Lionel Trilling bigraphy, stories - American academic

Lionel Trilling : biography

04 July 1905 - 05 November 1975

Lionel Mordecai Trilling (July 4, 1905 – November 5, 1975)

 was an American literary critic, author, and teacher.  With wife Diana Trilling, he was a member of  the New York Intellectuals and contributor to the Partisan Review. Although he did not establish a school of literary criticism, he is one of the leading U.S. critics of the twentieth century who traced the contemporary cultural, social, and political implications of literature. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he has been a subject of continued interest. 

Works by Trilling


  • The Middle of the Journey (1947)
  • Of This Time, of That Place and Other Stories (1979, published posthumously)
  • The Journey Abandoned: The Unfinished Novel (2008) (published posthumously, edited by Geraldine Murphy)

Non-Fiction and Essays

  • Matthew Arnold (1939)
  • E. M. Forster: A Study (1943)
  • The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society (1950)
  • The Opposing Self: Nine Essays in Criticism (1955)
  • Freud and the Crisis of Our Culture (1955)
  • A Gathering of Fugitives (1956)
  • Beyond Culture: Essays on Literature and Learning (1965)
  • Sincerity and Authenticity (1972), a collection of the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures given at Harvard in 1969
  • Mind in the Modern World: The 1972 Thomas Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities (1973)
  • The Last Decade: Essays and Reviews, 1965-75 (1979, published posthumously)
  • Speaking of Literature and Society (1980, published posthumously)
  • The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent: Selected Essays - Edited by Leon Wieseltier (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2001; Northwestern University Press, 2008, published posthumously)

Prefaces, Afterwards, and Commentaries

  • Preface to Isaac Babel's Collected Stories (Penguin) edition (1957)
  • The Unpossessed, by Tess Slesinger (for 1965 reprint of 1934 novel) - afterword by Trilling
  • Preface and commentaries to The Experience of Literature (1967)

Academic life

Lionel Trilling was born in Queens, New York City, the son of Fannie (née Cohen), who was from London, and David Trilling, a tailor from Bialystok in Poland. His family was Jewish. In 1921, he graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School, and, at age sixteen, entered Columbia University, thus beginning a lifelong association with the university. In 1925, he graduated from Columbia College, and, in 1926, earned a Master of Arts degree at the university. He then taught at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and at Hunter College.

In 1932, he returned to Columbia pursue his doctoral degree in English literature and to teach literature. He earned his doctorate in 1938 with a dissertation about Matthew Arnold that he later published. He was promoted to assistant professor the following — Columbia's first tenured Jewish professor in the English department; he was promoted to full professor in 1948.

Lionel Trilling became the George Edward Woodberry Professor of Literature and Criticism in 1965. He was a popular instructor and for thirty years taught Columbia’s Colloquium on Important Books, a course about the relationship between literature and cultural history, with Jacques Barzun. His students included Lucien Carr, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, John Hollander, Cynthia Ozick, Carolyn Gold Heilbrun, Louis Menand, and Norman Podhoretz.

Trilling was the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University for academic year 1969-70. In 1972, he was selected by the National Endowment for the Humanities to deliver the first Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, described as "the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities." at NEH Website (Retrieved January 22, 2009). Trilling was a senior fellow of the Kenyon School of English and subsequently a senior fellow of the Indiana School of Letters.

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Living octopus

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