Trilling, Diana (1905–1996)

views updated

Trilling, Diana (1905–1996)

A trenchant observer of the New York City literary and cultural scene from the 1930s through the 1970s who emerged from the shadow of her husband to become a notable and iconoclastic critic in her own right. Pronunciation: TRIL-ing. Born Diana Rubin in New York City on July 21, 1905; died, age 91, in New York City on October 23, 1996; daughter of Joseph Rubin (a businessman) and Sadie Helene (Forbert) Rubin; had one sister and one brother; attended Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn; Radcliffe College, A.B., 1925; married Lionel Trilling (a critic and professor of English), on June 12, 1929 (died November 5, 1975); children: James Lionel Trilling.

Met Lionel Trilling (1927); worked as a fiction reviewer for The Nation (1942–49); became freelance writer (1949); chaired the Committee for Cultural Freedom (1955–57); was recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship (1950–51); columnist for New Leader (1957–59); received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Rockefeller Foundation (1977–79); nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for her book Mrs. Harris: The Death of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor (1981).

Selected writings:

Claremont Essays (Harcourt, 1964); (essays) We Must March My Darlings: A Critical Decade (Harcourt, 1977); Reviewing the Forties (fiction criticism, introduction by Paul Fussell, Harcourt, 1978); Mrs. Harris: The Death of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor (Harcourt, 1982); The Beginning of the Journey: The Marriage of Diana and Lionel Trilling (Harcourt, 1993).


(and author of introduction) The Viking Portable D.H. Lawrence (Viking 1947); (and author of introduction) The Selected Letters of D.H. Lawrence (Farrar, Straus, 1958); Lionel Trilling, The Last Decade: Essays and Reviews, 1965–1975 (1979); Lionel Trilling, Prefaces to the Experience of Literature (c. 1979); Lionel Trilling, Of This Time, of That Place, and Other Stories (1979); The Uniform Edition of the Works of Lionel Trilling (Harcourt, 1979); Lionel Trilling, Speaking of Literature and Society (1980).


(author of introduction) Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer (Crowell-Collins, 1962). Contributor of essays and reviews on literary, sociological, and political subjects to numerous periodicals, including Partisan Review, The New York Times, Harper's, Vogue, Esquire, Commentary, Newsweek, and Times Literary Supplement. Member of editorial board, American Scholar.

"I regard the whole of my adult life as having been lived in an anxious world," Diana Trilling wrote in a retrospective on her life and marriage. "This began with the economic breakdown of the thirties and has been steadily reinforced with the creation of the nuclear bomb and its threat to the survival of the planet." The great events and major writers of the 1930s through the 1970s—the era of the Depression, European dictators, World War II, and the Cold War—were the major topics in the essays and reviews of Trilling. Despite the fact that she did not begin her writing career until some ten years after her marriage to literary writer and critic Lionel Trilling, Diana Trilling established her own reputation as a perceptive and often witty cultural and literary critic.

Trilling's father Joseph Rubin was born in the Russian section of Poland and raised in the Warsaw ghetto; he came to the United States because he wanted to avoid serving in the armies of the tsar. Knowing only Yiddish, he sold macaroons on the Staten Island ferry during his first few months in his newly adopted country. As his English improved, he sold straw braid for women's millinery and eventually became owner of a plant which manufactured straw braid. Trilling's mother Sadie Forbert Rubin , who had been born in rural Poland some 50 miles from Warsaw, "left me a substantial legacy of determination," Trilling later wrote, adding that her mother was more "volatile and elusive" than her father.

Trilling traced her own outspokenness to both of her parents, noting that "the lust for honesty in my family was raving and incurable," even where "a touch of untruth would have been considerably more agreeable." After she had become a literary critic, Trilling noted that she could not remember her mother's reading a newspaper or her father's reading many books, although she did recall that one particular book, Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, had become her father's "secular Talmud."

