Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the novelist and short story writer Louis Auchincloss, on September 27, 1917. He died in 2010 at the age of 92.
I have been an Auchincloss fan for years and have always been puzzled by the fact that he never became more famous than he did. I suspect that most people seeing the title of this blog post have never heard of him. He had a loyal fan base and critical acclaim but wasn’t exactly a household name.
This is due, at least partly, to his subject matter – which was also the life he was born into and inhabited all his life – the world of the wealthy New York families that dominated the big law firms and investment banks.
His father was a partner in a major law firm and Auchincloss himself followed suit, working full time as a Wall Street lawyer until his retirement in 1989.
Remarkably, he wrote 30 novels, more than a dozen collections of short stories, biographies and works of social and literary criticism. His subject was almost always the complicated moral and financial entanglements of upper-class New Yorkers from moneyed families.
Gore Vidal, to whom he was vaguely related through family marriage, said of his work, “Of all our novelists Auchincloss is the only one who tells us how our rulers behave in their banks and their boardrooms, their law offices and their clubs.”
What I liked about Auchincloss is that he wrote about wealthy, privileged people from the inside, as one of them, humanizing them and making it possible to see how they actually felt and acted. His was never an outsider’s view, like Truman Capote or Dominick Dunne’s sometimes cartoonish views of the rich.
But more than that, he was a great writer. He was always observant and always alive to human frailties and self-deceptions and his sense of narrative was always carefully controlled. If you haven’t done so yet, check him out. The Embezzler, The Rector of Justin, Power of Attorney or Honorable Men are all good places to start.