Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

21
“The Political Imagination,” Partisan Review
January 1948

Wylie Sypher

Wylie Sypher (1905–90) taught English and served as an administrator at Simmons College in Boston for five decades. He was the author of Enlightened England (1947), Four Stages of Renaissance Style (1955), Comedy: An Essay on Comedy (1956), Rococo to Cubism in Art and Literature (1960), Loss of the Self (1962), and Literature and Technology: The Alien Vision (1968), among other books.

A contemporary of Trilling, Sypher also frequently addressed the topic of the relations among literature, society, and identity, and he wrote as a public intellectual, publishing his books with major commercial houses and contributing to a wide range of literary periodicals.

In the following review, Sypher commends Trilling as a moralist and liberal critic of postwar liberalism in the Arnoldian spirit.

Gide once noted that, if skepticism is sometimes the beginning of wisdom, it is often the end of art. Mr. Trilling’s wisdom as well as his art is the consequence of his skepticism—his disenchantment with the liberal ideologies of the thirties and his exploration of the dark and uncertain business of the ego that eventually expresses itself in opinions, positions held, in all our devotions to abstract systems. Laskell in this novel, like Strether in the Jamesian fiction, is one of the persons upon whom none of our present malaise is lost as he returns to life from the great white peace of his sickness, and, during his summer in Connecticut, emancipates himself turn by purgatorial turn from the unexamined attitudes of those about him: the liberal optimism of his host Arthur Croom, the hard social idealism of Nancy Croom, the possessive benevolence of Kermit Simpson, the fierce revolutionary program of Maxim and his equally fierce defection to religion. The

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