THREE LIVES by Louis Auchincloss


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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.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1993
Page count: 213pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin