Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Diana Trilling papers, 1921-1996

Summary Information


The Diana Trilling Papers document the life of literary and cultural critic, Diana Trilling. This collection contains her writings, extensive correspondence with other New York intellectuals, and subject files for her research as well as for the Lionel Trilling Estate.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS# 1421
Bib ID 6259383 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Trilling, Diana
Title Diana Trilling papers, 1921-1996
Physical Description 29.75 linear feet (57 document boxes 2 oversized boxes)
Language(s) English .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

This collection has no restrictions.



This collection is arranged in six series.



This collection holds the papers of author, literary critic, and cultural commentator, Diana Trilling. Along with her husband, Lionel, Diana Trilling was a force on the New York intellectual scene from the 1930s until the 1970s. The records that comprise this collection document her professional life as well as her marriage with Lionel Trilling and the ways in which she balanced the two.

The bulk of the records are Diana Trilling's writings in the form of manuscripts, articles both published and unpublished, drafts and research notes. Correspondence with Lionel Trilling and other family members, publishing houses, and colleagues are also well represented. Other records include personal documents, photographs, subject files used for research and maintaining the Lionel Trilling Estate, and audio visual material.

Much of the records contained here provide insight or overlap with those within the Lionel Trilling Papers (MS#1256). These papers were donated soon after his death in 1976; however Diana Trilling continued to conduct his literary affairs on his behalf until her death in 1996.

  • Series I: Personal Documents, 1921-1970

    This small series is composed of personal documents from Diana Trilling's early life. Academic records from her time at Radcliffe College, such as report cards, printed material and an autograph book, legal records concerning family members, yearbooks from Camp Lenore, course schedules from a vocal music institute, and a diary are found here. There is also a representative sample of appointment books and a family financial ledger.

  • Series II: Correspondence, 1927-1996

    Series II holds Diana Trilling's correspondence. Letters within this series are between other family members, members of the literary community like other authors and publishing houses, fans of her work, friends of both Diana and Lionel Trilling, and invitations to lecture, write or review a literary text. In most cases, the carbon copy of Diana Trilling's initial letter or response to a letter has survived as well as any accompanying documents. The original order of the series consisted of two subseries: one arranged alphabetically and one chronologically. This has been maintained.

  • Series III: Writings, 1929-1996

    Series III is one of the largest series is in the collection and is composed of Diana Trilling's diverse array of writings. Like her husband, Lionel Trilling, Diana Trilling was a prolific writer whose work was published in a variety of journals and magazines. She first submitted pieces for publication in the 1920s and was asked to contribute work up until her death. Within this series are manuscripts with multiple drafts, articles and essays, book reviews, and lectures. This series has been further arranged into two subseries.

  • Series IV: Subject Files, 1924-1996

    Within Series IV are topical records used by Diana Trilling. Some of the files are research background for articles, legal and financial information concerning the Lionel Trilling Estate, Correspondence and accompanying documentation for the various publishing houses that Diana and Lionel Trilling worked with over the course of their careers, articles and clippings. The series is arranged into two subseries: Diana Trilling and Lionel Trilling.

  • Series V: Photographs, 1920s-1990s

    Series V contains photographs of the Trilling family and friends. Included are photographs of Lionel Trilling's father and grandfather, David Trilling and Israel Cohen, respectively. There are also photographs of James Trilling and group photographs of the entire family. Portraits of Diana Trilling and publicity photographs for her book Mrs. Harris: The Death of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor are also in this series. Diana Trilling's time at Radcliffe College and Camp Lenore during the 1920s is well represented. While the individuals in many of these earlier pictures are not identified, the atmosphere of the time period and the impact these two places had on Diana Trilling is clear in the composition of the pictures.

  • Series VI: Audio Visual Material, 1956-1981

    This series holds several interviews. Included are two reel to reels, one of which has Diana Trilling discussing her edited book Reviewing the Forties and the other is an interview of Vladimir Nabokov conducted by Lionel Trilling for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Also in this series is a film clip from the NBC series "Elder Wise Men." In the clip, Lionel Trilling interviews Ernest Jones about Freud.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

This collection has no restrictions.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Diana Trilling papers, Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Related Material

Lionel Trilling Papers, 1899-1987, MS#1256

The American Committee for Cultural Freedom Records, Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, Tamiment 023


Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source of acquisition--Estate of Diana trilling. Method of acquisition--Purchase, etc; Date of acquisition--1998.

Source of acquisition--James Trilling. Method of acquisition--Purchase; Date of acquisition--2002.

Source of acquisition--Theodore Solotaroff. Method of acquisition--Donation; Date of acquisition--2006.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Papers processed Lea Osborne 7/2007.

Revision Description

2009-03-05 File created

2009-04-16 xml document instance created by Lea Osborne

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Anti-communist movements -- New York (State) -- New York Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Barzun, Jacques, 1907-2012 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Criticism -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Literary quarrels Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Trilling, Diana Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Trilling, Lionel, 1905-1975 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Women authors, American Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Women critics -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

Writer Diana Trilling spent much of her life carving a niche out for herself that would separate her from her husband, critic and author, Lionel Trilling. Although she was fiercely devoted to their marriage, she maintained her own identity and had a successful career as a literary critic, an author, and a cultural commentator. She was not afraid to shy away from controversy especially if, in her view, her political opinions were being distorted or misunderstood by others. (The name Trilling, when used alone, refers to Diana Trilling. Lionel Trilling will always be referred to by his full name.).

