The Man Behind the Book

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Louis Auchincloss’ THE MAN BEHIND THE BOOK: LITERARY PROFILES investigates the lives and work of twenty-three authors. His premise is that there is an important relationship between the author’s life and the work he creates. The choice of authors is broad, ranging from the seventeenth century playwright, Cyril Tourneur, to a number of early twentieth century American writers. These writers were selected because “each, at one point or another in my life, has meant a good deal to me.”

One of the most interesting discussions is of the nineteenth century novelist, Walter Pater. The life that Pater lived was almost entirely mental or literary. However, his doctrine of living life intensely was seen by his contemporaries as a dangerous decadent view. In a similar vein, Auchincloss discusses Henry James’s memoir on his return to America rather than any of his great novels.

One part of the book is devoted to writers who once had a considerable reputation that has fallen to near oblivion. Maxwell Anderson, for example, was once seen as a great playwright. Auchincloss sees the decline of his reputation as just after he compares the verse of T. S. Eliot to the pedestrian lines of Anderson.

Robert Sherwood is another author with a once great reputation who is largely forgotten today. Auchincloss discusses the union of the life and the work in Sherwood’s ROOSEVELT AND HOPKINS (1948) rather than his once popular plays.

THE MAN BEHIND THE BOOK uses biographical criticism to explore the work of a diverse group of authors. It is likely to be ignored by academia for its unfashionable critical views. However, it is likely to interest a number of readers, especially those who remember those once great writers who Auchincloss brings back to our attention.