Books by Louis Auchincloss

Louis Auchincloss was honored in the year 2000 as a "Living Landmark" by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. He has written more than fifty books, including the story collection Manhattan Monologues and the novel The Rector of Justin. The president of the

Released: Dec. 2, 2010

"An anthropological guide to the phantom politesse of Old New York, rendered as neatly as ever."
The prolific author's last book is a farewell to a way of life that was gone before he was. Read full book review >
LAST OF THE OLD GUARD by Louis Auchincloss
Released: Dec. 1, 2008

"A small masterpiece from an old master whose oeuvre bulks large in our literature and will last."
Auchincloss's umpteenth (The Headmaster's Dilemma, 2007, etc.) tells the story of a prestigious Manhattan law firm and the families in its orbit. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 10, 2007

"Genteel combat among the gimlet-eyed gatekeepers of the upper-crust, their hold on society's reins slowly slipping."
Auchincloss's latest (The Friend of Women, 2007, etc.) concerns a scandal set in an exclusive New England prep school being buffeted by the winds of change in the mid-1970s. Read full book review >
THE FRIEND OF WOMEN by Louis Auchincloss
Released: March 9, 2007

"Another impressive addition to an extensive oeuvre."
Five new stories, set in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, and a one-act play, from National Medal of Arts recipient Auchincloss (The Young Apollo and Other Stories, April 2006, etc.). Read full book review >
THE YOUNG APOLLO by Louis Auchincloss
Released: April 11, 2006

"No one captures the charm of having money and using it with offhand splendor the way Auchincloss does."
An excellent collection of 12 previously unpublished stories display the author's usual precision and ease, wit and moral scrupulousness. Read full book review >
EAST SIDE STORY by Louis Auchincloss
Released: Dec. 2, 2004

"A rich chronicle, neither pious nor snide, that succeeds in humanizing a rare and much-maligned species of Americans for those who don't come across them very much."
A family saga follows the fortunes of a clan of Scots merchants as they morph into pillars of New York society. Read full book review >
THE SCARLET LETTERS by Louis Auchincloss
Released: Nov. 5, 2003

"Speedy and fleet-footed fiction of the highest order."
An affair implodes a tightly wound WASP family in 1950s New York. Read full book review >
Released: July 10, 2002

"Telling stories about a privileged world, Auchincloss doesn't belie the intellectual and material luxuriousness his characters live in, but neither does he ever stoop to revel in them."
A dry martini of a collection from an author who, in his 57th book, voices his characters with a precision and care almost unheard of in a sloppy age. Read full book review >
THEODORE ROOSEVELT by Louis Auchincloss
Released: Jan. 4, 2001

"A master craftsman's rendering of a character who needs no embellishment."
Auchincloss (Her Infinite Variety, 2000, etc.) trains his acute sensibility and elegant prose on our most colorful chief executive, rendering Teddy as a man of his time as well as a timeless example of principled leadership. Read full book review >
HER INFINITE VARIETY by Louis Auchincloss
Released: Aug. 8, 2000

"Another fine chapter in Auchincloss's ongoing fictional chronicle of the American century."
One of Auchincloss's great themes—the decline of the ruling-class WASP—here expands to include the female strivers of the pre-feminist age. Read full book review >
WOODROW WILSON by Louis Auchincloss
Released: April 1, 2000

"informed by an entertaining historian. (Book-of-the-Month Club/History Book Club selection)"
Fleet narrative and clear-eyed psychology put our 28th president's flawed administration (1913-21) into personal and global Read full book review >
THE ANNIVERSARY by Louis Auchincloss
Released: July 15, 1999

