In the course of reviewing a new biography of E.M. Forster, Colm Toibin answers a question I’d wondered about: Did Lionel Trilling know Forster was gay? As Toibin points out, it doesn’t matter:
"Trilling had enough to write about, including the drama in Forster’s work between freedom and restriction, between the spiritual and the material, between England and its empire, and between one class and another in Forster’s own world. These conflicts were substantial enough for Trilling not to need to know that they also operated as metaphors and systems of disguise, that their power in Forster’s fiction was nourished by his secret sexuality.”
But he says the answer is no.
Trilling is one of a triumvirate of mid-century American critics recommended, in Walking Out in the Evening, by the Frank Langella character. He assumes that the graduate student writing a dissertation on his novels has never heard of either Trilling, or Edmund Wilson, or Alfred Kazin. This sounded implausible to me. Maybe not, since my local library has only two books by Kazin, one of them a collection of Edgar Allan Poe stories that he edited (and the other on religion). Anyway, Andrew Seal has a brief review of Kazin’s On Native Grounds here.
Season premiere of Mad Men was last night, and Matthew Weiner, the show’s creator, is on today’s Fresh Air. He confirmed that Don Draper is, in a sense, pretending to be someone he's not: to be the kind of executive Dick Whitman thinks Draper would be. We’ll see how that plays out in the fourth season. Draper has gone from being a rising star, but a protégé, of a second-rate firm, to being a principal at a firm that right now is still just struggling to get out of the basement. He’s losing the false uprightness of the white-shoe executive he probably could never have succeeded in appearing to be, and letting his inner maverick out. From now on, if the first episode of the season is any guide, his campaigns will be honest about what the companies he represents really are selling, even if the results are crude. And he intends to be recognized as the genius he is. He is breaking the barriers that constricted what was permitted to be said.
It’s always difficult for me to avoid seeing Don through Peggy’s eyes, and to ask what it would be like to work for him. He gave her a break, but now she seems to have come into her own. It isn’t obvious that anyone will allude to her origins as a secretary from Queens, and her lack of a college degree, ever again. And she may be beginning to become annoyed with Don. The saying, “no man is a hero to his valet,” may apply here. We, the audience, know that Don Draper really is the real thing: his campaigns are groundbreaking, and Peggy of all people knows that they are his. In previous seasons, Don has been teased for being a “gray flannel suit man”: a managerial, executive type, not really creative. His willingness to stick with Sterling, Cooper, rather than moving on to a more high-powered, business-oriented firm, suggested that he really identified with that old-fashioned idea of the firm, and so did the way he kept his copywriting staff in line. Maybe now that his name is on the door he’s willing to show his true colors.