The Washington Post
The Rector of Justin: A Novelby Louis Auchincloss
The terrain is familiar, vintage Auchincloss, in its astute dissection of the social mores of the Northeast's privileged establishment.
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Louis Auchincloss has been celebrated as one of the best American novelists of our time. The Rector of Justin, originally published in 1964, is widely considered to be his most ambitious novel and his greatest achievement.
The terrain is familiar, vintage Auchincloss, in its astute dissection of the social mores of the Northeast's privileged establishment. The story centers on a prestigious Episcopal school for boys and its commanding, charismatic founder, Frank Prescott, a man whose lifelong goal was to head such a school. With laser-sharp insight, Auchincloss portrays the evolution of this man and the sources of his virtues and failings, his successes, and his crises of faith. Seamlessly interweaving multiple points of viewfrom an adoring teacher to that of a rebellious daughterAuchincloss captures the brilliant totality of a man. Through the personalities and memories of six intense observers, a psychologically complex social history of the eighty years of his life emerges.
This new edition contains an Afterword by the author.
The Washington Post
- Random House Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 2001 MODER
- Product dimensions:
- 5.05(w) x 7.57(h) x 1.05(d)
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: Brian's Journal
September 10, 1939. I have always wanted to keep a journal, but whenever I am about to start one, I am dissuaded by the idea that it is too late. I lose heart when I think of all the fascinating things I could have described had I only begun earlier. Not that my life has been an exciting one. On the contrary, it has been very dull. But a dull life in itself may be an argument for a journal. The best way for the passive man to overtake his more active brothers is to write them up. Isn't the Sun King himself just another character in Saint-Simon's chronicle?
In Europe a world war has started while in this country Brian Aspinwall is about to go to work in his first job. Surely if I am ever to keep a journal, now is the time. A first job at twenty-seven! I shall be an instructor of English at Justin Martyr, an Episcopal boys' boarding school thirty miles west of Boston. The telegram from a Mr. Ives came in only yesterday. One of the masters wants to go to Canada to enlist in the RCAF which is why I have been taken on without interviews. It makes me feel better about my rejection by the British Army before I left Oxford in July. Naturally, they were not keen about an untrained Yankee student with a heart murmur! Perhaps had I stayed over there, now that war has actually come, they might have lowered their standards, but at least this way I can feel that I am releasing an able-bodied man to fight the antichrist in Berlin.
It is the obvious moment for stock-taking. In the questionnaire that was sent out this year by my class secretary at Columbia, I had nothing to contribute but the meager fact that I had gone abroad to study for amaster's degree. And now because I was too sensitive to stay in Oxford out of uniform I will not even get that! I suppose all I have basically done since my seventeenth year has been to seek refuge in literature from the agony of deciding whether or not I am qualified to be a minister. Perhaps life in a church school will help me. Please God it may.
But I must try not to be too hard on myself. That is, after all, another kind of conceit. It is a fact that I suffered all during my boyhood from ill health. It is another fact that as the only child of elderly parents I had to spend a great deal of time with them in their last illnesses. It was a joy, and I write the word sincerely, to be able to help them, but it was still time out of a career. So it is not altogether my fault that I have made so late a start; if it can be said I have even yet started.
With God's grace I shall learn my true capacities at Justin Martyr. It is a good size for a school (450 boys), and its headmaster and founder, the Reverend Francis Prescott, D.D., is probably the greatest name in New England secondary education. He is old now, nearly eighty, but he is a minister, and may have much to teach me. It may even turn out that I have been "called" to Justin.
I am shy and lack force of personality, and my stature is small. I stammer when I am nervous, and my appearance is more boyish than manly. All this will be against me. But I am not afraid to say what I mean, and I think in a real crisis I can be counted on to stand up for the right, if only because I have such a horror of letting God down. Let us hope I add up to a
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Meet the Author
Louis Auchincloss was honored in the year 2000 as a “Living Landmark” by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. During his long career he wrote more than sixty books, including the story collection Manhattan Monologues and the novel The Rector of Justin. The former president of the Academy of Arts and Letters, he resided in New York City until his death in January 2010.
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This book is about a boys' school and its rector from the early- to mid- 20th century. It's so well-written. I enjoyed every moment I spent with this book. The cast of characters is varied and each person has a different viewpoint.
Why it took me so long to discover Louis Auchincloss and read The Rector of Justin, I don't know. It is considered to be a classic and I certainly can understand why. When one thinks of "the most unforgettable character I have met," the Rector, Frank Prescott, goes to the top of the list. This beautifully crafted book about a very complex individual is told from six different points of view. There is much to ponder about the motivations of Prescott, the historical time period and mores of this era all presented with LA's wry sense of humor and perfect phrasing of sentences. How Prescott, both as a Rector and person, is perceived by those whose lives he's touched and influenced provides much food for thought and the reader will be contemplating long after the last page. I am slowly making my way through the Auchincloss library and quickly becoming a fan.
Louis Auchincloss nails the New England prep school world in this cleverly structured book. The title character, the founder and headmaster of Justin Martyr, such a prep school, gradually takes shape through a variety of sources. While it's a bit of a time capsule, Auchincloss understands even as he's writing it in the early 60s that context, so it doesn't come across as a complete period piece. It moves briskly as the subject comes into clearer and clearer focus, though the last quarter of the book seemed less gripping than the preceding 250 pages.