Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

46
“‘We’ and Lionel Trilling,” The Listener
May 1966

Graham Hough

Graham Hough (1908–90) was a literary and cultural critic, a reviewer and essayist, and a poet. He wrote Image and Experience: Studies in a Literary Revolution (1960), The Dream and the Task: Literature and Morals in the Culture of Today (1963), and An Essay on Criticism (1966), among numerous other books. Among his chief literary interests were Spenser, Meredith, Coleridge, Wilde, and Yeats, on whom he wrote or edited books. Hough began teaching at Cambridge University in 1955 and was affiliated with the university as a fellow and professor for thirty-five years.

In the influential, mixed review below, Hough voiced objections—which would be heard louder and more frequently in the next decade in America— to Trilling’s expansive use of the pronoun “we” and to Trilling’s “monotonously apocalyptic” assessment of radical cultural trends (Trilling’s “adversary culture”).

Hough’s review was the first sharp assessment of Trilling’s work by a British critic in almost two decades. Unlike the case in the United States, however, the review did not portend a general British devaluation of Trilling’s work. Still, it registered the sea change in Trilling’s reputation during the mid-1960s: just three years earlier, Hough himself (in The Dream and the Task) had pronounced Trilling, with no qualifications, “the finest untechnical critic of our day” and “a general cultural mentor to modern America.”

Beyond Culture: the title of Lionel Trilling’s new book means two things. One, that men sometimes need to stand outside their own culture, to free themselves, if only temporarily, from the society to which they belong. Secondly, taking culture in a more exclusively aesthetic sense, it means that culture is not enough, that men need other values beyond those provided by

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