Lionel Trilling papers, 1899-1987
|Trilling, Lionel, 1905-1975.
|27 linear feet (27 linear feet 51 document boxes 3 index card boxes)
|Rare Book & Manuscript Library
|View CLIO Record and Request Material >>
Lionel Trilling was an intellectual force in the New York literary and political scene throughout much of the 20th Century.
A prolific writer, Trilling published literary criticism and cultural commentaries in journals such as The Nation, Commentary,
The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, and The Menorah Journal. Some of these publications were created by Trilling's
colleagues, a group of left-leaning, Anti-Stalinist critics and theorists the New York Intellectuals like Daniel Bell, Irving
Howe, Alfred Kazin, and Sidney Hook. These individuals were predominantly Jewish men who established themselves as a kind
of “American Bloomsbury” to quote Columbia University professor of journalism Nicholas Lemann. Outside of his writing, Trilling
was a popular and respected professor of English Literature at Columbia University. Together, with historian Jacques Barzun,
Trilling helped to establish some of the core interdisciplinary classes that were vital to the growth and development of Columbia
as a competitive academic environment. Lionel M. Trilling was born on July 4, 1905 in New York City to businessman David W.
Trilling and his wife Fannie (neé Cohen). As a child, Trilling attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx where he
was a colleague of Countee Cullen. At school Trilling participated as a member of the Book Review Squad, the Reporters Squad,
and president of Papyrus. He also wrote for the school publication, Magpie as well as co-authored a class play. In 1921 Lionel
Trilling entered Columbia University, an institution that was to be his intellectual home for the rest of his life. Trilling
graduated from Columbia with his A.B. in 1925 and his M.A. in 1926. For the next eleven years Trilling worked toward a doctorate
in English Literature. However, this path was interrupted by work. He did not complete the Ph.D. until 1938. Trilling left
New York to be an Instructor of English at the University of Wisconsin from 1926 to 1927. Upon his return, Trilling began
to date a recent Radcliffe graduate named Diana Rubin. Rubin was also a New Yorker, having been brought up in Manhattan. She
briefly worked with her mother, Cecelia, as an interior designer while she pursued a career as a classical singer. Illness
forced Rubin to abandon that goal. She and Lionel married on October 25, 1929. A couple of years later, Trilling began teaching
at Columbia University. His initial position was as an instructor and in 1939 he was made an assistant professor. From 1939
until 1944 he held this position and was promoted in 1944 to associate professor. Trilling was the first Jewish professor
in the department to receive tenure. Throughout his career, Trilling was extremely involved with his undergraduate students.
Along with his colleague and close friend, Jacques Barzun, Trilling reinstated a series of interdisciplinary or “general education”
courses. With Barzun, Trilling taught a portion of the course entitled, Colloquium on Important Books, in which he covered
cultural history and criticism of the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1969, Trilling was given the title of University Professor,
a post he held until his retirement from teaching in 1975. Although he was an active faculty member, Trilling published quite
regularly. His dissertation"Matthew Arnold", was published a year after he completed the degree. This was followed by another
study"E.M. Forster" in 1943. Other publications include a novel"The Middle of the Journey" (1949), several volumes of short
stories; the most well-known of these is "Of This Time, Of That Place" (1940). However, Trilling is best known for his collections
of critical essays, in particular "The Liberal Imagination" (1950)"The Opposing Self" (1955), and "Beyond Culture" (1965).
Trilling was interested in Sigmund Freud as a cultural icon as well as using Freudian psychology in the analysis of literature.
Two books that focused on these themes were "Freud and the Crisis of Our Culture" (1955) and "The Life and Work of Sigmund
Freud" (1962). Please note that Trilling's writings encompassed decades of work and that countless bibliographies have been
attempted and often abandoned due to the sheer size of his oeuvre. Trilling did not spend all of his time strictly at Columbia.
He was a founder, with John Crowe Ransom and F.O. Matthiessen, of the Kenyon School of Letters, now referred to as The School
of Letters, Indiana University. Beginning in 1951 as a summer program, the school expanded to a full-year program in 1961,
with a focus on literary theory and criticism. Information concerning The School of Letters may be found in the Indiana University
School of Letters Director's Records finding aid located in the Indiana University Archives. Throughout his life, Lionel Trilling
maintained a high level of professional achievement and this was reflected in the many academic accolades he received. He
served as the George Eastman Visiting Professor at Oxford University from 1964-1965. There, Trilling lectured at the university
and other academic and intellectual institutions as well as taught classes. He was accompanied by Diana Trilling who, by this
time, had firmly established herself as a serious literary and cultural critic and penned for a variety of journals, including
"Partisan Review""The New York Times Book Review""Redbook""The Nation""The New Leader", and "McCall's". She had also recently
published a book entitled"Claremont Essays". They were joined by their son, James Lionel Trilling. He was born in 1949 and
at that point was a student at Exeter. Four years later, Trilling was the Charles Eliot Norton Visiting Professor at Harvard
University. In addition to these two positions, he held honorary doctorates from Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut (1955),
Harvard University (1962), Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland Ohio (1968), Northwestern University (1963), Leicester
University (1973), Brandeis University (1974) and Yale University (1974). Trilling was awarded the Alexander Hamilton Medal
from Brandeis University in 1968 and gave the first annual Jefferson Lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities
(NEH) in 1972. He was a Guggenheim Fellow from 1948 to 1949 and received a second grant that he was unable to use in 1975.
While he was active in his field, Trilling was a member of the Modern Language Association, the American Committee for Cultural
Freedom of which both he and Diana Trilling resigned once the organization redirected its mission, The National Institute
of Arts and Letters, and The American Academy of Arts and Sciences. As the 1960s unfolded, student unrest grew on American
campuses, in particular Kent State and Columbia University. Although Trilling was teaching at that time, he, like most members
of the faculty, was unaware of the growing dissatisfaction among the students and the community of Harlem. Always considered
a driving force behind New York intellectualism, he would later be criticized for never publicly recognizing the importance
of the social movements that occurred during the decade as well as the racial components that were driving the majority of
them. Upon his retirement from Columbia, Trilling was awarded the title of Professor Emeritus. Shortly after, he was taken
ill with a fast moving form of cancer that had progressed undetected for too long. By November of that year, he had died.
Diana Trilling published a twelve-volume set of his writings from 1977 to 1979. She also wrote "The Beginning of the Journey:
The Marriage of Diana and Lionel Trilling", a memoir of the first years of their life together. Diana Trilling died of cancer
in October of 1996.
Scope and Contents
The Lionel Trilling Papers document the professional work and personal life of Lionel Trilling (1905-1975), the prolific literary
critic and Columbia University Professor of English Literature. This collection was acquired upon his death in 1975. The bulk
of the records consist of his many writings in the form of articles, essays, lectures, short stories, and book reviews. Correspondence
with other prominent writers and intellectuals of the 20th century, family members, editors and publishers comprises the second
largest series in the collection. Also contained are records concerning Trilling's work as a professor at Columbia University,
as well as his involvement in various outside professional organizations. There is a small amount of personal documents and
articles about Trilling's life and writings, including his detailed journals, comprised of his personal thoughts and intellectual
queries. Some of the items in this collection were originally located in the archives of his wife, Diana Trilling. Since their
personal and professional lives intersected constantly, records concerning him, such as photographs and correspondence with
his publishers, may be found in her collection as well.