Cover image for The moral obligation to be intelligent : selected essays
The moral obligation to be intelligent : selected essays
Trilling, Lionel, 1905-1975.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 2000.
Physical Description:
xvii, 572 pages ; 24 cm
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3539.R56 M6 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3539.R56 M6 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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With this re-publication of Lionel Trilling's finest essays, Leon Wieseltier offers readers of many generations a rich overview of Trilling's achievement. The exhilarating essays collected here include justly celebrated masterpieces -- on Mansfield Park and on "Why We Read Jane Austen"; on Twain, Dos Passos, Hemingway, Isaac Babel; on Keats, Wordsworth, Eliot, Frost; on "Art and Neurosis"; and the famous Preface to Trilling's book The Liberal Imagination.

Author Notes

Trilling has exerted a wide influence upon literature and criticism: as university professor at Columbia, where he taught English literature, and in his long association with Partisan Review, Kenyon Review, and the Kenyon School of English (now the School of Letters, Indiana University). He considered himself a true "liberal"---having a "vision of a general enlargement of [individual] freedom and rational direction in human life. Yet even liberalism, Trilling insisted, was simply one of several ways of organizing the complexity of life; however, it can reveal "variousness and possibility" just as literature, its subject, does. Trilling was viewed as a genteel moralist, but never would settle for mere simplification in literary analysis even if it led to understanding. (Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Trilling (1905^-74) was an enormously influential critic who vehemently eschewed simplistic or emotional responses to art or morality. The author of many works, he was especially exigent, to use one of his favorite words, in his essays, most of which have long been out of print. Republished now in this substantial volume edited and vividly introduced by Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor for the New Republic and author of Kaddish (1998), these essays and lectures, still fresh and provocative, cover topics ranging from Austen, James, and Frost to the connections between art, neurosis, and politics. Distrustful of rapture and keen on reading literature as, in Wieseltier's words, "documents for a moral history of culture," Trilling embraced complexity and nuance and held critical integrity in the highest esteem. His essays possess great intellectual weight, and their richness, deep seriousness of thought, and sonorous vocabulary and syntax are balanced by a lashing wit and remarkable energy. --Donna Seaman

Library Journal Review

Trilling (1905-74) epitomized the idea of the 1950s New York intellectual. In opposition to the prevailing theories of the New Critics, he adopted a broader approach: the study of the interconnections between literature and culture. This collection features 32 of his essays on a range of topics, from Jane Austen to George Orwell, from the Kinsey Report to Lolita. Also included are Trilling's seminal essays "Art and Neurosis" and "Manners, Morals, and the Novel." Initially appearing in periodicals like the Partisan Review and Commentary, most of these pieces were later reprinted in Trilling's essay collections, which included The Liberal Imagination, Beyond Culture, and the posthumously published Speaking of Literature and Society. Recommended for public and academic libraries, especially those lacking the earlier collections.--William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

With this volume, Trilling confirms his reputation as one of the US's most catholic literary critics. His interests range from Jane Austen to the Kinsey Report, from Keats to Lolita, from politics to questions about morality in literature. Regardless of the topic, Trilling's essays reflect his quest for knowledge for its own sake. Trilling's idealism is on display throughout: for example, writing about Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Trilling argues not only that the Mississippi River is divine but that it inspires "goodness" in the characters who submit to its power and fosters goodness in its readers by awakening their moral sense; in discussing Lolita, he dismisses notions of obscenity, argues that it is a study of obsessive love in the tradition of medieval romances, and asserts that readers cannot but sympathize with a pedophile who is treated so cruelly in his pursuit of ideal love. Wieseltier's brief introduction provides a useful overview of Trilling's ideas, but he should have edited the essays more rigorously (e.g., he does not correct typos that appeared in the Twain essay when it was published in The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society, 1950). On the whole, though, this is a delightful collection. Recommended for upper-division undergraduates and above and for general readers. J. McWilliams; Shepherd College