Auchincloss's 16th collection is comprised of 9 published stories about the moneyed upper crust, whose complex mores have for over 40 years been memorably delineated in the prolific author's impressive oeuvre (more than 50 books and counting). An autumnal mood suffuses these supremely literate tales of social-climbing and conflict, most of which are recollected in a kind of wry tranquility, and all of which display learned literary and cultural allusions and patiently constructed Jamesian periodic sentences. James is a clear influence on several stories that contrast Americans and Europeans (he even appears in "The Virginia Redbird" as a frequent visitor to the London home of the impecunious beauty who is, as she realizes, her snobbish husband's prize possession). By comparison, other stories feel underimagined (—DeCicco v. Schweizer," for example, a perhaps semiautobiographical meditation on its narrator's twin passions for the law and literature) or overfamiliar (the title story's bland exploration of a marriage endangered, then redeemed by adultery and its aftershocks; and the smug "The Last of the Great Courtesans," both reading like warmed-over John O—Hara). But there are also several gems. In a densely packed 20 pages, "The Devil and Guy Lansing" records the spiritual odyssey and rueful self-discovery of a prep school headmaster-clergyman who "became a priest without being a Christian," and "The Veterans" reaches back to the Civil War to examine the hearts and minds of two Americans in Paris, exempted from military service but not from the pressures of their respective consciences. And "Man of the Renaissance" superbly portrays the emotions of a sophisticate raised among Italy's cultural wonders who understands too late that his accomplished young son was, unlike himself, much more than an "appreciat[or] of beautiful things." It's a story the author of "The Beast in the Jungle" would have admired. Vintage Auchincloss: suave, skillfully crafted, amusing, dependably entertaining stories from a master who, now in his ninth decade, remains one of the essential American writers. Read full book review >
THE ATONEMENT by Louis Auchincloss
Released: Sept. 27, 1997

The 12 thematically linked tales in Auchincloss's first volume since his Collected (1994) dispel any sense of diminished talent in old age. With elegance and intelligence, the author further embellishes familiar themes—romantic egotism, the fate of family fortunes, and the relation of business and morality. A Protestant moralist and the chronicler of a social class in decline, Auchincloss focuses here on characters who try to atone for past misdeeds. The title piece—a mini Bonfire of the Vanities- -measures the moral complexities of financial manipulation in the contemporary marketplace, and poses the situational ethics of its fast-track protagonist against the seemingly unworldly wisdom of his father, a prep-school master. A railroad magnate atones for a life dedicated to business by assembling in old age a world-class art collection, much to the dismay of his heirs (``Ars Gratia Artis''). When a successful Manhattan lawyer divorces his first wife for his partner's, he makes up for this scandal by retreating to a quiet life as a professor, much to the chagrin of his ambitious second wife (``The Last Great Divorce''). While one heartless tycoon rationalizes his empire building (``Realist in Babylon''), a young lawyer abandons his career to follow his genuine interests (``The Hidden Muse''). A famous litigator at age 80 confronts, with some shock, the possibility that his wife understood him best when she steered him from a path leading to the Supreme Court (``The Golden Voice''). Auchincloss continues to be interested in the ``spheres of influence'' specific to gender in the WASP ascendancy. A longish tale of two sisters, ``Honoria and Attila,'' neatly captures the various choices open to women of a certain class, as does ``Geraldine,'' in which a society widow decides not to challenge her second husband's will, sacrificing a fortune for the moral high ground. One of the last literary chroniclers of the upper class—and a voice still very much worth heeding. Read full book review >
THE MAN BEHIND THE BOOK by Louis Auchincloss
Released: Dec. 2, 1996

In the best belletrist tradition, Auchincloss offers these 23 literary sketches, short essays full of moral earnestness (though he's profoundly sympathetic to his subjects' frailties) and casual insight. What he doesn't tolerate is artless writing or sloppy thinking, which is why Auchincloss never inflates his arguments on behalf of these (often forgotten) figures. His subjects range from the pleasurable middle-brow fiction of F. Marion Crawford to the scathing attacks on American materialism contained in Robert Herrick's once-popular novels. Auchincloss not only celebrates out- of-fashion writers, he rescues a number of better-known authors from their embrace by trendy academics who are quick to impute adversarial notions where there may be none. Walter Pater, for all his alleged decadence, was in fact a Christian aesthete who thought that beauty ennobled and strengthened but was not an end in itself. Similarly, Auchincloss asserts that Sarah Orne Jewett offers more than grist for the gender-studies mill, especially when one reads beyond her obvious sentimentality. Auchincloss is particularly sensitive to writers who share his own fictional concerns, such as Robert Grant, a novelist of manners whose portrait of turn-of-the- century Boston might seem irrelevant today. Likewise, Auchincloss values those authors (such as the Belle Epoque dramatist Paul Hervicu) who understand the pull of social convention, the lure of money, the need to dwell in the ``great world'' of human affairs. Auchincloss considers S.N. Behrman ``the wittiest playwright since Oscar Wilde'' and admires Robert Sherwood but admits that his popular dramas indulged in much ``half baked idealism.'' An appreciation of Maxwell Anderson's efforts in verse drama segues into a surprising aside on T.S. Eliot's superior work in the genre. Henry James, ``the Master,'' is a touchstone throughout, guiding spirit as both critic and creator. A modest collection of critical essays that subtly defies the orthodoxies of the academy. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 7, 1995