"There was little religious observance in my childhood home," Trilling wrote; her mother had "grown to adulthood scarcely knowing that she was Jewish" and her father had "no religious upbringing." Saturday was not observed as a special day. "I had," said Trilling, "the childhood of an American who happened to be a Jew, and not that of a Jew who happened to be an American."

Trilling observed that unlike many Jewish émigrés to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, she and her future husband

"had our membership in the middle class secured for us by our parents," who, while not wealthy, were "comfortable." Until she was nine years old, the family lived in Westchester, first in Larchmont, where the family raised their own fruits and vegetables and kept chickens in their backyard, and then in New Rochelle. In 1914, Joseph Rubin had become prosperous enough that he decided to take his family on an extended trip to Europe. World War I broke out while the Rubins were on the European continent, and the ship that they had taken from New York, the French luxury liner France, was no longer available for a return trip. Although the family was able to book passage on a British liner instead, the return journey was tense, with the ship running without lights in order to escape the notice of submarines. That experience, plus the murder of a beloved neighborhood Portuguese woman, were the only real traumas that Trilling could remember from her childhood and youth.

Upon returning to the United States, the family moved to Brooklyn, where, as a student in Brooklyn's Erasmus Hall High School, Trilling helped a black student government candidate challenge the school's two-party system by creating a third party. After high school graduation, Sadie Rubin wanted her daughter to attend a college in Brooklyn. Trilling, who preferred to attend Radcliffe, was supported by Joseph. She did poorly in her first months at Radcliffe, a situation that she attributed to the fact that, since it had not been necessary for her study in high school, she chose not to attend most of her college classes and did not do the assigned readings. Shocked to receive solid "F's" on her first midterm grades, she was turned around by a series of stern warnings from her history teacher. Before graduation, she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She was not the first of her family to attend college—her brother Samuel had gone briefly to Cornell—but she was the first in her family to graduate.

Graduating during the decade following World War I, Trilling reported that she felt the social pressure that educated young women should "do something," but she concluded that she lacked the same "firm sense of goal" that drove her male colleagues to become directors of museums or "curators of our country." When a professor offered her jobs as either an assistant director of Harvard's Fogg Museum or as the founding member of a fine arts department at Mt. Holyoke College, she turned them down, preferring to work in New York City. Except for time spent in London and at Oxford University, New York would become her permanent residence.

Since Trilling's parents had moved during her college years from their Brooklyn home to an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Trilling chose to apply for jobs at the Metropolitan Museum and at the new Frick Art Reference Library. Despite strong recommendations from the Harvard University art department, neither institution granted Trilling an interview, a situation she saw as her first real brush with anti-Semitism. "I was," she observed, "among the fortunate of this century in having little direct experience with anti-Semitism; the little that I experienced was concentrated into my first year back in New York after I graduated from college."

Trilling's mother died in 1926 after being bedridden at home for an extended period of time; an emergency blood transfusion, then a rarity, did not save her. After the death of their mother, Trilling and her sister Cecilia Rubin ran their father's home. Joseph began to indulge his love of travel, taking Diana and her sister with him on trips through Canada and the Midwest, Florida, Cuba, and South America. After their trip through South America, Trilling took a job with the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) as an assistant to the writer-producer of a children's radio serial. During a visit to one of the city's speakeasies, Clifton Fadiman and his first wife Pauline Rush Fadiman , a couple prominent in the city's literary circles, introduced her to aspiring writer Lionel Trilling. In 1929, Diana Rubin and Lionel Trilling decided that she would give up her NBC job and they would marry. They were wed on June 12, 1929, in her father's apartment, in a "traditional" Jewish wedding ceremony that, she reported, "did violence to our secularism, and certainly mine."

Joseph Rubin, who had taken out a substantial bank loan for his business shortly before the stock-market collapse of 1929, was deeply affected by the Depression. The bank that took over the business put her brother Samuel in charge. Although her father had scrupulously run a union shop, the bank required an open shop, and Trilling for many years claimed that she could still hear the boos from old union employees. Her father died in 1932.

