The Lady of Situations Summary
by Louis Auchincloss

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

By entitling his book The Lady of Situations, Auchincloss points to the fact that his heroine, Natica Chauncey, attains success by treating every difficult situation not as an obstacle but as an opportunity. Her independent spirit and her clear-sightedness qualify Natica for her role as a heroine. However, her life story suggests that a woman such as Natica will often sacrifice others in order to fulfill her own potential.

The Lady of Situations is for the most part narrated by an omniscient author. However, the novel is framed by first-person narratives entitled “Ruth’s Memoir,” in which Natica’s aunt, Ruth Felton, reports her observations, thus functioning much like a Greek chorus. A similar passage appears at three other points in the book.

The novel begins in the 1960’s, with Ruth, now in her seventies, recalling the time three decades before when Natica’s difficulties began. Natica’s bankrupt father spends his time perfecting his fly-fishing technique; her mother refuses to admit that the Chauncey name no longer means anything. She is too obtuse to let Ruth pay Natica’s way through a prestigious private school, where she could make the friendships that would serve her in later life.

The primary narrator now takes up Natica’s story. After graduating from Barnard College, Natica meets and marries Thomas Barnes, an assistant rector at Averhill School. Unlike her naïve husband, Natica sees Averhill as it is, a hotbed of hypocrisy and malice. However, after autocratic headmaster Reverend Rufus Lockwood makes Natica his secretary, she enjoys feeling powerful and is almost happy. Unfortunately, when Lockwood’s wife realizes that Natica has some influence over him, he is forced to fire her.

By now, Natica is so bored with her husband and the school that she embarks upon an affair with a new teacher, the wealthy, charming Stephen Hill. After she becomes pregnant, Hill insists on her divorcing Barnes and marrying him. Ever the pragmatist, Natica agrees. Though he is the innocent party, Barnes is dismissed from Averhill, becomes a military chaplain, and is later killed in wartime.

Meanwhile, Natica has miscarried. She is somewhat relieved, however, because she...

(The entire section is 558 words.)