Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

33
Excerpt from “The Duchess’ Red Shoes,” Partisan Review January–February 1953

Delmore Schwartz

Delmore Schwartz (1913–66) was a poet and short-story writer. His celebrated short story, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” was the featured work of fiction in the opening issue of the refounded Partisan Review in 1937. Schwartz also published two well-received books, the story collection The World Is a Wedding (1948) and Summer Knowledge (1960), a poetry collection that won the Bollingen Prize.

An associate editor of Partisan Review during 1943–47, Schwartz was also a personal acquaintance of Trilling. In his memoir, The Truants: Adventures among the Intellectuals (1982), William Barrett suggests that the essay below on Trilling—one of the first negative criticisms of Trilling from within the Partisan circle—reflects Schwartz’s anger toward Trilling for allegedly scuttling Schwartz’s chance to gain an appointment in the English Department at Columbia. The essay criticizes Trilling’s attention to manners in literary fiction as a veiled, elitist defense of the manners of the middle class.

Mr. Trilling writes with much care, lucidity and solicitude for all sides of every question. His style is one of extreme tact and judiciousness. But beneath the surface of Mr. Trilling’s style, a powerful point of view asserts itself.

In “Manners, Morals and the Novel,” as elsewhere, Mr. Trilling pleads for moral realism. It is mere carping to observe that no one in his right mind will admit that he is against moral realism and in favor of moral unrealism. For by moral realism Mr. Trilling means a view of life which is critical of moral idealism, and its twin, social idealism. Of course no moral idealist and no social idealist will admit for a split second that he is not also a moral realist: he would claim of course that he is morally more realistic than most.

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