LOUIS AUCHINCLOSS by Carol Gelderman


A Writer's Life
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 Like her biographies of Mary McCarthy (1988) and Henry Ford (1980), Gelderman's latest is, at best, a competent sketch of a complex figure. Gelderman's thesis--that Auchincloss's life and art are one-- is sound, but she misses countless opportunities to demonstrate the connection. She relies heavily on Auchincloss's own memoir (A Writer's Capital, 1974), which she quotes at length, and seems not to be familiar with all of his vast oeuvre. Her critical remarks are limited mostly to the ``handful of books that rank among the best in American literature''--The Rector of Justin, The House of Five Talents, and Portrait in Brownstone. After that, she posits a decline in the novelist's powers, which she defines in predictable terms--that Auchincloss provides an unparalleled view of a declining social class. On the factual side of Auchincloss's life, Gelderman offers a few interesting insights, derived from some of her subject's revealing correspondence. But even her narration of fact gets off to a dull start with a lifeless genealogy of Auchincloss's patrician roots. Readers familiar with Auchincloss's work won't be surprised by Gelderman's summary of his life--his New York upbringing and his years at Groton, Yale, and the University of Virginia. His war years, spent in the Navy, are nicely accounted for here, as is one later foray into literary Manhattan. Much of Auchincloss's nonliterary life as a lawyer is admittedly mundane, which points to the problem with this biography: A stable life doesn't often make for compelling reading, however much we may admire Auchincloss for his kindness as a husband, father, and colleague. Indeed, it's inspirational to realize that Auchincloss flourished as a writer after he found domestic happiness and settled his personal conflict between law and letters. Not likely to win Auchincloss new readers, but this short biography will interest his loyal fans, if only to remind them of the scope and depth of his remarkable career. (Sixteen pages of b&w photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: Jan. 13th, 1993
ISBN: 0-517-58720-3
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1992