The Middle of the Journey
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Published in 1947, as the cold war was heating up, Lionel Trilling’s only novel was a prophetic reckoning with the bitter ideological disputes that were to come to a head in the McCarthy era. The Middle of the Journey revolves around a political turncoat and the anger his action awakens among a group of intellectuals summering in Connecticut. The story, however, is less concerned with the rights and wrongs of left and right than with an absence of integrity at the very heart of the debate. Certainly the hero, John Laskell, staging a slow recovery from the death of his lover and a near-fatal illness of his own, comes to suspect that the conflicts and commitments involved are little more than a distraction from the real responsibilities, and terrors, of the common world.
A detailed, sometimes slyly humorous, picture of the manners and mores of the intelligentsia, as well as a work of surprising tenderness and ultimately tragic import, The Middle of the Journey is a novel of ideas whose quiet resonance has only grown with time. This is a deeply troubling examination of America by one of its greatest critics.
season, and, really, a surer though more brooding sense of himself. It was Arthur Croom, with his pedagogic tact, who came to their rescue. He looked at Emily Caldwell seriously, as he would at some eager but mistaken student who must be set right without hurt feelings. “Do you really, Emily, do you really believe with Spengler that man is nothing but a puppet of the cycles of culture? That man can never make his own fate and that he is passive to the will of forces which he can see but not
information, although there was indeed the chance that one of his answers might strip him of respectability and importance, much to Maxim’s regret. Laskell found that he answered Maxim’s questions as briefly as possible. He acknowledged the authority of the interrogation by guarding himself against it. At the same time, he tried to be very direct and truthful and was conscious of his directness and truthfulness, as if he were contending with the impulse to lie to Maxim. “Are you close to
hiding-place with the jack-o’-lanterns of the party at which Chambers undertook to establish his existence in order to continue it. Chambers was brought to the party when it was well advanced. If he had any expectations to being welcomed back from underground to the upper world, he was soon disillusioned. Some of the guests, acknowledging that he was in danger, took the view that fates similar to the one he feared for himself had no doubt been visited upon some of his former comrades through his
now to have said to him as she once had, “I think you have a prejudice against Duck,” he would have answered with a cheerful grimness, “I certainly have.” Now, when they talked about Duck, he put in his protest. And when they depreciated Emily in Duck’s favor, as they often did, he also put in a protest. He did not admire Emily Caldwell but her good looks pleased him, he liked her cleanly sturdy quality and found that if he had to think, which he did not really like to do, of the juxtaposition of
pneumatic. Laskell had snapped at Duck for suggesting that the illness had had a continuing effect on him, but the fact was that he was not in very good shape. He heard the sound of water with relief. “Is that the stream?” he asked. “Yes. But you wouldn’t want to fish it here.” “Why not?” Duck shook his head. “You’ll see,” he said. What Laskell saw, when they came to it, was a deep gorge. The walls were very steep and the little river came fast into the dark pool. It came in noisily over a