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   Diana Trilling Papers, 1921-1996

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Preferred Citation

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

COinS Metadata available (e.g., for Zotero).

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, 1905-1996
Title:Diana Trilling Papers, 1921-1996
Physical description:29.75 linear feet (57 document boxes, 2 oversized boxes)
Language(s):In English.
Access: This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.This collection has no restrictions This collection has no restrictions.  More information »



This collection is arranged in six series:

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Scope and Content

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The bulk of the records are Diana Trilling's writings in the form of manuscripts, articles both published and unpublished, drafts and research notes.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.

Subseries II.1: Alphabetical, 1939-1996

Letters found in Subseries 1 tend to be from Diana Trilling's friends and other family members and are often quite extensive. The Trillings had many friends in common so individuals such as Jacques Barzun, James and Elsa Grossman, Alan Ginsburg and Christopher Zinn have letters in this subseries. Correspondence with Nicolas Nabokov in regards to the American Committee for Cultural Freedom and Diana Trilling's subsequent resignation from the board are also held here. Of interest are letters between Diana Trilling and Lillian Hellman during the time that the two women were publicly fighting over politics and the "correct" history of the intellectual movement of New York within the 1930s and 1940s. Please note that although there are a few letters between Diana and Lionel Trilling, most are located in the Lionel Trilling Papers.

Subseries II.2: Chronological, 1927-1996

Correspondence contained in Subseries 2 covers a variety of topics. Letters are from personal friends (and may be addressed to both Diana and Lionel Trilling), potential publishers and magazine editors who are inviting Diana Trilling to submit a piece or coordinating the publishing of one her books, other authors inquiring about the craft of writing, fans, individuals who criticize Trilling's many writings and, in particular, the type of political and culturally-biased perspective she employs, and distant relatives. There quite a number of condolence letters from Lionel Trilling's colleagues at Columbia University and other academic institutions, his many personal friends, and admirers , who knew him only through his body of work. This correspondence illuminates the kind of impact Lionel Trilling had, not only on the intellectual world, but on the world at large

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.

Subseries III.1: Manuscripts and Drafts, 1964-1995

The first subseries holds manuscripts and drafts for Diana Trilling's major books: Claremont Essays, The Beginning of the Journey and Mrs. Harris: The Death of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor. There are also chapters of her childhood memoirs and material concerning her marriage to Lionel Trilling that is separate from the texts used in The Beginning of the Journey. These drafts exist in multiple forms. Many of them went through several versions before the final one. In most cases, they are heavily annotated by Diana Trilling. In addition to the manuscripts themselves, there is often accompanying material for the individual titles consisting of correspondence with publishers, printed material for publicity purposes, and some reviews of the individual manuscripts.

Subseries III.2: Articles and Essays, 1929-1996

Subseries 2 is comprised of Diana Trilling's shorter writings in the form of articles and essays. The majority of the pieces were published, although there are some early works that were rejected. Many of the texts have accompanying documentation in the form of correspondence concerning the publication and editing of the text, research notes, and reviews after publication. In addition to the traditional articles and essays, lectures, speeches, book reviews and drafts are found in this subseries. Of particular interest are the columns Diana Trilling wrote for The Nation called "Fiction in Review" and her essays on Marilyn Monroe and the cultural impact of the film, Easy Rider. Also included in this subseries are two plays, Snitken written with Bettina Sinclair and The Young Wives' Tale both of which are from the 1930s.

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.

Subseries IV.1: Diana Trilling, 1924-1996

The first subseries contains records documenting Diana Trilling's professional career as a critic and writer as well as her role as caretaker of her husbands literary estate. Records address Trilling's political activities, such as the American Committee for Cultural Freedom files and other professional and intellectual organizations which sought her support, public responses to her essays and lectures, and documents related to the creation and management of the Lionel Trilling Seminars. Clippings of articles about the Trillings and of potential essay topics and writings dedicated to Diana Trilling by other authors, notably Quentin Anderson and Lionel Trilling, are also held in this subseries. There is a substantial amount of material stemming from a series of oral histories conducted by Trilling on behalf of the Columbia University Oral History Department. Individuals interviewed consist primarily of Lionel Trilling's friends and intellectual colleagues from the 1930s through the 1950s. In addition to being the interviewer, Diana Trilling herself is the interviewee in several oral histories in this subseries, the most substantial being one conducted by Christopher Zinn. Please note that the dates of the Zinn interviews are not in chronological order. Trilling re-recorded many of the tapes due to poor transmission or personal reasons.

Subseries IV.2: Lionel Trilling, 1960-1996

This small subseries is composed of records concerning the life of Lionel Trilling, in particular his published pieces and his archive. In regards to his personal papers, there is correspondence concerning the donation of the papers and requests for permission to access them. Files in regards to Lionel Trilling's writings such as copyright renewals, correspondence and contracts with publishing houses, permission to reuse his material, and general information about the Uniform Edition are found in this subseries as well. In addition to these records, this subseries holds material about the impact of Lionel Trilling on Columbia University and the greater academic community. In particular, there is material relating to the Lionel Trilling Award, the Lionel Trilling Seminars, and copies of scholarly work on Lionel Trilling. Included are Lionel Trilling's F.B.I. and government files.

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.

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Using the Collection


Access Restrictions

 This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.This collection has no restrictions

This collection has no restrictions.

Restrictions on Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Curator of Manuscripts/University Archivist, Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). The RBML approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; 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, Columbia University.Rare Book and Manuscript Library MS#1256

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

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About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries. Rare Book and Manuscript Library; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

Papers processed in July 2007 by Lea Osborne.

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion March 5, 2009 Finding aid written in English.
    2009-03-05 File created
    2009-04-16 xml document instance created by Lea Osborne

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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.


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Anti-communist movements--New York (State)--New York.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Barzun, Jacques, 1905-PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Criticism--United States.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Literary quarrels.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Trilling, Diana.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Trilling, Lionel, 1905-1975.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Women authors, American.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Women critics--United States.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

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History / Biographical Note

Biographical Note

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 (neeĢ 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

Photo Credit: Michael O'Neill

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