Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

5
Excerpt from “Whitman and Arnold,” Partisan Review
spring 1939

William Phillips

William Phillips (1907—) has served as editor or co-editor (with Philip Rahv) of Partisan Review since the magazine’s founding in 1934. He is the author of A Sense of the Present (1967) and A Partisan View: Five Decades of Literary Life (1984).

Given his editorial position at Partisan Review, Phillips was an influential member of the circle of New York intellectuals who wrote for the magazine, among whom the most prominent was Trilling. By the close of the war, Trilling’s stories “Of This Time, of That Place” (1943) and “The Other Margaret” (1945) and essays such as “A Sense of the Past” (1942) and “A Note on Art and Neurosis” (1945) had appeared in Partisan Review’s pages. In 1946 Phillips and Rahv co-edited The Partisan Reader, 1934–44, for which Trilling wrote the introduction.

Although the perception that Trilling was turning conservative is generally dated to essays by Delmore Schwartz and Joseph Frank in the mid1950s, Phillips writes in his intellectual memoir, A Partisan View, that already in 1951 he tried to tell Trilling that “he was being read as a conservative thinker” in New York intellectual circles. Trilling “became agitated and indignant,” Phillips recalls, “and in an angry voice … insisted that he wrote what he believed and didn’t care what people thought.” Phillips notes that Trilling, though a liberal, “often appeared to be somewhat conservative because he distinguished himself from the pro-Communist liberals.” Phillips adds: “Far from being a forerunner of neoconservatism,” as William Barrett and other neoconservatives have claimed, “Trilling stood for moderation and was against fanaticism of any kind.”

The following favorable review of Matthew Arnold appeared when Phillips was a thirty-two-year-old editor at Partisan Review. According to John Peale Bishop, the review appeared after the editors of Partisan Review de-

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