Critical Context

The Rector of Justin was Auchincloss’s first novel to reach high critical and popular acclaim; by most accounts, it still rates as his finest accomplishment, rivaled only by its immediate successor, The Embezzler (1966). In his two preceding novels, The House of Five Talents and Portrait in Brownstone (1962), Auchincloss had begun to develop the technique of limited-view-point, first-person narration as an instrument of social satire, a device that he would use to considerable profit in The Embezzler as well. The Rector of Justin, however, may well represent the high point of the form, providing as it does the many-sided portrait of an unwittingly complex individual whose own voice is rarely heard, and then only in conversation.

Following the death of John O’Hara in 1970, Auchincloss stood alone as an accomplished American novelist of manners, but the genre thereafter appeared to fall out of favor, kept viable mainly by Auchincloss himself at the approximate rate of one novel per year. In retrospect, his finest period is that of the early to middle 1960’s, with The Rector of Justin securing his reputation as a major American novelist.