TALES OF YESTERYEAR is the latest book of short stories by the noted chronicler of the American upper class, Louis Auchincloss. The stories, in which aged males dominate, are skillfully told and have a satiric edge. Few of these rich men find happiness amidst their wealth, position, and old age. The cause of their unhappiness varies, but the most common cause is romanticism or idealism. These misguided idealists need—and often find—a strong, solid woman to root them in reality and enable them to have some happiness.
The longest and the best story is “The Man of Good Will.” The story’s protagonist, Seth Middleton, believes in honor, principle, duty, and those beliefs lead his beloved grandson to commit suicide. There are no women to rescue Seth at the end of the story; they had advised a less principled but more practical course for the grandson, but Seth persisted, and he is left in despair at the end.
“The Priestess and the Acolyte” is told from a woman’s point of view. She is an actress who has devoted her life to her art. A younger male actor attempts to challenge that dedication by the offer of his love. She resists his romantically inflated claims and leaves him to his fate. Art is the one ideal in the book that is worth living for. The sentimental demands of the actor can only corrupt this true ideal.
TALES OF YESTERYEAR is a solid collection, but it does not have the wit or social density of Auchincloss’ best fiction, and the granting of virtue so exclusively to one gender comes too close to the formulaic.