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.
Union are not what we ought to admire. I think it ought to be said that we don’t, and I’m a little ashamed of myself for not having said it openly enough in The New Era. After all, we are a libertarian paper, and if a revolutionary experiment curtails freedom even temporarily, we ought to say so. And say it openly. After all, that’s the only way we are going to bring about any change: by saying things openly. And we have the right to say them, especially if we have a full realization that it is
made with Maxim but also for what it might do for her pride in the matter of Eunice. For, naturally enough, it was one thing to be deprived of Eunice in favor of a dull local squiress and quite another to have to suffer for the benefit of the favorite aunt of a dead young American poet. An Aunt Joodle with a pet pulia was something different from an unseen Miss Walker, and she asked Kermit to tell her about the poem. “It’s very witty—I can’t quote any lines—but it gets quite serious. It describes
waking again, he would recall certain days with a peculiar intensity. There were emotions connected with the suburban field of snow over which a glittering crust had formed. The sky that day was absolutely blue. He had felt that it was making a conscious effort to be as blue as that, that it was alive and trying. And as he had walked across the field he had repeated over and over again part of a poem he had been made to memorize at school. Blue, blue, as if the sky let fall A flower from its
absurd pride at having his company claimed by a child, one who, as it appeared, expected him to walk with her hand in hand, for she put her hand in his. They were nearly at the road when Susan’s mother caught up with them. “Please be careful not to walk too fast—the hill is very steep.” It presumed on a very short and not wholly satisfactory acquaintance and Laskell said brusquely, “I’m really quite well now.” “Oh!” said Emily Caldwell. “Oh, yes!” She was much confused, and Laskell was sorry
to occupy the time. The drugstore was dark as he remembered drugstores of his childhood, and it smelled twenty years back of drugs and of soap-perfumes that were long outmoded. The man who waited on him was not a clerk but a druggist, a scholarly looking man. And as Laskell went out with his purchase, even the striking force of the sunlight reminded him of the sudden light he had always experienced, in his childhood, on emerging from the special darkness of a drugstore. He strolled about,