Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

19
“The Vexing Problem of Orientation,” The New York Times
Book Review
October 1947

Mark Schorer

A novelist and literary critic, Mark Schorer (1908–77) is best remembered for his literary biography, Sinclair Lewis: An American Life (1961).

A professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley for two decades (1945–65), Schorer also published several novels and wrote or edited critical works on several nineteenth- and twentieth-century British authors, including Ford Madox Ford, D. H. Lawrence, George Eliot, Charlotte Bronte, and Jane Austen. His Criticism: The Foundations of Modern Literary Judgment was first published in 1948. A sweeping collection of fiftyfive original selections ranging from the criticism of Plato to E. M. Forster, it constituted one of the first English-language anthologies of the history of literary criticism. Schorer was the lead editor for the volume, whose searching exploration of the functions and ultimate object of criticism raised the postwar generation’s estimate of the importance of criticism. Trilling contributed “Freud and Literature” to the original edition (an essay that first appeared in The Kenyon Review in 1940).

Schorer and Trilling were literary academics of the same generation who came to national prominence in the early postwar era. They admired each other’s work, were personally acquainted from their summer school stints as visiting faculty at the Kenyon School of Letters, and shared similar interests in modern literature and similar aspirations to be public intellectuals. In the flattering review below, published shortly before Schorer established himself as a major critic with the publication of William Blake: The Politics of Vision (1946), Schorer commends Trilling’s delicate balance of moral and dramatic elements in forming his characters in The Middle of the Journey. Already in 1946, in his review of The Partisan Reader (which Trilling intro-

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