Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

65
“Lionel Trilling and the Agency of Terror,” Partisan Review
winter 1987

Lewis P. Simpson

One of the most significant critics of American literature of the South, as well as of American literature generally, Lewis P. Simpson (1916—) is the author of The Man of Letters in New England and the South: Essays on the History of the Literary Vocation in America (1973), The Dispossessed Garden: Pastoral and History in Southern Literature (1975), The Brazen Face of History: Studies in the Literary Consciousness in America (1980), and The Fable of the Southern Writer (1994), among numerous other books.

Simpson’s main preoccupation has been the fate of the South, especially its Civil War defeat and failure to grapple with the blood guilt associated with slavery and miscegenation. Chiefly a literary historian and essayist, Simpson has written extensively and edited books focused on the Souths leading men of letters, including Thomas Jefferson, William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, Walker Percy, and Cleanth Brooks.

Simpson spent most of his academic career in the English department at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he is now professor emeritus. An influential figure in the development of the academic field of American literary studies generally and the cultural criticism of the American South in particular, he has served since 1963 as co-editor and advisory editor of The Southern Review, which was founded by Brooks and Warren. Simpson also served as general editor of the Library of Southern Civilization series during the 1960s and ’70s.

Simpson respected Trilling’s work and assigned it for review during his years as co-editor of the Southern Review. Although the two men were not close, theirs was a mutually respectful relationship of a senior to a junior man of letters. In works such as Mind and the American Civil War: A Meditation on Lost Causes (1989), Simpson shows his affinity with Trilling’s think-

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