The Trillings' first apartment was in Greenwich village. When Lionel began work as part-time editor and fiction writer for the Menorah Journal, Diana discovered that she was not enamored with his friends and associates. "With marriage I entered Lionel's world," she later wrote. "My career as a critic still lay in the future but unconsciously I may have been preparing for it." She heard rumors that the staff of the Menorah Journal looked unfavorably on her manner of dress, on the furnishings she chose for their apartment, and on the general idea of "Lionel's marriage to a West End middle class girl." She found many intellectuals of the literary world overbearing and arrogant, and she believed that they took the natural "agreeableness" of the Trillings to be weakness or lack of depth. "They were not easy companions," she noted. "For an intellectual, the mind is primarily an instrument of speculation. It operates in the sphere where the consequences of thought are not necessarily put to the test of reality, as they would be, say, in a scientific laboratory or in politics."

In my view a liberal refuses to tolerate any form of totalitarianism, whether of the Right or Left. Democracy is my minimal demand. You cannot have dictatorship and at the same time have democracy, and you cannot have liberalism without democracy. There it is: the logic seems obvious to me, and yet it has been the most confused issue in the modern intellectual world.

—Diana Trilling

The Depression deeply affected the Trillings' early years as a married couple. "We foolishly supposed," she wrote, "that if we rejected the economic authority of society we were immune to its danger." Lionel's father lost his business, and both of Lionel's parents would come to rely on their son for financial support, which the Trillings provided from Lionel's teaching salary at Hunter College and subsequent fellowship from Columbia University for $1,800, followed by a salary of $2,400 as an instructor in the Columbia University English department. "We became the parents," Diana wrote. "They became the children."

Before their marriage, Diana had aspirations to become an opera singer, and she continued to "practice every day," even in their "honeymoon cabin." "My technique was disciplined but I was not," she observed; "not enough for a professional success." She was forced to abandon her hopes because of a thyroid operation which was performed in Boston shortly after her marriage.

In 1932, the same year that Lionel was made an instructor in the English department of Columbia University, she began to work for the National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners, acknowledging that her motivation was not "so much of a political impulse as a need to escape the fear of being alone." Although her husband also became a member, her work on the NCDPP proved to be a disillusioning experience. She argued openly with her colleagues over the committee's "exploitation" of African-American composer W.C. Handy, who was used to raise money for financial support of the "Scottsboro Boys," a group of nine young black males convicted of the rape of two white women (Ruby Bates and Victoria Price ) in Alabama. Eight were sentenced to death. Put in charge of a "subsidiary committee" entitled the Prisoners Relief Fund and told to sign her name to a fund-raising letter asking for contributions for the families of the "Scottsboro Boys," Trilling was stunned to learn that a government relief office was already providing such help. She became convinced that many of the funds raised by the committee were, instead, being used for political purposes by the Communist Party.

Trilling later wrote that the committee was essentially a "Communist front organization," as, she came to believe, were many organizations on the political Left during the 1930s. The Depression, she wrote, was not only a great "leveller" but made "Communists out of many Americans…. It was no longer a mark of moral superiority for writers and artists to stay aloof from politics; on the contrary it was imperative that they have political opinions and make them known."

Much of her writing during the 1930s and 1940s focused on such organizations. Trilling came to believe that the:

proliferation of Communist front organizations was a significant political and cultural phenomenon of the 1930s and 1940s. With their imposing lists of sponsors—writers, artists, Hollywood and Broadway celebrities, lawyers, teachers, clerics—the Communist-front organizations were for two decades a formidable instrument of Communist propaganda in the western democracies.

She also asserted:

In the universities and throughout the publishing and entertainment industries [there was] a chain of Communist command … in place to see that the preferences of the Soviet Union found their suitable cultural expression and that the supporters of Communism were justly rewarded.

