Trilling's second life: the critical return to Lionel Trilling and its application in contemporary fiction
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 13:10 authored by Eleanor Robin Throsby
This thesis investigates the implications of the recent revival of interest in the ideas of Lionel Trilling. It also explores, through creative practice, how the concepts he espoused might be applied to the writing of fiction today. Trilling's view of literature, culture, morality and their relationship to each other, as expressed in his major critical publications, is evaluated. Reasons for his dominant influence as a literary and cultural critic in the 1940s and 50s are advanced. His fiction is analysed for its relevance to his broader ideas and its value for the creative undertaking that forms part of this thesis. The exegesis reviews the criticism of Trilling's work that began in the 1960s, and the shifting literary and cultural attitudes that led to his marginalisation; it then considers the reasons for the recent return of enthusiasm for Trilling's writings. Aesthetic and moral philosophers began this revival when, like Trilling, they applied the concept of the moral imagination to fiction. The work of literary critics and scholars who have also recently rediscovered Trilling is cited in support of the proposition that his views are once again relevant to literary scholarship and practice. Finally the exegesis argues that Trilling's ideas were not necessarily antithetical to those of the postmodernists and in some respects may have been their precursor. It proposes that Trilling's "second life" brings back into focus values relating to the role of literature that have resonance in the contemporary world and implications for the practice of creative writing. Practice-led research is undertaken in the form of a writer's notebook, which applies, by creative observation and reflection, the ideas investigated in the exegesis.