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Scarsdale Romance

Anita Brookner

6 May 1982
Mrs Harris 
by Diana Trilling.
Hamish Hamilton, 341 pp., £8.95, May 1982, 0 241 10822 5
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... of a very great advantage and a blessing. It’s unhappy that you have to be sentenced, Mrs Harris, and the best I can say to you is, the best of luck. My italics. And Mrs Harris’s behaviour? DianaTrilling observed her to be prim, neat, busy and affectless. She scribbled notes to her defence counsel, whom she addressed from the witness-stand as ‘Joel’, she bristled at certain infelicities ...
9 February 1995
The Beginning of the Journey: The Marriage of Diana​ and Lionel Trilling 
by Diana Trilling.
Harcourt Brace, 442 pp., $24.95, May 1994, 0 15 111685 7
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... Slugging it out with DianaTrilling in the pages of Commentary, Robert Lowell remarked: ‘Controversy is bad for the mind and worse for the heart.’ Mrs Trilling, for all the world like Dorothea Brooke or some other 19th-century heroine of the strenuously examined life, replied: ‘I have never thought controversy bad for either the mind or the heart.’ She ...

Performing Seals

Christopher Hitchens: The PR Crowd

10 August 2000
Partisans: Marriage, Politics and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals 
by David Laskin.
Simon and Schuster, 319 pp., $26, January 2000, 0 684 81565 6
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... Norman Podhoretz). Queenie Leavis of course became an official widow, and it is les veuves on whom David Laskin relies most heavily in this relatively orderly account of sexual and matrimonial chaos. DianaTrilling outlived Lionel by many a book; Mary McCarthy enjoyed the same revenge on Edmund Wilson; the witches of Eastwick (lacking only their Hardwick) have vented about Robert Lowell. To interview ...

We Laughed, We Clowned

Michael Wood: Diana Trilling

28 June 2017
The Untold Journey: The Life of Diana​ Trilling 
by Natalie Robins.
Columbia, 399 pp., £25, June 2017, 978 0 231 18208 9
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... were considered slightly off course’. She is talking about the 1950s in New York, but the picture seems to work for the whole book, which takes us from the start of the 20th century to its end. DianaTrilling was born in the East Bronx in 1905, and died in Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in 1996. Trilling, née Rubin, went to Radcliffe College when she was 16, ‘one of three Jewish women in her ...

On Robert Silvers

Andrew O’Hagan: Remembering Robert Silvers

19 April 2017
... America, but I’ve always to some extent shared the romance of being a part of it in old New York. For me, the city didn’t just mean Frank Sinatra and Studio 54, it meant Alfred Kazin and Lionel Trilling, Lillian Hellman and Susan Sontag. I loved its papers, the swagger of the contributors, the New York intellectuals, with their neuroses, their arguments, their marriages, and their parties. Wilson ...

Enemies For Ever

James Wolcott: ‘Making It’

17 May 2017
Making It 
by Norman Podhoretz.
NYRB, 368 pp., £13.98, May 2017, 978 1 68137 080 4
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... Commentary’s editor-in-chief Norman Podhoretz and his wife, the writer and editor Midge Decter, one of the power couples of the Upper West Side intelligentsia – the junior version of Lionel and DianaTrilling. Kazin, a Commentary contributor going back to 1945, found himself in a bobbing sea of familiar faces but left in a sour funk, fed up with that old gang of his, the unseemliness of it all ...

Big Pod

Richard Poirier: How Podhoretz Dumped His Friends

2 September 1999
by Norman Podhoretz.
Free Press, 256 pp., $25, February 1999, 0 684 85594 1
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... six literary figures with whom Norman Podhoretz, for 35 years the editor-in-chief of Commentary, was closely involved from the early Fifties until the early Seventies: Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and DianaTrilling, Hannah Arendt, Lillian Hellman and Norman Mailer. It was in the early years of this same period, the first five years of the Sixties, that what was often called the Family, a closely allied ...
23 April 1987
‘Howl’: Original Draft Facsimile 
by Allen Ginsberg, edited by Barry Miles.
Viking, 194 pp., £16.95, February 1987, 0 670 81599 3
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White Shroud: Poems 1980-1985 
by Allen Ginsberg.
Viking, 89 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 670 81598 5
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... It was Ginsberg’s old Columbia colleagues, John Hollander, Norman Podhoretz and Louis Simpson, all cutting their teeth in the New York literary scene under the approving auspices of Lionel and DianaTrilling, who led the charge against the Beats. ‘It is only fair to Allen Ginsberg to remark on the utter lack of decorum of any kind in his dreadful little volume,’ began Hollander in Partisan ...