Trilling traced her disillusionment, and her husband's disenchantment, with Communism to Stalin's foreign policy toward Hitler's Germany, reporting:

All of us at the NCDPP … waited expectantly for the Communist Party and the Social Democratic party of Germany to unite in opposition to the Nazis. The fact that this union was never permitted and that the workers of Germany, even the most politically conscious of them, the Communists, did nothing to stop Hitler, significantly contributed to our suspicion of Stalin and thus to our impending break with the radical movement.

The Trillings caused a stir in New York City political and literary circles when they resigned from the Committee in 1933, and the controversy widened when they praised Stalin's great rival Leon Trotsky, who had been forced to flee the Soviet Union in 1929. "For a time," she reported, Lionel "and I came to admire Trotsky as a ready platform on which to launch our criticism of the official party." Lionel drew an unfavorable portrait of Stalin in his book The Middle of the Journey, and both Trillings became convinced that "Communism was not the fulfillment of an idea. It was itself a movement of power, and like all movements of power it was fed by ambition and self-interest."

When the writer Mary McCarthy later referred to her as a "Trotskyist," Trilling replied, "Neither Lionel nor I was ever a Trotskyist … but as between Stalin and Trotsky, we for a long time took the side" of the latter. Yet the Trillings' insistence during the 1930s and 1940s that Stalinist influences permeated what they came to call the "radical movement" would involve them in controversy among New York City litterateurs for years to come.

Trilling was given an opportunity to publish many of her political opinions in 1941, when Margaret Marshall , literary editor of The Nation, telephoned Lionel and asked if he could recommend someone to write brief unsigned fiction notes for her magazine. At Diana's urging, he submitted her name. Diana Trilling had been a campus reporter for the Boston Herald as a freshman at Radcliffe, but she had only written some unpublished plays and stories out of boredom with the "life into which I had been catapulted by marriage." Thinking that her writing might be an embarrassment to her husband, some friends of the Trillings advised her to write under her maiden name, but her husband insisted that she write as his wife. Her work for The Nation required her to select, from up to 50 books a month which arrived at the magazine, which ones would be reviewed. Lacking an office, she worked at home, stacking books on her living-room table.

Trilling, who would be a fiction critic for The Nation for seven years, believed that The Nation was essentially "two magazines": a "front" and editorial section, which she believed was biased toward Communism, and the literary section in the rear, which came to reflect her branch of anti-Communism. While she reviewed the works of a plethora of literary figures—ranging from Jean-Paul Sartre to Eudora Welty —she also mixed political commentary in the reviews. Despite pressure to give favorable treatment to "our Soviet ally during World War II," she argued that the "fine victories of the Soviet army" did not justify the "sins of Communism." "As a critic of The Nation in the 40s, I would write as an avowed anti-Communist," she recalled, "and as a free-lance writer after I left The Nation I frequently dealt with the issues of Communism and anti-Communism."

Many of her articles eventually appeared in her collections Claremont Essays (1964); We Must March My Darlings: A Critical Decade (1977); and Reviewing the Forties (1978). Although most of Trilling's articles were on political or literary topics, one, entitled "Lionel Trilling: A Jew at Columbia," was personal. It portrayed, in her words, a time when "Lionel came perilously close to losing his Columbia position, even though he did a substantial number of reviews, some literary essays, and spent much time on his dissertation." The article detailed, triumphantly, how he was able to reverse the decision. Trilling's independent mind—her iconoclasm—was evident in her insistence that anti-Semitism not be overrated as a reason for Lionel's troubles, even though he was told that "as a Jew, a Marxist and Freudian" he could not be "happy in his Columbia job and his appointment would not be renewed." Trilling's article attributed the reversal largely to the peculiarities of intellectuals—she was convinced that her husband's new assertiveness impressed colleagues who considered him too quiet—and to her husband's boldness in sending a copy of his latest book to the president of the university.

