Louis Auchincloss Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What are the characteristics of upper-class New York society as Louis Auchincloss depicts it?

How do his characters reveal their total selfishness?

How do the parents in Auchincloss’s novels relate to their children?

How and why are certain marriages promoted in Auchincloss’s novels?

What does Auchincloss suggest makes for an unhappy marriage? A happy one?

How do the women in Auchincloss’s novels gain and keep power?

Which men and women in Auchincloss’s novels do you see as victims?

What evidence is there in Auchincloss’s novels that, although his characters believe themselves to be America’s aristocrats, in reality it is only their money that has made them prominent?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

A practicing attorney on New York’s Wall Street for more than forty years, Louis Auchincloss first drew critical attention as a novelist, reaching his peak with such memorable social chronicles as The House of Five Talents (1960), Portrait in Brownstone (1962), The Rector of Justin (1964), and The Embezzler (1966); some of his strongest short fiction dates from around the same time. The novel The Education of Oscar Fairfax (1995) was well received. Auchincloss also published several volumes of essays and criticism, most notably Reflections of a Jacobite (1961), Reading Henry James (1975), False Dawn: Women in the Age of the Sun King (1984), and The Man Behind the Book: Literary Profiles (1996). A Writer’s Capital, a selective autobiographical essay dealing with Auchincloss’s inspirations and early evolution as a novelist, appeared in 1974.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Although Louis Auchincloss never won any literary awards, his greatest single achievement as a writer of prose fiction may well be his continued questioning of the distinction between short and long narrative forms. Many of his collections may, in fact, be read with satisfaction either piecemeal or from start to finish, affording the reader an enviable glimpse behind the scenes of power.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although best known as a novelist, Louis Auchincloss (AW-kihn-klahs) has been a prolific and successful writer in a variety of other literary forms. Among his strongest collections of short fiction are the early volumes The Romantic Egoists (1954), Powers of Attorney (1963), and Tales of Manhattan (1967), each of which presents stories linked by narration, characters, or theme in such a way as to resemble a novel. An accomplished critic, Auchincloss has published studies of a wide range of writers, from William Shakespeare to Edith Wharton; among his best-known critical works are Reflections of a Jacobite (1961) and Reading Henry James (1975). Life, Law, and Letters: Essays and Sketches (1979) consists chiefly of essays on literary subjects, while the autobiographical memoir A Writer’s Capital (1974) provides valuable insight into the formation of Auchincloss’s outlook. Auchincloss has also published several heavily illustrated biographies and works of nonfiction intended for a general readership; among these works are Richelieu (1972), Persons of Consequence: Queen Victoria and Her Circle (1979), False Dawn: Women in the Age of the Sun King (1984), The Vanderbilt Era: Profiles of a Gilded Age (1989), and La Gloire: The Roman Empire of Corneille and Racine (1996).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

During the 1950’s, Louis Auchincloss emerged as a strong social satirist and novelist of manners, rivaling in his best work the accomplishments of John P. Marquand and John O’Hara. Unlike those writers, however, Auchincloss was clearly an “insider” by birth and breeding, belonging without reservation to the social class and power structure that he so convincingly portrayed. With the waning of the tradition represented by figures such as Marquand and O’Hara, Auchincloss stands nearly alone as an American novelist of manners, unrivaled in his analysis of social and political power.

Freely acknowledging his debt to Henry James and Edith Wharton as well as to Marcel Proust and the Duc de Saint-Simon, Auchincloss transforms the stuff of success into high art, providing his readers with convincing glimpses behind the scenes of society and politics, where top-level decisions are often made for the most personal and trivial of reasons. As a rule, his featured characters are credible and well developed, if often unsympathetic; Auchincloss’s apparent aim is to describe what he has seen, even at the risk of alienating readers who care so little about his characters as not to wonder what will become of them. At the same time, Auchincloss’s characteristic mode of expression leaves him open to accusations that he is an “elitist” writer, featuring characters who are almost without exception white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. Such accusations, however, do little to undermine the basic premise that emerges from the body of Auchincloss’s work: For good or for ill, the people of whom he writes are those whose decisions and behavior have determined the shape of the American body politic. In 2005, in recognition of his body of work as a writer, Auchincloss was awarded the National Medal of Arts.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Auchincloss, Louis. “The Art of Fiction: Louis Auchincloss.” Interview by George Plimpton. The Paris Review 36 (Fall, 1994): 72-94. Auchincloss discusses his fiction and nonfiction, commenting on his relationships with editors, how important plot and character are in his fiction, and his notion of literary style as a reflection of the personality of the writer.

Bryer, Jackson R. Louis Auchincloss and His Critics. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1977. Comprehensive annotated bibliography is the first secondary sourcebook dealing exclusively with Auchincloss and his work. Remains authoritative in its record of his developing reputation as a writer; lists works by and about Auchincloss from 1931 to 1976.

Dahl, Christopher C. Louis Auchincloss. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1986. First book-length study of Auchincloss’s work examines his novels and stories in chronological order and offers a balanced view of his accomplishments. Of special interest is the investigation of the boundaries between Auchincloss’s fiction and fact, in which possible historical antecedents are noted for characters and plot in The Embezzler, The House of the Prophet, and The Rector of Justin.

Gelderman, Carol. Louis Auchincloss: A Writer’s Life. Rev. ed. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007....

(The entire section is 420 words.)