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Review Article A Life of Their Own: Lionel and Diana Trilling T.H. ADAMOWSKI Diana Trilling. The Beginning ofthe Journey: The Marriage ofDiana and Lionel Trilling New York: Harcourt Brace 1993. 442; us $13.95 Somewhere in our mental constitution is the demand for life as pure spirit. Lionel Trilling, 'William Dean Howells' 'When I first encountered the style of Lionel Trilling,' Harold Rosenberg once remarked, 'I looked for the joke and discovered there wasn't any' (Kazin, 47). Not without corrupting impact on one's response to Trilling's often mannered prose, Rosenberg's malicious comment is more devastatingly on target for the prose of Diana Trilling's memoir of her marriage. There the influence of Lionel's penchant for grand Arnoldian formulations finds a place to run amok: 'Mind,' 'our literary culture,' 'our national intellectual life,' etc. One recalls the famous question asked of Lionel's favourite, plural, personal pronouns: who is 'we' - or 'our'? The definitive answer, implicit in Diana's memoir, is as outsiders always suspected. 'They' were Diana, Lionel, and their Partisan Review friends and colleagues. The book concludes with a roll-call of their names: Rahv, Howe, Macdonald, Arendt, McCarthy, Hook, Wilson, Dupee, Cowley, and others. 'The list is of course,' Diana writes, 'much longer. People such as those, minds such as theirs, should be replaced. Our society needs them.' In the years since his death in 1975 Lionel's reputation has dimmed, and Diana's memoir is unlikely to do the work of redemption for him that seems generally to be its intention. She really never addresses the objections directed by the post-Trilling academic generation to her husband's criticism, objections to the inveterate qualifications that puzzled Rosenberg and that probablyprevented Lionel from ever 'engaging' himself politically, to the absence from his work of a pedagogy of 'reading,' to his preference for a prose accessible to any well-educated lawyer or physician, and, finally, to that fountainhead of all those other failings, his 'liberal humanism.,1 That Diana does not address such complaints is of no consequence to the merits of her book. Her husband's work is better defended by members of the generations that have succeeded him and by those waiting in the wings to succeed his inheritors. Diana's real concern is not with the history of twentieth-century UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 65, NUMBER 4, FALL 1996 LIONEL AND DIANA TRILLING 633 criticism but, rather, with the political adversaries she and Lionel had in common. If, near the end of her memoir, she steps back for a moment from this concern to remind us that Lionel's work was intended to warn us of the 'limits imposed upon us by the liberal orthodoxies' generally, Diana is more often intent on reminding readers of the darkest enemy of liberal New York humanism: Stalinism. It was Stalinism thatTrillingidentifiedas the main targetofthose still-astonishing essays in The Liberal Imagination that established him as the major American literary intellectual of his generation. Contemporary readers are likely to be puzzled by the reference. 'There were Stalinists in New York literary culture? Isn't this is a bit much?' However, in one ofherfew allusions to the contemporaryscene, Diana notes that in recent debates on the 'politicization' of literary studies we find the afterimages of 1930s and 1940s debates between 'liberals' on the one hand, and, on the other, a congeries of actually existing American Communists and fellow-travellers. What mobilized the energies of liberal humanism's cultural enemies was, in fact, a kind of Stalinism,and, as Diana insists, Stalinism was, in tum, a kind of liberalism: 'In The Liberal Imagination Lionel uses the word "liberal" in two opposing meanings: at moments he employs it in its traditional nineteenth-century connotation, while at other times he uses it to describe a politics of the left which has been corrupted by its submission, conscious or unconscious, to Stalinism. His own stand is in the traditional liberalism of the nineteenth century and ... he remains a traditional liberal until his death' (404). Indeed, in his 1947 novel, The Middle of the Journey, Lionel memorably sketched the twentieth-century faces of 'nineteenth-century' liberalism's principal adversary...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 632-647
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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