Combining the narrative approach of The House of Five Talents with the general subject matter of his earlier Wall Street novels, Auchincloss in Portrait in Brownstone explores both office politics and the emergent female consciousness through the eyes of one Ida Trask Hartley, who, around the age of sixty, begins at last to perceive the full extent of her experience and talents. Bookish and somewhat retiring, Ida has spent most of her life in the shadow of her hard-driving husband, Derrick, a minister’s son from New England, and her glamorous cousin Geraldine Denison, Derrick’s sometime mistress. Indeed, it is Geraldine’s suicide, following a long slide into alcoholism and depression, that begins the process of Ida’s awakening and liberation, a process that forms the true plot of the novel.
Like Gussie Millinder in The House of Five Talents, Ida Hartley is a keen observer and gifted storyteller. In search of self-discovery, she revisits her past, recalling her mother’s close-knit extended family, the Denisons, and her uncle Linnaeus Tremain, a brilliant, perceptive financier. Although all the male Denisons are gainfully employed and most have been to college, it is Tremain’s sustained generosity that enables them all to live in relative comfort and that allows Ida to attend college, the first woman in her family to do so.
Enrolled at Barnard College and interested in liberal politics, Ida soon finds herself debating political issues with Derrick Hartley, a Harvard graduate who, having made a small fortune with a Boston brokerage firm, has moved to New York with hopes of working for Linnaeus Tremain. Little deterred by Tremain’s insistence that no vacancy exists in his firm, Derrick quite literally “dines out” on his accumulated savings while waiting for the...
(The entire section is 747 words.)