Adam Kirsch, Life in Culture: Selected Letters of Lionel Trilling
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Although by 1950 Lionel Trilling had already published three formidable books, his biography of the great Victorian poet and critic Matthew Arnold (1939), his critical study of novelist E.M. Forster (1943) and a novel, The Middle of the Journey (1947) he did not become a public figure until publication in 1950 of The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society. This was the very time when the “New Criticism” (a title taken from John Crowe Ransom’s book of 1941), was firmly in control not only of university literary studies and high school English classes, but of literary interpretation in general. It remained in control for two decades.
The New Critics had themselves emerged as insurrectionaries against the previously prevailing emphasis upon the lives and psychology of authors and upon literary history. They, by contrast, stressed the sacredness of poetic language and the “heresy of paraphrase.” (They were fond of religious language, and several of their leading figures...