Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

66
“Trilling’s Homage to Orwell,” adapted from The Politics of
Literary Reputation
1989

John Rodden

John Rodden (1956—) has taught at the University of Virginia and the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of The Politics of Literary Reputation: The Making and Claiming of “St. George” Orwell (1989).

In the selection below, Rodden discusses Trilling’s “homage to Orwell” in his moving, graceful introduction to Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1952). Orwell and Trilling never met; it was “the man within the work,” argues Rodden, with whom Trilling strongly identified. Trilling’s introduction to Homage to Catalonia constituted “veiled autobiography,” reflecting how deeply the life and work of Orwell, who had recently died in 1950, had “engaged Trilling’s imagination and spirit.”

I hear on all sides of the extent of my reputation—which some even call
“fame.” In England it seems to be very considerable, and even in this
country it is considerable, and in France there is some small trace, etc….
I contemplate this with astonishment. It is the thing I have most wanted
since childhood on.—Lionel Trilling, notebook entry, 23 July 1952

In his 1952 introduction to the American edition of Homage to Catalonia Lionel Trilling characterized George Orwell, in an oft-quoted passage, as “a virtuous man,” “a figure in our lives.” “We,” Trilling said, could be like him if only …

if we but surrendered a little of the cant that comforts us, if for a few
weeks we paid no attention to the little group with which we habitually
exchange opinions, if we took our chance of being wrong or inadequate, if

-421-

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