During the 1950’s, Louis Auchincloss emerged as a strong social satirist and novelist of manners, rivaling in his best work the accomplishments of John P. Marquand and John O’Hara. Unlike those writers, however, Auchincloss was clearly an “insider” by birth and breeding, belonging without reservation to the social class and power structure that he so convincingly portrayed. With the waning of the tradition represented by figures such as Marquand and O’Hara, Auchincloss stands nearly alone as an American novelist of manners, unrivaled in his analysis of social and political power.
Freely acknowledging his debt to Henry James and Edith Wharton as well as to Marcel Proust and the Duc de Saint-Simon, Auchincloss transforms the stuff of success into high art, providing his readers with convincing glimpses behind the scenes of society and politics, where top-level decisions are often made for the most personal and trivial of reasons. As a rule, his featured characters are credible and well developed, if often unsympathetic; Auchincloss’s apparent aim is to describe what he has seen, even at the risk of alienating readers who care so little about his characters as not to wonder what will become of them. At the same time, Auchincloss’s characteristic mode of expression leaves him open to accusations that he is an “elitist” writer, featuring characters who are almost without exception white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. Such accusations, however, do little to undermine the basic premise that emerges from the body of Auchincloss’s work: For good or for ill, the people of whom he writes are those whose decisions and behavior have determined the shape of the American body politic. In 2005, in recognition of his body of work as a writer, Auchincloss was awarded the National Medal of Arts.