The House of Five Talents, announcing the full range of Auchincloss’s skill as novelist and chronicler, is narrated in the first-person voice by Miss Augusta Millinder, known familiarly as Gussie, a seventy-five-year-old heiress who, after the social upheavals of two world wars and a depression, sees fit to record her memoirs for posterity. Ostensibly penned during 1948, Gussie’s testimony ranges from the gaslight era of her adolescence to the narrative present, providing an insider’s view of society against the backdrop of history.
Unmarried by choice, having broken her engagement to a promising young architect for reasons best known to herself, Gussie Millinder emerges early in life as a keen observer and occasional meddler, using her spinsterhood as a vantage point from which to analyze and criticize the marital and parental misadventures of her relatives and friends. Gussie’s meddling, however well-intentioned, fails more often than it succeeds, allowing the unseen Auchincloss to inject elements of plot into an otherwise linear narrative.
In her twenties, for example, Gussie tries, unsuccessfully, to thwart her parents’ divorce and her father’s subsequent remarriage to an actress. Later, in an incident presaging the plot of The Embezzler, she will offer to save a cousin’s husband from bankruptcy and prison by covering his embezzlement with her own funds, on condition that the man retire permanently from...
(The entire section is 484 words.)