Authors: Louis Auchincloss

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Indifferent Children, 1947 (as Andrew Lee)

Sybil, 1951

A Law for the Lion, 1953

The Great World and Timothy Colt, 1956

Venus in Sparta, 1958

Pursuit of the Prodigal, 1959

The House of Five Talents, 1960

Portrait in Brownstone, 1962

The Rector of Justin, 1964

The Embezzler, 1966

A World of Profit, 1968

I Come as a Thief, 1972

The Partners, 1974

The Dark Lady, 1977

The Country Cousin, 1978

The House of the Prophet, 1980

The Cat and the King, 1981

Watchfires, 1982

Exit Lady Masham, 1983

The Book Class, 1984

Honorable Men, 1985

Diary of a Yuppie, 1986

The Golden Calves, 1988

Fellow Passengers, 1989

The Lady of Situations, 1990

Three Lives, 1993 (novellas)

The Education of Oscar Fairfax, 1995

Her Infinite Variety, 2001

Short Fiction:

The Injustice Collectors, 1950

The Romantic Egoists, 1954

Powers of Attorney, 1963

Tales of Manhattan, 1967

Second Chance: Tales of Two Generations, 1970

The Winthrop Covenant, 1976

Narcissa and Other Fables, 1983

The Book Class, 1984

Skinny Island: More Tales of Manhattan, 1987

Fellow Passengers: A Novel in Portraits, 1989

False Gods, 1992 (fables)

The Collected Stories of Louis Auchincloss, 1994

Tales of Yesteryear, 1994

The Atonement, and Other Stories, 1997

The Anniversary, and Other Stories, 1999

Manhattan Monologues, 2002


Reflections of a Jacobite, 1961

Pioneers and Caretakers: A Study of Nine American Women Novelists, 1965

Motiveless Malignity, 1969

Edith Wharton: A Woman in Her Time, 1971

Richelieu, 1972

A Writer’s Capital, 1974

Reading Henry James, 1975

Life, Law and Letters: Essays and Sketches, 1979

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

J. P. Morgan: The Financier as Collector, 1990

Love Without Wings: Some Friendships in Literature and Politics, 1991

The Style’s the Man: Reflections on Proust, Fitzgerald, Wharton, Vidal, and Others, 1994

The Man Behind the Book: Literary Profiles, 1996

La Gloire: The Roman Empire of Corneille and Racine, 1996; Woodrow Wilson, 2000

Theodore Roosevelt, 2001


Initially recognized as a younger competitor to John P. Marquand and John O’Hara, two novelists noted for their deft portrayals of business and society in fiction, Louis Auchincloss (AW-kihn-klahs) soon distinguished himself as their equal. Auchincloss’s name has come to be identified with the tradition of the “novel of manners.” Acknowledging his debt to Henry James and Edith Wharton, as well as to Marcel Proust and other European masters of the form, Auchincloss went on during the 1960’s to develop this genre in its contemporary mode.{$I[AN]9810001381}{$I[A]Auchincloss, Louis}{$S[A]Lee, Andrew;Auchincloss, Louis}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Auchincloss, Louis}{$I[tim]1917;Auchincloss, Louis}

Louis Auchincloss

(©Jerry Bauer)

Louis Stanton Auchincloss was born on Long Island, New York, the second son and third child of a successful Wall Street lawyer. The Auchincloss family, of Scottish origin, had grown both numerous and prosperous in the New World, where they initially engaged in the wool trade. Louis Auchincloss grew up both perceptive and observant, developing a keen, analytical view of the establishment to which he belonged.

After graduating from Groton School in Massachusetts, Auchincloss went on to Yale University, where he attempted to write novels. After three years at Yale and the rejection of his first novelistic effort, Auchincloss in 1938 enrolled in the law school of the University of Virginia, which did not require a bachelor’s degree; this allowed him to complete his studies and begin his career in the autumn of 1941. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, Auchincloss volunteered for commissioned service in the Navy, serving first in the Canal Zone and subsequently in both European and Pacific war theaters. While in the Navy, Auchincloss read voraciously and rediscovered the writerly ambitions he had renounced upon entering law school.

