Described as “one of the best writers alive” (Susan Cheever), his fiction often compared to that of Henry James and Edith Wharton, Louis Auchincloss brings his keen insight and warm understanding once again to the moral dilemmas of America's high society in these nine never-before-published tales. Crisscrossing a tumultuous century, these stories evoke lives both blessed and cursed by good fortune and reveal the quotidian conflicts of a wonderfully rich milieu. Here are vignettes that capture the loves and ...
Described as “one of the best writers alive” (Susan Cheever), his fiction often compared to that of Henry James and Edith Wharton, Louis Auchincloss brings his keen insight and warm understanding once again to the moral dilemmas of America's high society in these nine never-before-published tales. Crisscrossing a tumultuous century, these stories evoke lives both blessed and cursed by good fortune and reveal the quotidian conflicts of a wonderfully rich milieu. Here are vignettes that capture the loves and jealousies of marriage and friendship, that recall days of a rarefied aristocracy and hint at a new, ambitious young elite. In the title story, a tour de force of humor and emotion, a clergyman prepares a toast for his twenty-fifth wedding anniversary but gets stuck when it comes to his wife’s five-year affair. The narrator in “DeCicco v. Schweizer” imagines the lives of the plaintiff and defendant and spins a wicked tale about a 1902 marriage born more of convenience than of love. And in “The Last of the Great Courtesans,” we meet the unforgettable Milly Marion, born in 1917, who has bewitched everyone she has met in her long, colorful life. Whether these stories concern an anxious draft dodger, a repentant headmaster, or a mischievous writer who ill-advisedly draws from her own family for her fiction, they offer soulful glimpses into an uncommon world, preserved in our past and yet also surprisingly close to our hearts. The Anniversary and Other Stories confirms that we are “in the presence of a subtle master” (Kirkus Reviews).
These nine previously unpublished stories feature the author's usual preoccupations: the WASP aristocracy confronting moral dilemmas in the boardrooms, prep schools and churches of Manhattan, Westchester and Newport from the Gilded Age to the present. The husbands wrestle with the infidelity of their lovely, penitent wives "The Interlude," "The Anniversary"; with sexual improprieties at a posh prep school "The Devil and Guy Lansing"; with reconciling the urge to follow one's muse as poet or to serve one's country in battle "Man of Renaissance". The author pays overt homage to James and Wharton, who explored similar themes with inimitable grace and subtlety. Here, however, the characters verge on banal, the dialogue is stilted and the snobbery oppressive. The intrusion of real-life figures--Henry James is one character's cousin; Frank Lloyd Wright designs a house for patrician newlyweds, and Julia Ward Howe appears in the last story, "The Veteran," ready to recite her "Battle Hymn of the Republic" to an elite audience in Newport--points up the insubstantiality of Auchincloss's characterizations. The prose is arch, stagy, sometimes risible. One narrator admits, "In the tumultuous fury of my mind in the next few days I must have waxed almost irrational"; a Yale-educated painter asks the glittering opportunist sitting for her portrait, "Wasn't Paul a perfectly competent lover?" The reply: "He was. Very male. But with Eric I was in the hands of a master." Theodore Roosevelt himself, advising a gifted poet to seriously turn his attention to politics, concedes, "Poetry is bully!" While his early novels The Rector of Justin and previous story collections are certain to assure Auchincloss a preeminent place in American letters, this later short fiction may strike a young audience as already dated. July Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
This is Auchincloss's 16th volume of short fiction, and his mastery is apparent throughout. The stories focus primarily on the lives of strong-willed, well-intentioned, affluent New Yorkers who struggle to find happiness in the rarefied, treacherous, and often amoral social world of aristocratic "old" New York. Reminiscent of the work of Henry James and Edith Wharton, the stories mostly take place in (or look back nostalgically at) the early years of this century. The conflicts Auchincloss explores are those that both James and Wharton also found compelling--affairs of the heart complicated by the rigid social conventions related to wealth and social status. The protagonists are courageous men and women who must make significant compromises, but in the end they achieve a kind of triumph over their circumstances that is both honorable and, in some very real ways, heroic. Recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/99.]--Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community-Technical Coll., CT Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
...[A]t their best, the stories in The Anniversary make use of their quiet, unruffled atmosphere to delve into reflection, and to offer insight into the seemingly ''ordered and bordered'' world of the upper crust..... It takes effort to get past the twittering dialogue to the emotional core of these stories; yet that core is undeniably present, however much it may become obscured beneath a glittering surface.
