Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

Editor’s Acknowledgments

This collection is a selective reception history of the criticism and fiction of Lionel Trilling. To honor such a contemporary critic in this way is an unusual gesture, one that testifies to the significance and impact of his work. Indeed, in Trilling’s case, not just the writer’s work but the man’s life have exerted strong, if fluctuating, influence on several generations of intellectuals. It seems appropriate, therefore, to gather together in a single volume a broad cross section of critical response to Trilling, whose literary reception constitutes a sharply focused lens through which readers can view the main issues of twentieth-century Anglo-American cultural and intellectual history.

Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves comprises an assortment of documents: short book reviews, essay-reviews, articles from intellectual quarterlies, obituaries, memoirs, and reassessments. I have selected these items with an eye variously toward their critical quality, historical significance, biographical interest, generational importance, ideological slant, and general representative value.

As a contribution to intellectual history, this collection has a dual aim: to illuminate the unfolding of Trilling’s literary reputation and to recapture the lively debates in American cultural politics to which his writings contributed (and continue to stimulate in our own day). In selecting the materials for this volume, I have chosen responses to Trilling by influential intellectual contemporaries and successors in the United States, writers whose work possesses its own intrinsic interest. Moreover, to illustrate Trilling’s high standing in the United Kingdom, which reflected and, in turn, elevated his reputation in American intellectual-academic circles, I have included a number of responses to Trilling from influential British intellectuals. Each document included in this book is preceded by a biographical headnote that discusses the author of the selection and, in most instances, highlights the key claims of the item, places it in the context of its author’s career, and/or clarifies its author’s relationship to Trilling.

My work on Lionel Trilling emerged via my twin, related interests in the

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