In 1950, no longer at The Nation, she began writing criticism for the Partisan Review, where she became known for her independent viewpoints. During the early years of PR, she noted, "Lionel and I had many fundamental disagreements with the positions it took. We had not for a long time been Communists…. We did not equate Churchill and Roosevelt with Hitler, as PR did, and far from supporting Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler at Munich, were much opposed to it." She also commented, "We did not believe that the war against Hitler was war between rival imperalisms."

In subsequent years, she was a columnist for the magazine New Leader and wrote reviews and articles for a wide variety of literary-oriented journals and magazines, including Commentary, American Scholar (on whose editorial board she served), Harper's, Vogue, and Harper's Bazaar, as well as such newspapers as The New York Times and New York Herald Tribune.

In the 1950s, she became a member of the executive board of the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, claiming that its parent organization, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, "was a long unacknowledged child of the CIA." She involved herself in the controversy over the case of Alger Hiss, a prominent State Department official who had been accused of espionage activities for the Soviet Union. Many American intellectuals regarded the charges as being part of an anti-Communist witchhunt, but Trilling refused to join in the outcry. She instead sided with one of Hiss' chief accusers, a former Communist named Whittaker Chambers. Chambers had unsuccessfully sought her help with his own pro-Soviet spy operation when she was a member of the NCDPP during the 1930s, she reported, but she believed that his accusations against Hiss were probably true. She defended Chambers' story that he had hidden secret microfilm in a hollowed-out pumpkin. When the writer and playwright Lillian Hellman insisted that Chambers had to be lying, since a pumpkin "deteriorates," Trilling replied that the evidence was microfilm, and it was hidden "for only one day."

Trilling's anti-Communism and condemnation of "radicalism" made her unpopular in much of the New York City literary world, particularly during the 1950s, the era of the controversial, Communist-hunting tactics of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. She and Lionel wanted to be known as anti-Communist liberals during the McCarthy era. Trilling described her position on McCarthy in the Partisan Review and in the magazine New Leader, and many of her articles on Communism during the 1940s and 1950s appeared in Claremont Essays and Reviewing the Forties. "I was against both Communism and McCarthy," she reported in one of her articles. "Double positions of this kind are not popular," she conceded, "and it appears to be too much to ask of us that we hold two opposing ideas in our minds at the same time. Far from supporting McCarthy, I thought his procedures and those of the House Un-American Activities Committee were a serious threat to freedom and an offense to the democratic process." In Trilling's opinion, McCarthy had done the cause of anti-Communism a disservice, since he had taken "anti-Communism out of the realm of debate and by his example created for liberalism an automatic association between anti-Communism and reaction."

The fact that McCarthy used the anti-Communist ideas "solely for opportunist purposes," Trilling warned, "does not mean that Communism did not exist as a danger in the world or that the murderous Soviet regime lacked powerful support in America, particularly in the entertainment industry." She insisted that "intellectual seriousness" meant distinguishing between the "realities of a very faulty democracy" and the "sins" of Communism.

In light of her insistence that Communism remained a danger in the United States, Trilling's attitude toward Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the original American atomic bomb project, was a surprise. During the 1950s, Oppenheimer, who had opposed the construction of a more powerful hydrogen bomb, lost his security clearance. She observed that some of those who voted to remove his clearance had been, in fact, the instigators of an investigation against him; the prosecutors had become the judges and jurors. She defended Oppenheimer as a loyal American. "There was a time," she wrote in an essay on the Oppenheimer case, "before Dr. Oppenheimer had come to understand the true nature of the Soviet Union, when surely it was the gravest of risks to trust him with secrets which the Soviet Union wanted so badly. But he never told those secrets then, and to have granted him clearance at that time only to take it away from him now … seems to me to be tragic ineptitude."

