LIFE, LAW AND LETTERS: Essays and Sketches by Louis Auchincloss

LIFE, LAW AND LETTERS: Essays and Sketches

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Novelist Auchincloss hardly enhances his reputation with his collections of simple-minded, blandly genial mini-essays; but at least this slim volume is rather less presumptuous than, say, Motiveless Malignity (1969), which doodled around with Shakespeare. Auchincloss does take on a few heavyweights here, tackling the theme of gloire in the plays of Corneille (in nine pages) and Jansenism in the life and work of Racine (in ten)--and the level of discussion most often suggests that of an insouciant freshman term-paper: ""I do not believe that it is fanciful to identify the dark God of the Jansenists with the offstage character who dominates the action in four of Racine's greatest tragedies. . . ."" There are also chatty, mostly admiring overviews of the work of Austen, Thackeray, Trollope, and Dreiser. But Auchincloss' other 13 subjects are more modest and better suited to his breezy, superficial approach: personal reactions to two critical approaches to Proust's Recherche; appreciations of Lytton Strachey's Elizabethan history and Justice Cardozo's prose; the real-life background of The Rector of Justin: how Tahiti was variously viewed by Henry Adams, R.L. Stevenson, John La Farge, and Gauguin; a recap of the career of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.; and a musing on Emily Dickison that refuses to see tragedy in her failure to publish during her lifetime: ""Living in an age of more vulgar satisfactions, I cannot help finding something attractive in Emily Dickinson's contentment with an intimate audience."" No arresting insights, a clean but flavorless style--passable, rather stuffy bedtime reading for only the most sedate literary browers.

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 1979
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin