Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 409
Louis Auchincloss has carved himself a niche as the novelistic chronicler of a small but influential group in American life—the upper classes of New York. He was born into the group and has served it, as an attorney, for most of his life.
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In A Writer’s Capital Auchincloss wryly describes his own experiences growing up and finding a place in that group. His view of life was shaped within the narrow confines of the class in which he came of age: He believed that his family was not rich because they had maids but no butlers. His father’s work at the practice of law eventually led to several nervous breakdowns, while his mother lived in the enforced idleness of the rich women of her time. Therefore, Auchincloss thought of women as a privileged group, while men were born to slave and suffer. As a child, he was aware of the pervasive anti-Semitism of his parents’ social set, but saw it as merely another of those mysterious rules of the adult world that would be explained to him when he came of age. He saw no prejudice against African Americans because there were none in his world, not even as servants.
After a few tolerable years in an elementary school that was beginning a rapid decline, he was sent to Groton, the classic New England prep school which was to form the basis of his best-known novel, The Rector of Justin (1964). Auchincloss is at pains to inform the reader that its protagonist was based more on the famed jurist Learned Hand than on Groton’s rector. At Groton he suffered the unpopularity that was the fate of the unathletic at all such schools, but he eventually managed to find a niche for himself through what he came later to describe as excessive and joyless devotion to schoolwork and grades. A Groton teacher, Malcolm Strachan, communicated his love for reading to the young writer.
Auchincloss went to Yale, and from there to the law school at the University of Virginia, where he found that he had a genuine interest in the legal career that he felt commanded to pursue. He was able to obtain a law degree and a position with the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell before World War II intervened. He concludes the book with an account of his postwar struggles between literature and law, and reports that psychoanalysis eventually enabled him to do both.