The Rector of Justin Additional Summary

Louis Auchincloss


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Brian Aspinwall, a graduate of Columbia and Oxford (Christ Church), accepts a position in 1939 to teach English at Justin Martyr, a residential school for boys located in rural Massachusetts. The school is still under the tutelage of its founder and headmaster, the Reverend Francis Prescott, who is, at the age of eighty, still a force to be reckoned with. Aspinwall is torn between returning to England to be part of the war raging in Europe and staying in the United States to study for the clergy, a calling he expresses some doubts about.

Although Aspinwall starts off rocky at Justin Martyr by not adequately disciplining his charges, the Reverend Prescott helps him out by demonstrating the proper way to dispense demerits and otherwise intimidate the boys in his house. He soon becomes a favorite of Mrs. Prescott—Harriet Winslow—the head’s aristocratic wife, who is dying; she requests that Aspinwall read to her Henry James, an author not appreciated by her husband. Harriet, a grandniece of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the New England Transcendental philosopher, apparently was of great help to her husband during the school’s early years. After her death, Aspinwall is made assistant to the headmaster to lessen his administrative duties as he enters the final year of his headmastership. It is in this capacity that Aspinwall decides to construct a biographical portrait of Prescott by collecting impressions of him from those who have known him through the years.

The first set of impressions comes from Horace Havistock’s manuscript for his unfinished work “The Art of Friendship,” and it provides the earliest memories of Prescott, who was Havistock’s boyhood friend. Havistock and Prescott met at the residential boy’s school St. Andrews in Dublin, New Hampshire, in 1876, and Prescott provided the less athletic and more effete Havistock with not only friendship but also protection from the bullying of the other boys. Later, Prescott founded his own school and...

(The entire section is 810 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Auchincloss, Louis. Interview by George Plimpton. The Paris Review 35 (Fall, 1994): 73-94. A fascinating interview. Auchincloss talks about the writing process. He reveals that his work as a lawyer has helped him to develop his characters and that his characters are not wholly fictional. He also speaks about his early works, which were rejected, as well as his ideas about the teaching of writing.

Depietro, Thomas. “A Republican Soul.” World and I 10 (March, 1995): 304-311. Chronicles Auchincloss’s life and work. Discusses his thoughts on the social and moral decline of his own class, as well as the factors that influenced Auchincloss’s popularity. Briefly reviews Gelderman’s biography and offers a brief analysis of The Rector of Justin.

Gelderman, Carol W. Louis Auchincloss: A Writer’s Life. New York: Crown, 1993. A compelling look at not only Auchincloss’s life but the elite society that fostered him and was the subject of his novels. Includes a discussion of both The Rector of Justin and The Embezzler.

Parsell, David B. Louis Auchincloss. Boston: Twayne, 1988. An excellent critical overview of Auchincloss’s works. Themes are clearly delineated from novel to novel, which helps the reader to grasp the unity of Auchincloss’s work. Helpful bibliographies and an index are also included.

Tuttleton, James W. “Louis Auchincloss at Eighty.” New Criterion 16 (October, 1997): 32-36. Although Tuttleton focuses mainly on The Atonement and Other Short Stories, he does discuss themes that are common to all of Auchincloss’s novels, including the death of WASP society and how the prep-school Christian moral vision shapes the young for life. A good source of background information.