Auchincloss (Tales of Yesteryear, 1994, etc.) tells the saga of the American Century as only he knows howthrough a fictional memoir by someone well poised to witness the high social dimension of political events. The world of Oscar Fairfax includes many of those who shape our historyreligious leaders, Wall Street lawyers, industrial tycoons, New Deal ``brain-trusters'' and not-so-innocent artists. Writing in 1975, Oscar fancies himself something of a 20th-century Henry Adams, a man of privilege expected to make his way in the ``great world'' even as he chronicles its decline. Far more realistic than Adams, and less pretentious, Oscar nevertheless shares the same sort of pride in his ancestry. Descended from a prerevolutionary British peer, he grows up with the Episcopal Bishop of New York as his maternal grandfather, a man who, more practical than pious, dedicates himself to a monument—a cathedral- -that his son-in-law considers unnecessary and vain. Oscar's worldly father nevertheless sends his son to St. Augustine's, where the boy learns ``the charm of belonging to the establishment'' even as he begins discerning certain hypocrisies. At Yale, he befriends the social-climbing romantic egoist Danny Winslow, a novelist who pursues his art regardless of the consequences. Later, at the Paris office of his father's firm, the now-married dilettante grows further disillusioned with aestheticism, thanks partly to the wise Edith Wharton, who makes a cameo here. Then, back in the States, Oscar chronicles the Oedipal struggle between a right-wing Supreme Court Justice and his New Dealer son. Time and again, Oscar learns that acts of charity don't always have the desired effect; and if his own intentions aren't as selfless as he'd like to think, he knows, good Protestant that he is, that the deed is more important than the motive. Many of Auchincloss's familiar themes, settings, and types come together in this perfect character studyall the more profound for its modesty and measure. Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 1, 1994

This comprehensive selection of Auchincloss's short fiction couldn't be better timed. With critical taste leaning away from slick minimalism and neo-proletarian fiction, perhaps there's finally room for a true expansionist among the canonized story writers. Spanning more than 40 years, this collection attests to Auchincloss's durable talents: flawless prose, keen social observation, and a refined moral sensibility. The compromises between society and the individual, art and commerce, ego and restraint all figure into his finest fictions. Arranged chronologically, the 19 selections together suggest the author's profound sense of American history, with all of its political and social eruptions. He seems to have emerged as a writer fully formed, since the earliest pieces here (``Maud'' and ``Greg's Peg'') prove as supple and graceful as his most recent, which include choice work from Three Lives (1993) and Tales of Yesteryear (1994). No longer lost among the bulk of his out-of-print books are some of his very best stories, among them three linked tales about a major Manhattan law firm (``The Colonel's Foundation,'' ``The Mavericks,'' and ``The Single Reader'') that chronicle vanity and ambition at the profession's highest levels. Auchincloss's ambivalence about the ``Great World'' (as he calls it) of Wall Street and New York society comes through vividly in two mid-career stories: ``Billy and the Gargoyles'' highlights the attractions and repulsions of conformist behavior at a New England boys' school; ``The Gemlike Flame,'' perhaps his masterpiece, is a hypnotic, strangely oedipal tale of romantic egoists in Venice. Auchincloss schools us in all the social differences we're taught don't exist. At the same time, his work reflects our collective loss of soul and the corrupting power of political and social resentment. Time and again, he implicates his narrators in the fate of his protagonists- -one of many sure signs that we're in the presence of a subtle master. Further proof, if any is needed, that Auchincloss ranks among the best in American literature. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1994

