Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Together with The Rector of Justin (1964), The Embezzler ranks among Auchincloss’s more complex and resonant novels, rich in psychological insight as well as in social observation. As in his later Watchfires (1982), set against the background of the War Between the States, Auchincloss here plausibly reduces history to human scale, showing the extent to which the course of history can be, and has been, altered for the most personal and trivial reasons by the behavior of those in positions of trust or authority. In that sense, The Embezzler might well be seen as a useful prototype for the political novel, affording as it does a creditable glimpse behind the scenes of power.

As a novel of manners, The Embezzler is notable for its portrayal of big business and high society and of the increasingly necessary interaction between the two during the early years of the twentieth century. By 1908, when Rex and Guy began their careers, a background such as Guy’s no longer sufficed to assure success, at least not without the added stamp of a university education. Rex Geer, quite unlike the social climbers or arrivistes common to nineteenth century fiction, is truly a new breed, unique to this century, an industrious professional formed and shaped by an education earnestly desired. If not quite an intellectual, Rex is nevertheless of a different breed from the dilettantish Guy, a man for whom work is an end in itself and...

(The entire section is 420 words.)