Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Lionel Trilling Remembrance

Ted told me that long ago an acquaintance of his, Rebecca Roth, was thinking about writing an essay about The Princess Casamassima. She heard that Lionel Trilling was also working on an essay, and wrote to him to ask if he thought she should continue. Trilling wrote back, saying yes, by all means, he thought she had something to contribute and sent her the only copy he had of his draft essay, asking that she send it back after reading it. She did send it back, but did not write her own essay, concluding that she did not in fact have much more to say that Trilling had not said better.

Ted contrasted this story with his own about Lionel Edel, according to Ted an unpleasant man, who he said complained to him that he had to rush into print an article about Henry James’ later years, because another scholar was writing about the same subject. Ted added the he couldn't imagine that Jacques Barzun would have acted as Edel apparently did.

In “George Orwell and the Politics of Truth” Trilling wrote about a somewhat similar occasion in which, however, he avoided sharing his thoughts:

It happened by a curious chance that on the day I agreed to write this essay as the introduction to the new edition of Homage to Catalonia, and indeed at the very moment that I was reaching for the telephone to tell the publisher that I would write it, a young man, a graduate student of mine, came in to see me, the purpose of his visit being to ask what I thought about his doing an essay on George Orwell. My answer, naturally, was ready, and when I had given it and we had been amused and pleased by the coincidence, he settled down for a chat about our common subject. But I asked him not to talk about Orwell. I didn’t want to dissipate in talk what ideas I had, and also I didn't want my ideas crossed with his, which were sure to be very good. So, for a while we merely exchanged bibliographical information, asking each other which of Orwell’s books we had read and which we owned. But then, as if he could not resist making at least one remark about Orwell himself, he said suddenly in a very simple and matter-of-fact way, “He was a virtuous man.” And we sat there agreeing at length about this statement, finding pleasure in talking about it.



Post a Comment

<< Home