Although (or perhaps because) by current standards this collection tends more toward lite crit than lit crit, readers will find in Auchincloss (Tales of Yesteryear, 1994, etc.) an elegant and erudite companion in reading the canon. All but one of these 18 essays (many reprints or revisions of previously issued pieces) look at writers and their works: Percy Lubbock and his friendship with Edith Wharton; Gore Vidal's American history novels; and, in a capsule account, the works of novelist William Gaddis. Even the sole exception, on the ``inner FDR,'' sees the president's identification with the US as a ``kind of artistic creation.'' An account of correspondence between the retired Eton housemaster George Lyttleton and the author and editor Rupert Hart-Davis reminds us how much has been lost with the demise of the epistolary form. A discussion of the three dramatic episodes cut by Pound from ``The Waste Land'' raises questions on how Eliot originally conceived of the poem. Well-chosen examples help make a case for just how little Henry James learned from his unfortunate efforts at writing plays. Consistently thoughtful without being ponderous, Auchincloss employs a dry sense of humor. For example, one piece that intertwines the literary virtues of Clarissa with the moral virtues of its title character, casually notes that another Richardson heroine, Pamela, ``managed to hold on to her virtue and sell out in a bull market.'' It is a thick-skinned reader who can emerge from this collection without some yearning to look up at least one of the works Auchincloss plumbs with such obvious pleasure. Read full book review >
TALES OF YESTERYEAR by Louis Auchincloss
Released: March 1, 1994

Well into his 70s, with 50 or so books to his credit, Auchincloss (Three Lives, False Gods, etc. etc.) shows no signs of slowing down. And that's great news, because his word is as graceful and insightful as it's ever been. These eight stories, with their familiar social types and elegant settings, are vintage Auchincloss: moral tales that resonate with the history of our times, albeit from the top down. Seth Middleton, Dick Emmons, and Osborne Renwick are all wealthy, elderly men who, for one reason or another, find their cherished worldviews suddenly challenged: A retired lawyer of honor and decency cannot rescue his beloved grandson from utter despair (``The Man of Good Will''); in ``The Lotos Eaters,'' a story as clever as Kingsley Amis's Old Devils, another distinguished lawyer, widowed early in life, decides to remarry; and in the fabulistic ``Renwick Steles,'' an aging heir to a real-estate fortune realizes that he will live forever in the shadow of his perfect wife. The witty ``They That Have Power To Hurt'' is the Nabokovian memoir of a minor writer in his 70s determined to rationalize his history of sexual parasitism. The raging id of a neurasthenic tycoon in ``The Poetaster'' makes for a compelling tale of upper-class deviancy. In ```To My Beloved Wife'...,'' a wealthy matron is led astray by the false god of art (represented by an oily, Capote-like hanger-on). The romantic egoism of a once celebrated actress has left her a lonely ``virgin Queen'' in old age (``Priestess and Acolyte''). And ``A Day and Then a Night'' is the poignant story of a young man's self-doubt on the eve of US intervention in WW II. Throughout, Auchincloss's varied character studies, always subtle and sympathetic, speak directly to the quality of our lives. Ignored by most anthologists, Auchincloss belongs among the masters of American short fiction, as this volume demonstrates. His publishers should silence skeptics with a fat collection spanning his 40-plus years of story-writing. Read full book review >
THREE LIVES by Louis Auchincloss
Released: Jan. 1, 1993

