Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

7
“The Modern Dilemma,” The Spectator
April 1939

Edward Sackville-West

A fringe member of the Bloomsbury circle (his cousin was Vita SackvilleWest), Edward Sackville-West (1901–65) was a novelist, art and music critic, and literary odd-job man. His most widely read novel was Simpson (1931); he also translated Rilke and wrote a biography of Thomas De Quincy.

In 1939, at the time of this review of Matthew Arnold, Sackville-West had joined the BBC, becoming a radio producer; his program And So To Bed, which consisted of readings of poetry and prose, was a wartime favorite with the British public. One of his most notable successes was his 1943 radio play The Rescue, a melodrama based on The Odyssey, to which Benjamin Britten contributed the musical score.

In the following rave review, Sackville-West praises Matthew Arnold as “thrillingly interesting” and “the most brilliant” work of English-language criticism of the 1930s.

This was the moment to remind us of Matthew Arnold, for his problems were, mutatis mutandis, ours, and his resolution of them, however partial, a very important step in the integration of Action and Contemplation. Mr. Trilling has seen that to tell Arnold’s story usefully must be to concentrate on the very complex evolution of the inner man; this he has done, touching lightly but sufficiently on the exterior events, in a book that deserves to be called wonderful—for its clarity and brilliance, its profundity and scholarship, its fairness and wit. In all its 406 admirably written pages there is not one flat sentence—a considerable feat. Thrillingly interesting, this book is the work of a wise and clever man who has read widely and never failed to connect what he read.

-58-

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