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Hellman, Lillian.

Autumn Garden, The.


Inscribed To Lionel Trilling
Hellman, Lillian. The Autumn Garden. A Play in Three Acts. Boston: Little, Brown...,1952.
Slim 8vo.; orange cloth, head of spine frayed; brown dust-jacket, edgeworn with a few small chips.        
First edition, third printing of Hellman's penultimate original play, an examination of "the universal experience of the middle years…., a realization of what might have been, the sad discovery that time and habit have fixed a mold that cannot be broken" (Carol MacNicholas). A presentation copy, inscribed to Lionel Trilling: For Lionel From an early admirer with affection. Lillian. Hellman was part of the Trillings' intellectual circuit, frequently attending the same panels and discussions. In her memoir, The Beginning of the Journey, (Harcourt, Brace, 1993) Diana Trilling recalls meeting Norman Mailer for the first time at a dinner given by Hellman, but does not elaborate on her relationship with her hostess; the few other references to the playwright in the work are vague but unflattering.
The Autumn Garden was one of Hellman's few nonpolitical works, and the influence of Chekhov has been noted by many critics. "Like most Chekhov plays," writes one, "The Autumn Garden examines the paralysis of several well-intentioned people." (Hellman would go on to edit the English translation of Chekhov's letters in 1955.) The setting is a resort on the Gulf of Mexico during one week in 1949, and the characters, the summer visitors of Constance Tuckerman, who runs the establishment. Carol MacNicholas surveys the critical reception the play received:
The reviews of the play were, for the most part, favorable. Critics praised Hellman for trying a different form of playwriting and felt that The Autumn Garden was a mature, deftly constructed play wherein all the seemingly unrelated problems and relationships are braided together at the end. Hellman, herself not in the habit of voicing absolute judgments, noted that it was probably her best play. ("Lillian Hellman," by MacNicholas, DLB Volume 7…, USC, 1981, pp. 275-95)

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