Trilling, Lionel

Trilling, Lionel,

1905–75, American critic, author, and teacher, b. New York City, grad. Columbia (B.A., 1925; M.A., 1926; Ph.D., 1938). He began teaching literature at Columbia in 1932 and became a full professor in 1948. His essays—collected as The Liberal Imagination (1950), The Opposing Self (1955), A Gathering of Fugitives (1956), and Beyond Culture (1965)—combine social, psychological, and political insights with literary criticism and scholarship. Other works include a number of short stories and a novel, Middle of the Journey (1947); Matthew Arnold (1939), a pioneering use of Freudian psychology in analyzing a public figure and his work; E. M. Forster (1943); The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (1962); and Sincerity and Authenticity (1972). His wife, Diana Trilling (Diana Rubin Trilling), 1905–96, b. New York City, was a literary and cultural critic. Long a reviewer for the Nation magazine, she collected many of her pieces in Reviewing the Forties (1978). Her works also include We Must March My Darlings (1977), an essay collection; Mrs. Harris (1981), a study of and meditation on a murder trial; and The Beginning of the Journey (1993), a memoir of the Trillings and their marriage.


See the posthumous collections of his essays, The Last Decade (1979, ed. by D. Trilling), and The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent (2000, ed. by L. Wieseltier), and his unfinished novel, The Journey Abandoned (2008, ed. by G. Murphy); studies by R. Boyers (1977), M. Krupnick (1986), D. T. O'Hara (1988), J. Rodden, ed. (1999), and A. Kirsch (2011); biography of Diana Trilling by N. Robins (2017).

Trilling, Lionel

(1905–75) literary critic; born in New York City. Long associated with Columbia University as a student (B.A., M.A., Ph.D.) and teacher (1931–75), he was a literary critic of international stature and held guest professorships at various universities in the U.S.A. and abroad. A liberal humanist, he equated literary criticism with moral evaluation and cultural criticism. He wrote prolifically on 19th-and 20th-century writers, publishing important studies of Matthew Arnold (1939) and E. M. Forster (1943); his collected essays include The Liberal Imagination (1950), Beyond Culture (1965), and Sincerity and Authenticity (1972). His one novel, The Middle of the Journey (1957), was regarded as having been inspired by events in the life of Whittaker Chambers. His wife (m. 1929) was critic Diana Trilling.
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Publishing a big book on Trilling, Lionel Trilling: The Work of Liberation (1988), I may be more acutely sensitive to this specific omission than others might be, I admit.