilling has now selected just five [in Of This Time, Of That Place]. We need not therefore conclude that he was not “really” a novelist. A couple of his stories, “The Other...

(The entire section is 2159 words.)

W. Paul Elledge (essay date summer 1983)

SOURCE: Elledge, W. Paul. “The Profaning of Romanticism in Trilling's ‘Of This Time, Of That Place’.” Modern Fiction Studies 29, no. 2 (summer 1983): 213-26.

[In the following essay, Elledge explores the tension between romantic and classical values in “Of This Time, Of That Place.”]

For all its architectonic elegance, its shrewdly crafted network of thematically reinforcing symbols, its wry wit and multi-layered ironies, its stylistic grace and haunting poignance, Lionel Trilling's oft-anthologized “Of This Time, Of That Place” (1943) has inspired neither the amount nor the intensity of critical examination one might reasonably have expected of a story...

(The entire section is 6884 words.)

S. A. Cowan (essay date December 1988)

SOURCE: Cowan, S. A. “Parrington, Woolley, and Reality: A Note on Trilling's ‘Of This Time, Of That Place’.” English Language Notes 26, no. 2 (December 1988): 56-9.

[In the following essay, Cowan speculates that the character of Frederic Woolley from “Of This Time, Of This Place” was based on the American literary historian V. L. Parrington.]

Lionel Trilling's commentary on “Of This Time, Of That Place” makes plain that two characters—Ferdinand Tertan and Theodore Blackburn—had their origins in actual students Trilling had taught at Columbia College.1 In addition, the story leaves one with the impression that the instructor, Joseph Howe,...

(The entire section is 1411 words.)

John V. Hagopian (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: Hagopian, John V. “A Reader's Moral Dissent from Lionel Trilling's ‘Of This Time, Of That Place’.” In American Literature in Belgium, edited by Gilbert Debusscher, pp. 227-38. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1988.

[In the following essay, Hagopian elucidates the relationship between Trilling and Joseph Howe, the implied narrator of “Of This Time, Of This Place.”]

Let me begin with a passage from “Of This Time, Of That Place”:

It was a busy and official day of cards and sheets, arrangements and small decisions, and it gave Howe pleasure. Even when it was time to attend the first of the weekly Convocations he felt the charm...

(The entire section is 5423 words.)

Further Reading


Krupnick, Mark. “Jewish Intellectuals and the ‘Deep Places of the Imagination’.” Shofar 21, no. 3 (2003): 29-47.

Views “Of This Time, Of That Place” as an example of Trilling's fullest artistic vision.

Trilling, Lionel. “Of This Time, Of That Place: Lionel Trilling, 1905-1975.” In Prefaces to the Experience of Literature, pp. 160-65. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979.

Originally published in 1967, Trilling discusses the origins of the characters in “Of This Time, Of That Place.”

Additional coverage of Trilling's life and career is contained in the following...

(The entire section is 141 words.)