Cynthia Ozick on Lionel Trilling

Lionel Trilling, The Journey AbandonedThe New Republic has posted an article by Cynthia Ozick on Lionel Trilling on its Web site. In the piece, Ozick explores the impact of Trilling as a critic, his reception as a novelist, and the first-time publication of The Journey Abandoned: The Unfinished Novel.

Over the past few years there has been a resurgence of interest in Trilling. New York Review Books reissued his only published novel The Middle of the Journey and critics and scholars are once again turning back to his critical works. In assessing his prominence and achievement as a critic, Ozick writes, “No present-day magazine writer or blogger or reviewer or critic can aspire to what Trilling as essayist encompassed: his aim was nothing less than to define, and refine, civilization. He meant not only to comment or discriminate or analyze or judge, but to ‘stand for something.'”

Trilling’s status as a critic did not guarantee him success as a novelist. After the publication of his first novel The Middle Journey (1947), Trilling embarked on a second novel only to give up on it. However, while conducting in the archives at Columbia University, Geraldine Murphy discovered a portion of a second novel, now published as the The Journey Abandoned. Ozick writes, “[The Journey Abandoned], was left unfinished — cast out midway, after twenty-four chapters and 150 pages. News of it erupted like a secret exploding; yet all along it was hiding in plaine in Columbia’s Trilling archive…. Columbia University Press has now brought it out … with a valuable introduction by Geraldine Murphy, the scholar who uncovered it, and who serves as its impeccable editor.”

The novel traces the fortunes of a variety of characters involved in New York City’s vibrant literary scene. The book’s central character Vincent Hammell is drawn from Trilling’s own experience yet also indebted to the nineteenth-century bildungsroman, the literary form Trilling admired as a critic and emulated as a novelist. Readers will undoubtedly try to suss out clues to Trilling’s own life and friendships in the novel. In his review of the book, Morris Dickstein, writes “A genuinely revealing text by a famous critic, a man with quite an enigmatic personality, The Journey Abandoned is of great interest. The book adds significantly to our understanding of Lionel Trilling, who remains in many ways a fascinating figure.”

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