— The New York Times Book Review
Auchincloss's 16th collection is comprised of 9 published stories about the moneyed upper crust, whose complex mores have for over 40 years been memorably delineated in the prolific author's impressive oeuvre (more than 50 books and counting). An autumnal mood suffuses these supremely literate tales of social-climbing and conflict, most of which are recollected in a kind of wry tranquility, and all of which display learned literary and cultural allusions and patiently constructed Jamesian periodic sentences. James is a clear influence on several stories that contrast Americans and Europeans (he even appears in "The Virginia Redbird" as a frequent visitor to the London home of the impecunious beauty who is, as she realizes, her snobbish husband's prize possession). By comparison, other stories feel underimagined ("DeCicco v. Schweizer," for example, a perhaps semiautobiographical meditation on its narrator's twin passions for the law and literature) or overfamiliar (the title story's bland exploration of a marriage endangered, then redeemed by adultery and its aftershocks; and the smug "The Last of the Great Courtesans," both reading like warmed-over John O'Hara). But there are also several gems. In a densely packed 20 pages, "The Devil and Guy Lansing" records the spiritual odyssey and rueful self-discovery of a prep school headmaster-clergyman who "became a priest without being a Christian," and "The Veterans" reaches back to the Civil War to examine the hearts and minds of two Americans in Paris, exempted from military service but not from the pressures of their respective consciences. And "Man of the Renaissance" superbly portrays the emotions of a sophisticate raised among Italy'scultural wonders who understands too late that his accomplished young son was, unlike himself, much more than an "appreciat[or] of beautiful things." It's a story the author of "The Beast in the Jungle" would have admired. Vintage Auchincloss: suave, skillfully crafted, amusing, dependably entertaining stories from a master who, now in his ninth decade, remains one of the essential American writers.
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.
THERE WAS NO QUESTION in Angelica Brooks's mind as to what had altered her life from a freely flowing river to a sluggish tidal area losing its force and impetus in soggy marshland. It was her resignation in 1952, three years before, from the Wall Street law firm that bore her father's name and of which her husband, Sidney, was the brightest and most up-and-coming of the junior partners. She had been just thirty at the time and an associate in the trust and estates department — admittedly a minor, almost an "accommodation," section of a corporation firm — but she had been hoping against hope that her good record and the changing times might override what was still the prejudice in the larger houses against making female partners, when her father had taken her out to lunch to enlighten her. It had not been an easy thing, for who but he had urged her to go to law school in the first place? His tone was heavy, and his great shaggy head had shaken in regretful nods.
"Having a junior partner and an associate who are married to each other has already been frowned at in the firm," he told her, "but I have been able to control that. Having two partners who are mates I might not be able to, let alone the die-hard attitude of a few old stick-in-the-muds about having a woman partner at all.
You may well ask, if that be the case, why I let you come into the firm. The truth is, I thought the training would be valuable for you in whatever you did afterwards, and I assumed that anyone as brilliant and charming as yourself would soon be married and too busy raising a family to bother with our dusty old books and cases downtown."
"Do you imply, Daddy, that I have been neglecting Tim and Elly?"
"In no way, my dear. They're wonderful kids and doing splendidly in nursery school, and I know how conscientiously you spend your nights and weekends with them. Indeed, your mother and I have even worried about the effect on your social life. But the fact remains that here in the office you may be on a dead-end street.
