Perfecting the art of fair caricature

Jackson Arn in The Hedgehog Review:

When critics write at length about the critics they admire, look out for self-portraiture. In a 2008 New Yorker essay, the critic and intellectual historian Louis Menand explored Lionel Trilling’s influence on the postwar era, during which Trilling was America’s preeminent literary critic and among its weightiest public intellectuals. One of the few aspects of Trilling’s career about which Menand had major reservations was the unfinished second novel Trilling began shortly after publishing his first, The Middle of the Journey, but abandoned about a third of the way through. This work, Menand found, “doesn’t have much literary interest, but it does have a lot of biographical interest, because it lets us see Trilling imagining his own world—the world of ambitious young critics, resentful middle-aged professors, pompous publishers and compromised foundation heads, intellectual femmes fatales, and the megalomaniacal editors of little magazines—as a nineteenth-century novel.”

Thirteen years later, Menand himself has finished writing such a book: a loose, baggy monster, set in a great Western metropolis and populated by an army’s worth of heroes, heroines, and grotesques.

More here.