Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

42
“The Literary Criticism of Lionel Trilling,” Twentieth Century
January 1958

E. B. Greenwood

E. B. Greenwood (1933—) read for his undergraduate degree at Oxford University, where he wrote a thesis on Matthew Arnold. Following his graduation in 1954, he taught in New Zealand, at the University of Glasgow. He is presently a professor at the University of Kent. Greenwood is a contributor to numerous British literary magazines and the author of Tolstoy: The Comprehensive Vision (1975) and F. R. Leavis (1978), the latter of whom Greenwood pronounces in his monograph “the greatest critic of the twentieth century.”

The appearance of Professor Trilling’s A Gathering of Fugitives is a sufficient occasion for trying to get his critical work as a whole into some kind of perspective. He is obviously a critic who has his roots in the nineteenth century. The very form of his books, that of a loose collection of essays which have previously appeared at various times and in various places, is that of Matthew Arnold’s or Ernest Renan’s.1 It was indeed the critical biography of Arnold which he wrote in the 1930s that gave him his orientation in criticism and ever since that time he has been at pains to emphasize the continuity between nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature. He reaffirms that continuity in his latest book:

to read Kafka’s life and works under the aspect of the parental relations of,
say, Dombey and Son, of David Copperfield and of Little Dorrit (this last
especially pertinent with its overshadowing prisons and its Circumlocu-
tion Office in which no official may ever give an answer) is to understand
the perfect continuity of the twentieth century with the nineteenth.

Both the strength and weakness of Professor Trilling’s first two collections of essays lay in his overriding concern with ideas, with the drama of

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