Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

34
“Reconsideration: Lionel Trilling,” The New Republic April 1977

Quentin Anderson

Quentin Anderson (1912—), professor emeritus of English at Columbia University since 1981, is the author of The American Henry James (1957), The Imperial Self: An Essay in American Literary and Cultural History (1971), and Making Americans: An Essay on Individualism and Money (1992).

Like Trilling, Anderson spent almost his entire career at Columbia University. He knew Trilling not just as an English Department colleague but as an undergraduate and graduate student, receiving his own B.A. in 1937 and receiving his Ph.D. in 1953 after attaining his M.A. at Harvard. Such writings as The Imperial Self, which obliquely attacked the counterculture and the excesses of radicalism and individualism, draw on Trilling’s work and bear close affinity with Trilling’s conservatism and indirect manner in Sincerity and Authenticity.

Indeed, The Imperial Self also exerted a major influence on the shape and direction of American literary studies. Along with the work of another Columbia colleague, Richard Chase, especially The American Novel and Its Tradition (1957), Anderson’s work greatly expanded upon Trilling’s views of the American literary tradition, particularly via analysis of our tradition of apocalyptic novels and outsized, vainglorious heroes. For instance, Anderson and Chase drew heavily on Trilling’s contrast posing the balanced, narrative vision of life and adjustment to reality represented in the English novel against the artistic disorder and unreconciled contradictions characterized by the classics of the American house of fiction, especially Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter and Melville’s Moby Dick.

Anderson co-edited (with his Columbia colleagues) and contributed an essay (on The Middle of the Journey) to a memorial volume on Trilling, Art, Politics, and Will: Essays in Honor of Lionel Trilling (1977). The following

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