Diana Rubin was born in New York City on July 21, 1905. Her parents, Joseph Rubin and Sadie Helene Rubin (neé Forbert), were immigrants from Poland. Joseph Rubin was a successful businessman while his wife did occasional work in interior design. Diana Rubin lived first in Westchester and then Brooklyn where she attended Erasmus Hall High School. She entered Radcliffe College in 1921 as an Art History major with a minor in Music. Rubin had wanted to be a singer, but had suffered from an affliction of the thyroid, effectively ending any chances she may have head to pursue a professional career.

After graduating cum laude in 1925, she moved back to New York to look for a job in some artistic environment, preferably a museum. What she found was a young graduate student at Columbia named Lionel Trilling. After dating for a couple of years, they married on October 25, 1929. Lionel Trilling continued to pursue his doctorate in English Literature while Diana Trilling spent her time volunteering in Harlem. She was active with other politically-minded individuals who were trying to save the Scottsboro Boys, the nine black boys charged with raping two white women in Scottsboro, Alabama. Diana Trilling tried to work with her Harlem neighbors and raise money to pay lawyer fees, a situation made more difficult due to racial and economic factors that distanced residents from each other.

In 1941, Lionel Trilling was asked by editors at The Nation to suggest a fiction critic for them. Diana Trilling offered her services and the weekly column "Fiction in Review" was created. The column ran until 1949. At this point, Trilling had begun contributing pieces on literary, social, and political themes for some of the following publications: The New York Times Book Review, Partisan Review, Commentary, Harpers, The Atlantic, The Saturday Review, Redbook, McCall's, Esquire, Mademoiselle, Vogue, The Nation, and The New Leader. Later on while being interviewed, she always made the point that she never discriminated against a particular journal or magazine. In other words, it was a privilege to know that one's articles were wanted in intellectual journals as well as mainstream magazines. In addition to these pieces, Trilling edited the Portable D.H. Lawrence for Viking Press in 1947. She was an active writer throughout her life and yet, found time to raise a family. James Lionel Trilling was born in 1949.

In the 1940s and 1950s, both Diana and Lionel Trilling began to distance themselves politically from other New York intellectuals. Once staunch supporters of Communism, they were unhappy with whom their fellow communists supported during World War II and the actions conducted in Europe under the umbrella of Communism. The Trillings joined the American Committee for Cultural Freedom. The American branch of this organization was in essence an Anti-Communist set of intellectuals and public personas that strove to condemn censorship of art and defend civil liberties. The group was comprised of individuals who represented various fields such as literature, dance, art, as well as political and labor activists. Notable members included Sidney Hook, James T. Farrell, Peter Viereck, W.H. Auden, George Balanchine, Saul Bellow, Elia Kazan, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, A. Philip Randolph, John Steinbeck and Robert Penn Warren. Diana Trilling served as Chairman of the Board from 1953 to 1957 and as a board member from 1957 until she resigned three years later. Trilling felt that she had moved away politically from some of the leadership and wanted to distance herself from their cause.

During this time, Lionel Trilling taught English at Columbia University. He was an extremely popular public figure who was always receiving invitations to give lectures, be a visiting scholar, or to read and offer criticism to literary pieces. Although he may have been more well-known of the two, Diana Trilling continued to publish articles and books. In 1958 she edited a selection of letters of D.H. Lawrence. This was followed by a collection of essays in 1964 published under the title Claremont Essays. The Trillings lived on Claremont Avenue and Diana Trilling felt that her address, and her neighborhood, had such an impact on the way she viewed the world.

Lionel Trilling was diagnosed with a rapid moving cancer in spring of 1975. His health quickly declined and he passed away in November of that same year. Despite this personal tragedy, Diana Trilling continued to write. Two years after his death, she published a retrospective of her time at Radcliffe College and the impression that coeducation made on the students of the mid-1970s called We Must March My Darlings. That same year Trilling began editing a twelve-volume uniform edition of her husband's works. This project lasted until 1979. In between, she pulled together some of her more popular book reviews and published Reviewing the Forties. Other publications include a nonfiction analysis of a 1981 Westchester murder trial entitled Mrs. Harris: The Death of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor, and a 1993 memoir of her marriage, The Beginning of the Journey: The Marriage of Diana and Lionel Trilling.

Throughout her career, Diana Trilling was active in intellectual and social organizations. Among them were the Radcliffe Club, the Cosmopolitan Club, which she joined in 1968, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which she was elected to in 1976. She was also an honorary member of the Radcliffe Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. Trilling also successfully received a joint grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and two Guggenheim Fellowships, one in 1950 and one in 1991.

Diana Trilling remained a public figure even when she was not at the peak of her career. Her fiery public outbursts, like the Lillian Hellmann controversy, and her outspoken nature, made her a controversial figure. Even when her eyesight was failing and she was diminishing her creative output, Trilling continued to praise the political and cultural time of the 1930s and criticize the social movements of the 1960s. Like her husband, she was often considered elitist and woefully ignorant of the ways in which the United States in general, and New York in particular, had moved on since the 1930s.

Despite the criticisms, Diana Trilling remained determined to defend her views and those of her husband. She continued to give interviews and mentor younger writers until her death from cancer in 1996. She is survived by her son James Trilling, an art historian.