The three fictional memoirs that make up Auchincloss's (False Gods, etc. etc.) latest all illustrate classic personality types. But even Auchincloss's Freudianism is characteristically WASP-ish- -restrained, nonreductive, and glossed by his refined moral sensibility. Nathaniel Chisolm (``The Epicurean'') rejects his father's work ethic for the life of a bon vivant. If, for him, his father represents duty and responsibility, his mother, who lives most of the time in Paris, embodies the pleasure principle. Nathaniel even betrays his factory-owning father in order to bed an attractive unionist. A Harvard hedonist, he briefly dedicates himself to the war effort, only to return home to a life of fox-hunting and polo. Marriage leads to a period of artistic dilettantism in Paris, which he abandons for a successful Wall Street career, only to be wiped out by the Crash. If Nathaniel discovers too late that ``pleasure in vitiated by total selfishness,'' his example is hardly a simple morality tale. Each of Auchincloss's character studies is tempered by his profound sense of time and place. The dowager narrator of ``The Realist'' rejects the myopic view of contemporary feminism (represented by her daughter) that cannot account for the power she wielded by nurturing her husband's career—though even her healthy realism has its ethical limits. ``The Stoic is perhaps the most complex piece, a study in the slippery slope of amoral behavior that turns into revenge. Like his mentor, the great financier Lees Dunbar, George Manville readily accepts and exploits the world's follies. However much he succeeds as a capitalist titan, George suffers greatly for his vanity and arrogance. His genial revenge against a decadent class leaves him a study in loneliness. Once again, America's last patrician novelist renders a not- so-distant past intelligible and relevant to today. Neither nostalgist nor class traitor, he remains above all an artist. Read full book review >
FALSE GODS by Louis Auchincloss
Released: Jan. 1, 1992

The title of Auchincloss's latest fiction is a variation on his Golden Calves (1988), but his moral sensibility remains the same—an insider's understanding of the sins and vanities of upper- class Manhattanites. In these six stories, Auchincloss recasts Greek myth into contemporary fable—none of his errant protagonists are one- dimensional fools or miscreants, but good men led astray by anger, ambition, fashion, and other all-consuming passions. In ``Ares, God of War,'' a Virginia gentleman allows his antebellum sense of honor to degenerate into postwar revenge as an unethical New York lawyer. ``Hermes, God of the Self-Made Man'' is a tale worthy of the best Howells—a successful Yale-educated lawyer during the first half of this century sacrifices love, loyalty, and his identity as a Jew for his ambitions, all of which he justifies by his sense of victimization. In ``Hephaestus, God of Newfangled Things,'' a once- brilliant architect regrets the compromises he made in marriage and career. A crisis of faith underpins ``Polyhymnia, Muse of Sacred Song,'' in which an asexual son of a society matron converts to Catholicism, only to abandon his vocation in a burst of Protestant doubt about Roman dogmatism. ``Charity, Goddess of Our Day'' examines the little-noticed (but perhaps greatest) vanity of the rich, and asks: Charity at what cost? A retired lawyer proposes a morally dubious estates scheme to a wealthy dowager, but is chastened by his own wife. ``Athene, Goddess of the Brave'' strikes a therapeutic note: a grown-up mamma's boy, plagued throughout his life by fears of unmanliness and cowardice, confronts his demons after a particularly humiliating event. In the great world of Auchincloss, the ends never justify the means, and the rich are held to the highest of ethical standards. This may not be a major addition to the author's oeuvre, but it's an always welcome message, delivered with grace and elegance. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 14, 1990

Here, in one of his better essay collections (The Vanderbilt Era, 1989; Life, Law and Letters, 1979, etc.), Auchincloss describes friendship among 16 famous pairs. Despite the richness of the figures he elects to write about, Auchincloss often recycles familiar material, as in his Fitzgerald & Hemingway and Hawthorne & Melville essays, adding little new to his apparent paste-ups from easy-to-hand biographies. One thinks contrastingly of D.H. Lawrence's Studies in Classic American Literature and at once is aware of the vividness and electricity missing from the Law Journal formalese that rules Auchincloss's imagination in those two pieces. He is better on Boswell & Johnson, where his style fits the Augustans; on Henry Adams and John Hay, a study that is quite moving; on Byron & Shelley, whose natures (Shelley the passionate idealist, Byron the cynic) drove them apart, with detestation on Shelley's part; and on the laughable ties between the monomaniacally egocentric and alcoholic Alfred lord Tennyson and his companion, Arthur Hallam. But one blinks at the clichÇs set forth as fine writing, as in his preface: "I know this will be disputed by some, but I stick to my guns. . .Now this, of course, will be hotly disputed. . .I will freely admit. . .I simply insist. . .Interdependence, however, must always be a carefully balanced affair. . ." Among other dual friendships handled here are those of Roosevelt & Hopkins, Emerson & Thoreau (quite lively), Edith Wharton & Margaret Chanler, and Woodrow Wilson & Colonel House (dull). Despite the above cavils: superior Auchincloss, with edgy, nervous, well-spoken writers and politicians for him to quote and think about. Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1989

