The life and times of Diana Trilling (1905-1996), the wife and collaborator of celebrated literary critic Lionel Trilling and an important opinion-shaper in her own right.
The Trillings were at the center of the New York intellectual scene from the turbulent 1930s until Diana’s death in 1996. Robins (Copeland’s Cure: Homeopathy and the War Between Conventional and Alternative Medicine, 2005, etc.) contends that while Lionel, a Columbia University professor and popular short story writer, “was admired as one of America’s most influential and original literary critics,” Diana’s role in their joint output is all-too-frequently overlooked. Diana’s own literary contributions as an editor and writer were impressive, and she published six books, including the bestseller Mrs. Harris: The Death of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor (1981). As Robins also notes, her reviews and essays were “published in dozens of prominent magazines,” including the Partisan Review, Harper’s, Vogue, and the Nation. Lionel died in 1975, but Diana didn’t release her memoir, The Beginning of the Journey, until 1993. However, she chose not to reveal the truth of how much effort she had put into her husband’s work, including the formulation of his text as well as editing and rewriting. As Robins writes, “Lionel’s work was her work throughout his life. There simply was no time for her own.” The prominence of the Trillings as noncommunist intellectuals was underscored by an invitation to a dinner at the Kennedy White House. Making use of Diana’s extensive archives, which had been mostly forgotten, Robins does a solid job of rehabilitating a significant literary and cultural figure of the 20th century, a woman who spent much of her career in her husband’s shadow.
An intriguing, occasionally overly detailed portrait of the life and times of the Trillings and the liberal circles of which they were a part.