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The Middle of the Journey (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – September 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lionel Trilling (1905-1975) himself took a more serious look at the political commitments of intellectuals in his The Middle of the Journey (1947), also newly reissued, with an intro. by Monroe Engel. Arthur and Nancy Croom, a successful, affluent, young couple loyal to the Communist Party, are spending the summer in Connecticut, where they help their friend John Laskell recuperate from a near-fatal illness. Their cozy view of the Party is challenged by a visit from Gifford Maxim, an impassioned ex-Communist from their circle. Maxim had been the most radical of them all, working with the Communist underground, but became disenchanted and left the Party at the risk of his life. In the meantime, the ailing Laskell, confronting his own death, feels alienated from all political preoccupations. Written a crucial 13 years after Slesinger's book (noted above), this moody document of a vanished intelligentsia anticipates the deepening crisis of the left in the McCarthy years.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Trilling’s beautifully composed novel is set in the late 1930s, when the communist dream embraced by Slesinger’s characters was stripped bare by the emerging facts of Stalin’s atrocities…Just as Slesinger in her comic world unites politics and sex, so Trilling in his tragic one fuses politics with death." — Sam Tanenhaus, The Boston Globe

"…this moody document of a vanished intelligentsia anticipates the deepening crisis of the left in the McCarthy years." — Publishers Weekly

"Lionel Trilling’s The Middle of the Journey is a searching account of the liberal’s dilemma of conscience in a world surrendering to extremes of dogma, an important first novel by a distinguished critic….Mr. Trilling has sounded a new note of dissent, a more realistic and mature one than the frantic reformism of the thirties and the sterile disillusionment of the twenties." — The Atlantic Monthly

"A depth that recalls Dostoyevsky and a subtlety worthy of Henry James." — Listener

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (September 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590170156
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590170151
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,271,335 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By T. M. Teale on May 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
The Middle of the Journey (published 1947) is a NYRB classic which I finished reading some time ago but have only gotten around to reviewing now for reasons which will probably become evident. I have long been aware of Trilling's essays on literature, particularly his take on Henry James, and was not surprised to find out that Trilling's novel is very Jamesian in its psychological detail and fine probing of character, motivation, and action. I suspect that this sort of narrative complexity may be enough to kill the pleasure for a reader wanting something to take to the beach.

Having said that there is one sex scene and one scene of violence in the book, but Trilling's carefully marinated prose shows that sex and violence take place in a person's mind long before the acts happen. Trilling shows us what happens when four East Coast intellectuals--who espouse communist, socialist, or progressive and liberal ideas--meet for a summer month in the Connecticut countryside. (Note that at the time of publication in 1947, Trilling claimed that none of his characters drew upon any living person; later, Trilling confessed otherwise.)

The Middle of the Journey shows the development of the lives of people we ought to care about: sensitive, intelligent "knowledge workers" who have the power and ability to use their brains toward the good of the nation and to benefit marginalized people. But these literati and intelligentsia are human, and they have typical weaknesses: difficulties recognizing their own emotions, particularly when they are vulnerable to fear and delusion, and they have difficulties communicating with working-class, provincial people (the very ones they intend to help).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By meadowreader on August 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
A novel with a political point that is a good read, and that avoids being didactic or preachy. That many liberal intellectuals, writers, and artists in the 1930s allowed themselves to be beguiled by the profoundly illiberal Great Experiment of Communism is well known. Lionel Trilling was a prominent literary critic based at Columbia University who was a liberal, but who also managed to remain skeptical about Stalin's paradise. That stance put him out of step (to use Sidney Hook's phrase) with very many of his colleagues and fellow members of the New York intellectual and artistic communities. This novel is built around the political, intellectual, and moral conflicts of those times, with one of the main characters based on Whittaker Chambers. Trilling's own views are pretty well represented by these three quotes from the book:

"Nancy's feeling was not about conforming or not conforming, not about freedom or submission. It was a feeling about human nature, a profound dissatisfaction with the way human beings had ever been..."

"And never has there been so much talk of liberty while the chains are being forged. Democracy and freedom And in the the most secret heart of every intellectual, where he scarcely knows of it himself, there lies hidden the real hope that these words hide. It is the hope of power, the desire to bring his ideas to reality by imposing them on his fellow man."

"You believed me when I brought you good news of it. Now that I bring you bad news of it, you not only will not listen to me, but you fear me and call me names. I am sure you will say that I have no proof. But I had no proof before. You believe as you want to believe."

Nicely done, with a good deal of subtlety, and without spitefulness or malice in any direction. Everybody had their reasons and ideals, after all, misplaced as some of those turned out to be.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By ScrawnyPunk on August 4, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A neglected semi-classic, Lionel Trilling's only novel is less of a traditional story and more an inspection of liberalism's purpose and effect outside of narrow intellectual circles in 1930's New York. The actual story line, a summer vacation for a man coming to terms with life, death, and his philosophy, is the catalyst for intellectual introspection as opposed to the underlying purpose of the novel.

In the story, John Laskell is a New York intellectual who takes a summer vacation in New England after emotional and physical devastation (his lover died and he later contracted scarlet fever). Invited to the country by two people from his circle, Arthur and Nancy Croom, he boards with a local family and gradually moves from pastoral observer to active participant in the rural life of New England. Throughout the summer, he slowly overcomes a small portion of his initial arrogance and allows himself to become involved with various locals. Most notable are his foil Duck Caldwell, Duck's wife and daughter, his hosts the Folgers, and the Folger's aristocratic and feudal benefactor, Julia Walker. These continued involvements force him out of some long-held beliefs and a final, unexpected tragedy forces Laskell to break with his earlier philosophies and, consequently, his inner circle of friends. Aiding in this change is Gifford Maxim, a mutual acquaintance of Laskell and the Crooms, whose earlier break with the Communist Party and subsequent religious fervor places an additional strain on the relationship between Laskell, his friends, and his ideas. (It is important to note that the Communist Party held a certain sway amongst intellectuals in the 1930's and 1940's that did not fully diminish until Stalin's atrocities became irrefutable.
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