As far as partnership goes, that is. You can always command the highest going salary rate for your age as an associate. But I know that's not what you want. Still, you should count your blessings, my precious girl! You have a successful and utterly devoted husband, two great children, no financial worries, plenty of friends and outside interests, a first-class brain and all the charm anyone could ask. Honey, the world's your oyster!"
* * *
Sidney was much better about it than her father when he came home late that night. He was working on a hideously tangled corporate reorganization and was pale from his hours of toil, but paleness was becoming to his slightly haggard dark good looks. As always he gave his most serious attention to anything that concerned her.
"I don't want you to stay on, darling, if you can't be a partner, and your father has finally convinced me that we haven't the votes. You could get a job in another firm fast enough, and some of the smaller ones are getting much less stuffy about making woman partners, but I've been wondering if you wouldn't do better to take a year off and think over what you'd really like. Forgive me if I've sometimes doubted your total dedication to the law. I'm not, mind you, in the least questioning your expertise."
"Well, there's a limit, it's true, to my adoration of wills and estates. Sometimes I feel like an undertaker." She felt the least bit depressed, as sometimes happened, at his eternal reasonableness. He was always so fair, so balanced, so devoted. He could never see there were moments when she just wanted to spit in the eye of the world. And she was uncomfortably aware that her own amusement in putting together the jigsaw puzzle of an estate plan that would least benefit Uncle Sam was a pale simulacrum of the "hard, gemlike flame" of his passion for the legal machinery that turned the wheels of industrial competition. The practice of law to Sidney was an art to which everything else came second. Even herself, even the children! But she couldn't complain about that. It had been the thing that had first intrigued her about him.
"I can see you in a lot of other things," he went on. "In politics, for example. You speak so well, and you have a way with people. And you care about causes.
How about getting involved with the Democratic party organization?"
He really was thinking about what she should best do. Had her father ever, really? Even when he had gone along wittttth her desire to be a lawyer, in his image, hadn't he been flattered by the vision of an adoring daughter, adoring and adored, turning into a kind of lovely Portia? Hadn't it been a fantasy?
Ethan Drury had filled the heaven and earth of her childhood and adolescence. He had been the sky, whether fair or stormy, over the sober, the sometimes God-fearing commuting community of Gulls Cove on Long Island; his small, riveting eyes, sometimes glinting with a kindness almost akin to love, but never missing a slip or a tumble, had penetrated to her boarding school, to Vassar, to Columbia Law, and even in the great gray city where so many of his grinding hours were spent, they swept the narrow dark streets of the financial district and reached to the escape vents of Times Square and the parks. Daddy's power was felt by the family, by his firm, by his great corporate clients and by the Plattsburg camps for officers' training that he had helped to organize in both wars and by the thousands of men who had been conscripted by the draft laws for whose passage he had so passionately and powerfully lobbied. He was male, incorruptibly male, the incarnation of his sex; he believed in war, holy war, and might even have been grateful for the existence of the Hun to keep Mars alive and kicking.
He was appropriately large and heavy and strong with a high brow and bushy gray hair, and although he had a habit of nervous twitches and rather stertorous breathing, his grave stare created an atmosphere of awesome stillness like a chamber of justice in which anything but the truth was unthinkable to tell. Drury represented great companies in their strife, and Angelica was too well educated to be unaware that bad things went on in that strife, yet her father's reputation for honesty and integrity somehow towered over the nefarious doings of his partners and clerks. She sometimes thought of him as a saintly pope presiding over a wily college of Italian cardinals. Was it possible that they kept certain things from him? If so, they had to be inordinately clever.
Angelica had never been jealous of her mother or of her three younger sisters. The latter were giggly, boy-crazy, party-loving, amiable creatures, greedy for the prizes then accorded to their sex and spoiled and coddled by a conventionally doting sire. Their mother played the tart, realistic ("no fancy pants") part of the good plain wife who keeps her seer of a spouse from being lost in the ether of his high thoughts, but this was a veil to cover her almost servile subjection to his every whim and wish. If she was a good-tempered Fricka and the sisters obedient if rather shrill Valkyries, to Angelica was left the function of the best beloved, Brunhilde, the intimate and confidante of Wotan.