The Sound of Cracking

Pankaj Mishra: ‘The Age of the Crisis of Man’

26 August 2015
The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933-73 
by Mark Greif.
Princeton, 434 pp., £19.95, January 2015, 978 0 691 14639 3
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Moral Agents: Eight 20th-Century American Writers 
by Edward Mendelson.
New York Review, 216 pp., £12.99, May 2015, 978 1 59017 776 1
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... rescued, made the centre, the measure, the “root”.’ Some American writers responded to anxieties about the enfeebling of European liberal humanism with cultural tonics of their own. Lionel Trilling declared after the war that ‘the great work of our time is the restoration and reconstitution of … the great former will of humanism.’ Greif writes insightfully about the canonisation of ...

The Fame Game

Alan Brien

6 September 1984
by Steven Aronson.
Hutchinson, 198 pp., £5.95, May 1984, 0 09 156251 1
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Automatic Vaudeville 
by John Lahr.
Heinemann, 241 pp., £8.95, September 1984, 0 434 40188 9
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Broadway Babies: The People who made the American Musical 
by Ethan Mordden.
Oxford, 244 pp., £19, August 1984, 0 19 503345 0
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... and Bernstein of the social world, fearlessly printing the truth no matter what the threats or promises. His lash falls on Barbara Cartland, who refuses to discuss Princess Di’ s periods, and DianaTrilling, who asks him an unwise favour to help polish her image. This seems not so much because of their evident vanities and occasional sillinesses but because they manage to survive his attacks ...


Frank Kermode

24 July 1986
The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America 
by Martin Amis.
Cape, 208 pp., £9.95, July 1986, 0 224 02385 3
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... because he is resourceful and amusing but because Falwell is a serious problem and needs every bit of ridicule that can be mustered. When it is necessary to be serious about serious people, he is. DianaTrilling, not easily flattered, might well be pleased to have it said of her that ‘you have to watch what you say when she’s around,’ to ‘weed out your lazier, sloppier thoughts’. And Amis ...


Andrew O’Hagan: Orders of Service

18 April 2019
... may have written it himself. ‘That would be very like him.’ (Rees is the repugnant Eddie in Elizabeth Bowen’s novel The Death of the Heart.) ‘Secrecy was Goronwy’s habit and nourishment,’ DianaTrilling once wrote. ‘Like a familiar perfume, it announced and trailed him.’ Perhaps that is what orders of service are for: to distil the floating essence of a person before we go on without ...

How far shall I take this character?

Richard Poirier: The Corruption of Literary Biography

2 November 2000
Bellow: A Biography 
by James Atlas.
Faber, 686 pp., £25, November 2000, 0 571 14356 3
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... novelist involves a passage in a letter of his written most probably in 1944, though exact dates are hard to come by in this book. He would have been 29, with one novel, Dangling Man, to his credit. DianaTrilling, who was to become an enthusiastic reviewer of later novels, didn’t much like this first one, but it did impress Philip Rahv, an editor of Partisan Review and, though less so, a fellow ...

I adore your moustache

James Wolcott: Styron’s Letters

24 January 2013
Selected Letters of William Styron 
edited by Rose Styron and R. Blakeslee Gilpin.
Random House, 643 pp., £24.99, December 2012, 978 1 4000 6806 7
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... Styrons are invited to the president’s private quarters (‘Aha! It’s just as I suspected. The son of a bitch is after my wife’), and up they troop, joined by March, Robert Frost and Lionel and DianaTrilling, not exactly the snappiest bunch. ‘DianaTrilling had the look of a woman who had just been struck a glancing but telling blow by a sledgehammer,’ Styron notes. The evening’s coup ...

Wild-Eyed and Ready to Die

Mary Hawthorne: Dawn Powell

22 February 2001
The Diaries of Dawn Powell 1931-65 
edited by Tim Page.
Steerforth, 513 pp., $19, October 1999, 1 883642 25 6
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... only way to disarm the enemy. Much the same strategy can be seen at work in the New York novels, wry, engrossing portraits of egotism, greed, opportunism and general frailty. Powell was criticised by DianaTrilling for devoting her attention to characters who, in their venality and shallowness, were unworthy of her gifts, but this doesn’t seem quite right. We delight in Powell’s tales of ‘types ...

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