By the 1950s, Trilling had gained sufficient recognition as a writer that Look magazine asked her to contribute an article on the topic, "The Case for the American Woman." Paid $3,000, she wrote a characteristically iconoclastic piece, arguing that American homes were mental hospitals in which the wives were the nurses and the husbands were the patients.

Her real interests in writing lay elsewhere. The Vietnam War, and widespread protests against the war in American universities, created a new target for Trilling's writings: the radical movement which arose during the war. Her observations about the "radical movement," particularly as it manifested itself in universities, were collected in her book We Must March My Darlings (the title was taken from a Walt Whitman poem). The book was an outgrowth of her return to Radcliffe College, where she and Lionel spent nine weeks on the campus while she interviewed students to try to find differences between "the present-day undergraduate and my own generation."

Reportedly, Little, Brown wanted to publish We Must March My Darlings but withdrew because of comments in the book that were critical of Hellman's Scoundrel Time, which the company had also published (Trilling's assertions, which included her characterization of Hellman's book as a "compendium of errors," were termed "stiffly courteous" and "reasoned" by one reviewer). Trilling refused to omit the comments and took the manuscript to Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, which published it.

We Must March My Darlings included her account of the student uprising at Columbia University during the Vietnam War ("On the Steps of Low Library"), in which Trilling wrote that "violence begets violence" and argued that both students and faculty had reacted too simplistically and thoughtlessly to the "ugliness of the police." She specifically criticized remarks made by the poet Robert Lowell and concluded, "those who welcome the Columbia uprising as a strenuous but nonetheless necessary occasion in the reform of our universities cling to liberal hopes that have no basis in political reality."

We Must March My Darlings also included Trilling's essay "The Prisoner of Sex" (1970), in which she admitted feeling no great sympathy for either side in a debate between novelist Norman Mailer and feminist writer Germaine Greer . She became annoyed when Mailer referred to her as a "lady" in what she thought to be a condescending way, but she added, "I have also had far too many pleasures and privileges in being a woman to think of myself as a victim in the way that feminist doctrine now seems to dictate…. I have been much more troubled by the petty superiorities which men assert over women than by the grand social injustices."

In a later essay, she added, "But men do have enough advantages in our culture, and I'd like those to be looked at" and corrected "where possible." She reported her disappointment, on a trip to Germany in 1967, when the host of their group, a Ruhr industrialist, would not let women join in a discussion of serious issues, and none of her male companions defended her right to participate. "I am no longer persuaded, as I may once have been," she wrote in "Female Biology in a Male Culture" (1970), "that a woman's willingness to cede power to men necessarily represents her wholesome acceptance of a biologically determined passivity; rather, I tend to see it as a cultural conformity or even an expediency or laziness."

The Trillings insisted that their condemnations of various forms of "radicalism" were not betrayals of liberal principles. Diana reported that in the summer of 1972 she received a call from the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb , asking the Trillings to add their names to a forthcoming New York Times advertisement sponsored by Democrats for Richard Nixon for President. "Although Lionel and I were uneasy about McGovern [the Democratic nominee], we refused to support Nixon," she reported. "In fact, the next year, when Lionel became the first recipient of the Jefferson Award in the Humanities, he sought reassurance that he would not be officially entertained in the Nixon White House."

In addition to publishing many of her essays from the 1940s through the 1970s, Trilling evinced a special interest in the British novelist D.H. Lawrence, publishing The Portable D.H. Lawrence (in the preparation of which she reported that she read every word that Lawrence wrote) and The Selected Letters of D.H. Lawrence.

In the summer of 1975, when the Trillings were on vacation in St. Andrews, Canada, Diana noted that Lionel seemed to tire easily during hikes. When the couple returned to New York, a medical examination revealed pancreatic cancer. He died in the fall of that year. Although Diana by that time had established her own identity and her own career as a literary writer, her book on their life together, The Beginning of the Journey: The Marriage of Diana and Lionel Trilling (1993), ends abruptly two pages after his death; there is no section entitled "Life after Lionel."

