Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

29
“Liberalism, History, and Mr. Trilling,” The Nation
May 1930

Irving Howe

Irving Howe (1920–93) was a distinguished literary critic and a vocal democratic socialist and radical humanist. Howe wrote or edited works of literary criticism on Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, Thomas Hardy, Edith Wharton, George Gissing, George Orwell, and numerous other British and American authors; his most influential critical work was Politics and the Novel (1957). Howe’s most widely read works of nonfiction were World of Our Fathers: The Journey of the Eastern European Jews to America and the Life They Foundand Made (1976), which became a national bestseller and received the National Book Award, and his intellectual autobiography, A Margin of Hope (1983).

Although Howe taught in the English departments of Brandeis University, Stanford University, and Hunter College of the City University of New York for four decades, he considered himself not an academic but an intellectual and man of letters (which included his editing of Dissent, a quarterly devoted to democratic socialism that he co-founded in 1954). A frequent contributor to Partisan Review and a key member of the generation of New York intellectuals that followed Trilling, Howe was, despite political disagreements that caused a rift in their relationship during the 1950s and ’60s, a friendly acquaintance of Trilling and a lifelong admirer of his work. The rift was occasioned by Howe’s sharp criticism in Partisan Review of Trilling’s conservative liberalism (“This Age of Conformity,” 1954) and Howe’s outspoken, dissenting radicalism during the 1950s and early ’60s. Before and after this rift, the two men engaged each other’s work in public as well as privately: Trilling reviewed Howe’s Sherwood Anderson (1951); Howe reviewed several of Trilling’s books. Howe also contributed an essay on Kipling’s Kim to the Trilling memorial volume, Art, Politics, and Will: Essays in Honor of Lionel Trilling (1977).

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