Prolific Auchincloss again lets loose his particular brand of character sketch-cum-social history, focusing on the period between 1880 and 1910. Auchincloss begins with "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt. Only glancing reference is made to his shipping and railroad empire, but we learn that he worked in the morning, drove his trotters after lunch, and drank at night. His principal heir was son William Henry: "There is something distasteful in the picture of this homely, stout, phlegmatic man, with his small pig eyes," who bore his father's insults and ended up "with the whole fortune in his pocket." One of William's sons married the ferocious Alva Smith: fired by social ambition, she gave legendary costume parties and bullied her daughter, Consuelo, into an unhappy marriage. Other flashy Vanderbilts include Adele Sloane, who carried on a risquÇ flirtation before settling down suitably; Grace Wilson, queen of the society columns; and the sculptor and art patron Gertrude Whitney. Of the non-Vanderbilts featured, one of the weirder and more fascinating subjects is Edmund Stanton, the manager of the Metropolitan Opera who incurred hostility by packing the schedule with Wagner. An uneven mix of revealing anecdotes, recapitulation (detailed plot summaries of Wharton novels), and omission (little in the way of historical or economic context). Fans who already have an interest in the period may relish these oblique and opinionated characterizations; but the off-center sketching (so graceful and evocative in Auchincloss' best novels) here offers the historical equivalent of gilding: it draws the eye only to life's shiny, decorated surface. Read full book review >
FELLOW PASSENGERS by Louis Auchincloss
Released: March 1, 1989

The ten entertaining character studies that make up Auchincloss' 41st book also offer a subtle portrait of the American century and its waning aristocracy. Once again, our finest novelist of manners tempers any nostalgic impulse with a serious moral purpose; and, at the same time, this is something of a fictional autobiography, for narrator Dan Ruggles, whose life most resembles Auchincloss', also follows the twin muses of law and letters. Ruggles' world is one of boarding schools and Manhattan brownstones, of Bar Harbor summers and deb parties at Piping Rock. And it's peopled with a number of wholly believable types: a maiden aunt, "the best-natured creature in the world," whose charitableness must compensate for childlessness; a romantic uncle, a fop whose pursuit of the good life ("the great world"—in Auchincloss' terms) leads to no good deeds or "serious thinking"—those antidotes to idle luxury; and a wealthly cousin who underwrites her eccentric husband's scholarly obsession with a minor antebellum statesman. As the world beyond Park Avenue opens to the somewhat priggish Dan, he discovers its more unsavory aspects. A witty and gregarious Yale classmate, a shameless social climber, commits suicide rather than confront his homosexuality; Dan's best friend from law school, an apparently perfect parent, must endure the shame of his son's larcenous behavior; and a partner at Dan's firm, an aging bachelor, marries a younger, less wealthy woman who's treated poorly by her husband's friends. The law figures prominently in other chapters as well. One concerns some legal documents, and how notarizing them or not in absentia indicates the character of a senior partner and his associate. In another, Auchincloss takes us back to the milieu of last year's The Golden calves; here, an egotistical museum-curator and a vain art-collector clash over terms of her bequeathal. A wonderful portrait of a Katherine Anne Porter-like writer teaches Dan much about booze and betrayal among the literati. For those unacquainted with Auchincloss' substantial oeuvre, this compendium of his themes—the play of private and public selves; intimacy among the close-lipped; the thick exteriors of the moneyed class—serves as the perfect introduction. His avid readers, on the other hand, will find him in top form. Read full book review >