Diana Trilling did, however, subsequently spend time working on her late husband's papers, producing collections of his stories and essays, many previously unpublished. "By twentieth century standards," she noted, her husband had an "impressive [literary] productivity," an achievement made all the more impressive by the fact that writing was not easy for him and that he would "spend day after interminable day trying to write a single satisfactory sentence." The Beginning of the Journey: The Marriage of Diana and Lionel Trilling also became as much a tribute to her late husband as a chronicle of her growth as a writer. John F. Baker described The Beginning of the Journey as "partly an account of his life, partly of hers, but mostly of their life together; it is a riveting story of a marriage at the heart of New York literary and intellectual life, a relationship that also had extraordinary personal and financial strains." The book was written by dictation, since Trilling had by then lost most of her sight.

Trilling's work after the death of her husband included Mrs. Harris: The Death of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor (1982). Based on the fatal shooting of a physician who had become nationally prominent for his series of diet books, Mrs. Harris was begun only two days after his death. Until then, Trilling, although known in New York literary circles, was largely unknown to the public at large; Mrs. Harris promised both financial gain and a large popular audience. In what has been described as "riveting narrative," the book balanced "fact and emotion" to present a detailed analysis of the trial and of the "cultural and psychological motivation of the principals," including the "diet doctor," Dr. Hermann Tarnower, and Jean Harris , his lover and headmistress of a girls' school, who was on trial for his murder. While noting that many feminists had sympathized with Harris, who had learned that Tarnower had become involved with a younger woman, Trilling, in a detailed account of the trial, found some of Harris' testimony to be lacking in credibility, particularly her insistence that she was never angry with Tarnower. Nevertheless, Trilling concluded that Harris' conviction on second degree murder was an injustice because, she argued, the evidence did not clearly support the idea of an intention to kill with a gun.

Living in a cottage in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, with the help of several assistants, Trilling, despite health problems, remained active and firmly opinionated in her last years. As she approached her 90th birthday, she was debating a project on what she considered the scourge of political correctness. "I have spent my entire adult life trying to combat the influence in our culture of Stalinism, of communism," she said. "This began in the '30s and it didn't stop with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Where communism left off, political correctness has taken over. I think of political correctness as a continuation of Stalinist culture." Instead, her last book was "A Visit to Camelot," detailing an evening at the Kennedy White House, which she finished some months before her death on October 23, 1996.

Trilling established a reputation as a writer of what one reviewer has termed "incisive commentary on … cultural and political upheavals." Whether the topic was the poet Allen Ginsberg, the writer Virginia Woolf , President John F. Kennedy, or Marilyn Monroe , her writing was wide-ranging, thoughtful, and, above all, highly individualistic and provocative.


Alter, Jonathan. "The End of the Journey," in Newsweek. November 4, 1996, p. 61.

Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series. Vol. 46. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1995.

"Diana Trilling" (obituary), in The Day [New London, CT]. October 26, 1996, p. B3.

Jacobs, Sally. "The Indomitable Diana Trilling," in The Boston Globe. September 19, 1995, pp. 51, 55.

Trilling, Diana. The Beginning of the Journey: The Marriage of Diana and Lionel Trilling. NY: Harcourt Brace, 1993.

——. Claremont Essays. NY: Harcourt Brace and World, 1964.

——. Mrs. Harris: The Death of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981.

——. Reviewing the Forties. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.

——. We Must March My Darlings: A Critical Decade. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977.

suggested reading:

Hellman, Lillian. Scoundrel Time. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1976.

Podhoretz, Norman. Ex-Friends: Falling Out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt , and Norman Mailer. NY: Free Press, 1999.


Materials relating to Diana and Lionel Trilling are included in the Lionel Trilling Papers at Columbia University.

Niles Holt , Professor of History, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois