Louis (Stanton) Auchincloss Biography
Louis Auchincloss comments:
Nationality: American. Born: Lawrence, New York, 27 September 1917. Education: Groton School, Massachusetts, graduated 1935; Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, 1935-38; University of Virginia Law School, Charlottesville, LL.B. 1941; admitted to the New York bar, 1941. Military Service: Served in the United States Naval Reserve, 1941-45: Lieutenant. Career: Associate lawyer, Sullivan and Cromwell, New York, 1941-51; associate, 1954-58, and partner, 1958-86, Hawkins Delafield and Wood, New York. Since 1966 president of the Museum of the City of New York. Trustee, Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, New York; former member of the Executive Committee, Association of the Bar of New York City. Awards: New York State Governor's award, 1985. D. Litt.: New York University, 1974; Pace College, New York, 1979; University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, 1986. Member: American Academy. Agent: Curtis Brown, 10 Astor Place, New York, New York 10003.
The Indifferent Children (as Andrew Lee). New York, Prentice Hall, 1947.
Sybil. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1951; London, Gollancz, 1952.
A Law for the Lion. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Gollancz, 1953.
The Great World and Timothy Colt. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1956;London, Gollancz, 1957.
Venus in Sparta. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Gollancz, 1958.
Pursuit of the Prodigal. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1959; London, Gollancz, 1960.
The House of Five Talents. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1960; London, Gollancz, 1961.
Portrait in Brownstone. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Gollancz, 1962.
The Rector of Justin. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1964; London, Gollancz, 1965.
The Embezzler. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Gollancz1966.
A World of Profit. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1968; London, Gollancz, 1969.
I Come as a Thief. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1972; London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1973.
The Partners. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1974.
The Winthrop Covenant. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976.
The Dark Lady. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1977.
The Country Cousin. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1978.
The House of the Prophet. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980.
The Cat and the King. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1981.
Watchfires. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Weidenfeld andNicolson, 1982.
Exit Lady Masham. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1983; London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984.
The Book Class. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984.
Honorable Men. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1985; London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1986.
Diary of a Yuppie. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1986; London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987.
The Golden Calves. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1988; London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989.
Fellow Passengers: A Novel in Portraits. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1989; London, Constable, 1990.
The Lady of Situations. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1990; London, Constable, 1991.
Tales of Yesteryear. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
The Education of Oscar Fairfax. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1995.
Her Infinite Variety. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
The Embezzler. New Brunswick, New Jersey, Transaction, 2000.
The Injustice Collectors. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1950; London, Gollancz, 1951.
The Romantic Egoists: A Reflection in Eight Minutes. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Gollancz, 1954.
Powers of Attorney. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Gollancz, 1963.
Tales of Manhattan. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Gollancz, 1967.
Second Chance. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1970; London, Gollancz, 1971.
Narcissa and Other Fables. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1983.
Skinny Island: More Tales of Manhattan. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1987; London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988.
False Gods. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1992; London, Constable, 1993.
Three Lives. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1993; London, Constable, 1994.
The Collected Stories of Louis Auchincloss. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
The Atonement, and Other Stories. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
The Anniversary and Other Stories. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
The Club Bedroom (produced New York, 1967).
Edith Wharton. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1961.
Reflections of a Jacobite. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1961; London, Gollancz, 1962.
Ellen Glasgow. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1964.
Pioneers and Caretakers: A Study of 9 American Women Novelists. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1965; London, Oxford University Press, 1966.
Motiveless Malignity (on Shakespeare). Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1969; London, Gollancz, 1970.
Henry Adams. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1971.
Edith Wharton: A Woman in Her Time. New York, Viking Press, 1971; London, Joseph, 1972.
Richelieu. New York, Viking Press, 1972; London, Joseph, 1973.
A Writer's Capital (autobiography). Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1974.
Reading Henry James. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1975.
Persons of Consequence: Queen Victoria and Her Circle. New York, Random House, and London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1979.
Life, Law, and Letters: Essays and Sketches. Boston, HoughtonMifflin, 1979; London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980.
Three "Perfect Novels" and What They Have in Common. Bloom-field Hills, Michigan, Bruccoli Clark, 1981.
Unseen Versailles. New York, Doubleday, 1981.
False Dawn: Women in the Age of the Sun King. New York, Doubleday, 1984.
The Vanderbilt Era: Profiles of a Gilded Age. New York, Scribner, 1989.
J.P. Morgan: The Financier as Collector. New York, Abrams, 1990.
Love Without Wings: Some Friendships in Literature and Politics. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1991.
Deborah Turbeville's Newport Remembered: A Photographic Portrait of a Gilded Past. New York, Abrams, 1994.
The Style's the Man: Reflections on Proust, Fitzgerald, Wharton, Vidal, and Others. New York, Scribner, 1994.
Deborah Turbeville's Newport Remembered: A Photographic Portrait of a Gilded Past (text), photography by Deborah Turbeville. New York, Henry N. Abrams, 1994.
The Man Behind the Book: Literary Profiles. Boston, HoughtonMifflin, 1996.
La Gloire: The Roman Empire of Corneille and Racine. Columbia, South Carolina, University of South Carolina, 1996.
Woodrow Wilson. New York, Viking, 2000.
Afterword, High Society: The Town and Country Picture Album, 1846-1996, edited by Anthony T. Mazzola and Frank Zachary. New York, Abrams, 1996.
Contributor, with others, A Century of Arts and Letters: The History of the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Letters as Told, Decade by Decade, by Eleven Members, edited by John Updike. New York, Columbia University Press, 1998.
Foreword, New York Novels by Edith Wharton. New York, ModernLibrary, 1998.
Foreword, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. New York, Modern Library, 1999.
Editor, An Edith Wharton Reader. New York, Scribner, 1965.
Editor, The Warden, and Barchester Towers, by Trollope. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1966.
Editor, Fables of Wit and Elegance. New York, Scribner, 1975.
Editor, Maverick in Mauve: The Diary of a Turn-of-the-Century Aristocrat, by Florence Adele Sloane. New York, Doubleday, 1983.
Editor, The Hone and Strong Diaries of Old Manhattan. New York, Abbeville Press, 1989.
Introduction, Cattle Boat to Oxford: The Education of R. I. W. Westgate: Edited from His Letters, Diaries, and Papers by Sheila Margaret Westgate. New York, Walker, 1994.
Introduction, Jean Christophe by Romaine Rolland. New York, Carroll & Graf, 1996.
Introduction, The Reef by Edith Wharton. New York, Scribner, 1996.
Louis Auchincloss and His Critics: A Bibliographical Record by Jackson R. Bryer, Boston, Hall, 1977.
University of Virginia, Charlottesville.
The Novel of Manners in America by James W. Tuttleton, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1972; Louis Auchincloss by Christopher C. Dahl, New York, Ungar, 1986; Louis Auchincloss: The Growth of a Novelist by Vincent Piket, Nijmegan, Netherlands, European University Press, 1989, New York, St. Martin's Press, and London, Macmillan, 1991; Louis Auchincloss: A Writer's Life by Carol W. Gelderman, New York, Crown, 1993.
(1972) I do not think in general that authors are very illuminating on their own work, but in view of the harshness of recent (1970) reviewers, I should like to quote from a letter of Edith Wharton in my collection. It was written when she was 63, ten years older than I now am, but the mood is relevant. She is speaking of critics who have disliked her last novel: "You will wonder that the priestess of the life of reason should take such things to heart, and I wonder too. I never have minded before, but as my work reaches its close, I feel so sure that it is either nothing or far more than they know. And I wonder, a little desolately, which." Mrs. Wharton's work was far from its close, and I hope mine may be!
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Louis Auchincloss is among the few dedicated novelists of manners at work in contemporary America. He is a successor to Edith Wharton as a chronicler of the New York aristocracy. In this role he necessarily imbues his novels with an elegiac tone as he observes the passing beauties of the city and the fading power of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants of old family and old money who can no longer sustain their position of dominance in the society or their aristocratic ideals. His principal subject is thus the manners and morals, the money and marriages, the families and houses, the schools and games, the language and arts of the New York aristocracy as he traces its rise, observes its present crisis, and meditates its possible fall and disappearance. The point of vantage from which he often observes the aristocracy is that of the lawyer who serves and frequently belongs to this class.
The idea of good family stands in an uneasy relation to money in Auchincloss's fiction. Auchincloss dramatizes the dilemma of the American aristocracy by showing that it is necessary to possess money to belong to this class but fatal to one's standing within the class to pursue money. People who have connections with those who are still in trade cannot themselves fully qualify as gentlemen, as the opportunistic Mr. Dale in The Great World and Timothy Colt shows. On the other hand, Auchincloss is clearly critical of those aristocrats like Bertie Millinder or Percy Prime who do nothing constructive and are engaged simply in the spending of money. Auchincloss recognizes that the family is the most important of aristocratic institutions and that its place in its class is guaranteed by the conservation of its resources. This task of preserving the family wealth falls to the lawyers, and his fiction is rich in the complexities, both moral and financial, of fiduciary responsibility; Venus in Sparta is a novel in point. The paradox that Auchincloss reveals but does not seem sufficiently to exploit is that the conservative impulse of the aristocracy, which emphasizes the past, is concerned ultimately with posterity, which of course emphasizes the future.
Auchincloss does, however, fully exploit the conflict between the marriage arranged for the good of the family, often by strong women, and romantic or sexual impulses that are destructive of purely social goals, as Portrait in Brownstone illustrates. Sex and love are enemies to the organicism of conservative societies, in which the will of the individual is vested in the whole. Auchincloss observes the workings of this organic notion in the structure of family and marriage as well as in institutions like the school and the club where a consensus judgment about value and behavior is formulated and handed down. Such institutions preserve a way of life and protect those who live by it from those on the outside who do not. The Rector of Justin is the most obvious of Auchincloss's novels to deal with an institution, or with a man as an institution, that performs this function.
Auchincloss's fiction does more than present us with a mere record of the institutions that support the American aristocracy. The dramatic interest in his novels and whatever larger importance may be accorded them lies in his recognition that the entire class is in jeopardy and that individual aristocrats are often failures. The closed, unitary life of the aristocracy is sometimes threatened by outsiders—Jews, for example, as in The Dark Lady and The House of the Prophet—who must be repelled or at worst absorbed. Sometimes Auchincloss sees problems arising within the context of aristocracy itself, as when individual will or desire comes in conflict with the organicism; perhaps Rees Parmalee, in Pursuit of the Prodigal, makes the most significant rebellion of all Auchincloss's characters, but he is rejecting a decadent aristocracy and not aristocracy itself. Auchincloss is severely critical of the idea of the gentleman when it is corrupted by allegiance to superficial qualities, like Guy Prime's capacity to hold his liquor or to behave with virile cordiality in The Embezzler. But the real failures are those aristocrats who suffer, as so many of Auchincloss's male characters do, from a sense of inadequacy and insecurity that leads them to self-destructiveness. They are not strong and tough-fibered, as so many of the women are; they seem too fastidious and over-civilized, and they are failing the idea of society and their class. In this way, and in others, Auchincloss regretfully chronicles the passing of the aristocracy, which cannot sustain its own ideals in the contemporary world: A World of Profit is the most explicit recognition of this failure.
Auchincloss has made his record of the New York aristocracy in a style which is clear and simple, occasionally elegant and brilliant, and sometimes self-consciously allusive. He has a gift for comedy of manners, which he has not sufficiently cultivated, and a fine model in Oscar Wilde. Other influences upon him include Edith Wharton, in ways already mentioned; Henry James, from whom he learned the manipulation of point of view, and the faculty of endowing things, art objects for example, with meaning; and St. Simon, a memorialist who did for the French court what Auchincloss wishes to do for Knickerbocker New York. Yet among his faults as a novelist, especially evident because of the particular genre he has chosen, is a failure to give the reader a richness of detail; he does well with home furnishings but is far less successful with the details of institutions. Furthermore, he sometimes loses control of his novels and permits action to overwhelm theme. The most serious criticism to be made of his work is that while he does indeed pose moral dilemmas for his characters, he too easily resolves their problems for them. He does not sufficiently convey a sense of the bitter cost of honesty or courage or moral superiority, a continuing difficulty for him, as The Country Cousin demonstrates.
This same ethical conflict is seen in Three Lives, which, like Gertrude Stein's work of the same title, consists of three novellas disclosing the lives of three characters from the same stratum of society. Being Auchincloss rather than Stein, his characters are three New Yorkers born to wealth around the turn of the century. In Tales of Yesteryear, we see as well an assortment of characters of wealth and privilege who suffer a hardening of the heart as a result of their station in society. In several tales, members of the older generation look back over their lives with quiet regret, suggesting that wealth and power do not bring contentment. From this collection come some of the stories in Auchincloss's fiftieth book, The Collected Stories of Louis Auchincloss. Here readers find a full range of Auchincloss, from one of his earliest stories, the perfectly composed "Maud," to his most recent "They That Have the Power to Hurt."
He has given us, on balance, a full enough record of upper-class life in New York, but he has fallen short of the most penetrating and meaningful kinds of social insight that the best of the novelists of manners offer.
—Chester E. Eisinger, updated by
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