Lionel Trilling, 1905 - 1975

Ideology is not the product of thought; it is the habit or the ritual of showing respect for certain formulas to which, for various reasons having to do with emotional safety, we have very strong ties and of whose meaning and consequences in actuality we have no clear understanding.

 Lionel Trilling

  • The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent cover
  • Oxford Anthology of English Literature cover


Lionel Trilling, one of America’s foremost literary critics, was born in Queens in 1905 to Jewish immigrant parents—his mother from London, his father from Bialystok, a city in northeastern Poland. He grew up in New York City, graduated from high school in 1921, and enrolled at Columbia University, where he would spend most of his life.
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Through his accessible style, Trilling was able to influence not only other critics but large numbers of lay readers. He thus persuaded educated members of the general public to read high-brow modernist authors like James Joyce and William Butler Yeats and less venerated if more traditional poets, novelists, and essayists like Matthew Arnold, E. M. Forster, and George Orwell.
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