At war’s end and after finishing The Indifferent Children, Auchincloss returned to his prewar job with the Wall Street firm of Sullivan and Cromwell. He devoted his spare time to writing short stories and his next novel, Sybil. Toward the end of 1951 he resigned from Sullivan and Cromwell, resolved to devote all his time and energy to writing. After publishing a third novel, A Law for the Lion, Auchincloss concluded that his furlough from the law had not noticeably improved his writing and therefore returned to legal practice, this time joining the firm of Hawkins, Delafield, and Wood. During the late 1950’s he published three “professional,” or “Wall Street,” novels that attracted generally favorable reviews. The Great World and Timothy Colt, Venus in Sparta, and Pursuit of the Prodigal all announced the arrival of an extremely talented novelist doubly informed by his “insider” status as a Wall Street lawyer and as a member of Manhattan high society. Some critics deplored the continued use of New York settings and characterized certain of his characters as boring, a criticism that haunted Auchincloss for the rest of his career. Other critics, however, perceived in Auchincloss’s New York a microcosm of upwardly mobile American business and society; indeed, a number of Auchincloss’s featured characters are New Yorkers who had come to the city in search of fame and fortune.

Around 1960 Auchincloss began the experiments with viewpoint and with narrative voice that eventually brought him his greatest measure of success with critics as well as with the reading public. The House of Five Talents, ostensibly a memoir written shortly after World War II by an aging, affluent single woman, is both a stylistic tour de force and an authoritative chronicle of New York business and society between the Civil War and World War II. Portrait in Brownstone covers much the same territory. The Rector of Justin, dealing with the founder of a New England preparatory school from a multiplicity of viewpoints, is one of Auchincloss’s most ambitious and most masterful works, notable both for its documentary interest and for Auchincloss’s deft characterization of the various narrators through their “own” words. In his subsequent novel, The Embezzler, Auchincloss again blended history with fiction, attributing the well-documented crime of Richard Whitney to one Guy Prime, a wholly fictional character with family, friends, and motivations quite different from Whitney’s.

Following The Embezzler, Auchincloss continued to turn out well-written, eminently readable novels dealing with his characteristic themes and subjects, particularly the interaction of privilege, responsibility, and power among those in positions of trust. As a rule, however, his later novels failed to meet the high standard that he had set for himself. Some notable exceptions to that rule are I Come as a Thief, dealing with a self-corrupting lawyer; The House of the Prophet, depicting loosely (but frankly) the life of the pundit Walter Lippmann; Watchfires, treating crises of conscience during the American Civil War; and The Golden Calves, which turns the author’s politically watchful eye upon the inner workings of an art museum. The sheer volume of Auchincloss’s later output has tended to obscure the achievement of his middle years, upon which his reputation properly should rest.

BibliographyAuchincloss, 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. Good biography addresses the events and contradictions of the writer’s life. Includes photographs and index.Milne, Gordon. The Sense of Society. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1977. Provides an overview of the American novel of manners, with a chapter devoted to Auchincloss in which his characterizations and prose style are examined.Parsell, David B. Louis Auchincloss. Boston: Twayne, 1988. Presents a good overview of Auchincloss’s work. Chapter titled “The Novel as Omnibus: Auchincloss’s Collected Short Fiction” is recommended for those seeking to explore Auchincloss’s singular approach to both short and long fiction.Piket, Vincent. Louis Auchincloss: The Growth of a Novelist. New York: Macmillan, 1991. Offers a critical look at the evolution of Auchincloss’s writing career. Includes bibliographical references and index.Plimpton, George. “The Art of Fiction CXXXVIII: Louis Auchincloss.” The Paris Review 36 (Fall, 1994): 72-94. In this interview, Auchincloss discusses his fiction and nonfiction, commenting on his relationship 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.Tintner, Adeline R. “Louis Auchincloss Reinvents Edith Wharton’s ‘After Holbein.’” Studies in Short Fiction 33 (Spring, 1996): 275-277. Argues that Auchincloss uses a section of Edith Wharton’s “After Holbein” in the episode “The Dinner Out,” in his novelistic collection The Partners. Suggests that in these two stories the fear of death lingers over royal feasts.
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