But of course Wotan had wanted a son. How could he not? What would he be, in the end, in the twilight, without a Siegmund, a Siegfried? And hadn't he almost had one in the most devoted of clerks, the lean sleek hound ever at his heels with eyes upturned for the least command, Sidney Brooks, his master's right hand, whose subtler and more imaginative mind superbly complemented the older man's and made their joint effort a masterpiece? Sidney had spent his weekends with the Drurys in the big airy shingle mansion in Gulls Cove and when he was not working with Daddy, he was sailing or playing tennis with Angelica. With whom could she more properly fall in love than with Sidney? And with whom could he than with her? Did it really matter that both were in love with her father? And that father, had he ever been in love? How could he have been? Let him, like his hero, Theodore Roosevelt, stand at Armageddon and battle for the Lord!
"The world is changing," her father had told her one winter night during the war at their hotel in Washington where he had invited her to accompany him on one of his lobbying missions to the capital. "And the war is bound to speed that up. Your mind, my dear, is too fine not to be trained like a man's. You've been as much help to me in drafting memoranda to this Senate committee as any of the young men from my office. I think you ought to go to law school next year."
She was elated. Wotan had praised her for bringing a dead hero to Valhalla! And the following fall found her enrolled in the first-year class at Columbia Law.
The final seal of paternal approval had been placed on her in one of her courses. As a distinguished graduate of the law school, her father had been invited to take over a class in criminal law. He had started his own career in the district attorney's office and had never lost his interest in the prosecution of felony. Angelica thrilled with pride as she watched the large, rumpled, grizzled figure of her father amble slowly to the rostrum to address the class.
"Rape!" he exclaimed throatily. "I see rape is the felony on your schedule for today. Well, let us see what we can make of this repellent but persistent vice in our afflicted society. Will someone offer me a definition of rape?" As no one volunteered, he consulted a class list of names and addresses. "Let me call on a gentleman from one of our southern states: Mr. Darlin, of Atlanta. Mr. Darlin, will you favor us with such a definition?"
Mr. Darlin's deep drawl amused the class. "I think I might call it the violation of the chastity of a young lady."
"Well, you've got some pretty good Victorian terms there. And I don't, by any means, wish to knock Victorianism, as many are too prone to do these days. But I'm afraid your definition is subject to the same criticism as Voltaire offered to that of the Holy Roman Empire when he said it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. Your victim, I must point out, Mr. Darlin, need not be young nor chaste nor a lady, whatever that latter term is construed to mean."
The class roared, and poor Mr. Darlin blushed furiously. Angelica raised her hand, and her father immediately pointed to her.
"It's the penetration by force of a woman's vagina by the penis of a male."
"Very good, Miss Drury!" He did not hesitate to show that he knew her. "Your definition unhappily is not exclusive, as there seem, alas, to be other forms of penetration, but it will do excellently for a start. And tell me, how far must this intruding male organ penetrate?" Here he stretched out his right arm to make it seem the instrument described. "This far?" With his left hand he grasped his wrist. "This far?" He shifted his grasp to his elbow. "This far?" Now he clasped his right shoulder. "Or this far?"
Angelica smiled. "Any amount. The least fraction of an inch will do."
"Right, Miss Drury! Very good! Any amount."
And she felt at last the excitement of being on equal terms with him! Together they had bridged the gulf of sex and reticence. However much in the future he orated about the duty of men to kill and of women to bear children, they would have firm ground in common.
Decicco v. Schweizer.................................................1 The Interlude.......................................................21 The Anniversary.....................................................44 Man of the Renaissance..............................................58 The Last of the Great Courtesans....................................82 The Devil and Guy Lansing...........................................98 The Facts of Fiction...............................................119 The Virginia Redbird...............................................139 The Veterans.......................................................164