Overview

 

"Three Lives, more radically than any other work of the time* in English, brought the language back to life. Not the life of the peasantry or the emotions or the proletariat but life as it was lived by everybody living in the century, the average or normal life as the naturalists had seen it. Gertrude Stein in this work tried to coordinate the composition of the language with the process of consciousness, which . . . was to her a close reflex of the total living personality. . . .

"Gertrude Stein uses the ...

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Three Lives

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Overview

 

"Three Lives, more radically than any other work of the time* in English, brought the language back to life. Not the life of the peasantry or the emotions or the proletariat but life as it was lived by everybody living in the century, the average or normal life as the naturalists had seen it. Gertrude Stein in this work tried to coordinate the composition of the language with the process of consciousness, which . . . was to her a close reflex of the total living personality. . . .

"Gertrude Stein uses the simplest possible words, the common words used by everybody, and a version of the most popular phrasing, to express the most complicated thing. . . . [ She] uses repetition and dislocation to make the word bear all the meaning it has . . . one has to give her work word by word the deliberate attention one gives to something written in italics."

—DONALD SUTHERLAND, in

Gertrude Stein: A Biography oj Her Work

With Three Lives, Louis Auchincloss turns in another command performance as our most entertaining and intelligent chronicler of monied society, a world as morally complex as it is privileged. In "The Epicurean," Nat Chisolm is a relentless seeker of pleasure, a man whose financial ease and energetic pursuit of enjoyable diversions only make him more aware of his emotional bankruptcy.

Alida Vermeule is "The Realist," an ambitious woman who engineers her husband's ascent as a lawyer and exercises the limited power available to women of her time in remarkably unlimited ways. And in "The Stoic," George Manville takes the virtuous example of his investment-banker mentor to new levels of puritanism, living an ascetic's life governed by the stringent checks and balances of the ledger sheets he cherishes more than any human being.

Indirectly governed by different schools of philosophy, each of these three characters must make his own concrete, irrevocable decisions -- and accept the consequences. Auchincloss balances piercing shrewdness with a deep sympathy for his characters.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The lives of three New York WASPs come under the scrutiny of Auchincloss' meticulous eye and deep moral vision. He examines them in his usual accomplished--if somewhat chilly--prose, laced with French phrases, references to the Great Books and acerbic, sometimes precious dialogue. Two novellas are narrated by their male protagonists, and as their titles--``The Epicurean'' and ``The Stoic''--indicate, they illuminate extreme approaches to life. The man of leisure at the heart of ``The Epicurean'' uses his family money to cushion his escapades as an artistic dilettante in Paris and a game hunter in Africa. When WW II brings an abrupt end to this pattern, the denouement seems coy rather than ordained. Related by a woman, the middle tale, a miniature novel of manners called ``The Realist,'' has a more moderate outlook. Its story-within-a-story structure is contrived and proves frustrating. The most polished entry is the final tale, set in the early part of the 20th century, Auchincloss's favorite setting. ``The Stoic'' inhabits the world of finance, arranged intimacies and measured obligations to society. Harshly judgmental, he lives by his own rigid set of rules and resentments and is happy only when his hatred bears fruit. Reading about this rarefied milieu may make readers glad that they do not inhabit it.
Library Journal
The writer of these stories, a former lawyer and prolific author of fiction and nonfiction, again uses his knowledge of law and upper-class New York society to present in his inimitably elegant style three sympathetic characters. Wealthy Nat Chisolm, whose remorseless grasping after pleasure illustrates the tale ``The Epicurean,'' eventually finds life emotionally unsatisfying; Alida Vermeule, ``The Realist,'' uses her restricted station in life to shape her husband's career; and George Manville, ``The Stoic,'' shields himself from human contact by wrapping himself in the ascetic certainties of commerce. Challenged intellectually and morally by their dilemmas, and shaped by the demands of their society, Auchincloss's protagonists wrangle with their destiny. Recommended for public libraries.-- Ellen R. Cohen, Rockville, Md.
Ray Olson
Perhaps Auchincloss had in mind such works as Gertrude Stein's "Three Lives", Willa Cather's "Obscure Destinies", and John O'Hara's "Sermons and Soda-Water" when he wrote this book. Like those, it consists of three novellas disclosing the lives (they are their narrators' autobiographies) of three characters from the same stratum of society. Auchincloss being Auchincloss, that means they are lives of the rich--of three New Yorkers born to wealth around the turn of the century. "The Epicurean" is Nat Chisolm, whose life is a constant pursuit of the next pleasureful challenge in sport, art, love, or war. "The Realist" is Alida Vermeule, an intelligent woman who finds a way to exercise power despite early twentieth-century restrictions upon her gender. "The Stoic" is principled, austere, and virginal investment banker George Manville, who manages to attain everything that most satisfies him, including an heir, despite--or because of--the follies and emotional indulgences of those around him. Each novella is as fine an example of the literature of manners as you're likely to find--full of literate conversation, sharp characterization, effortless yet rich scene-setting, and significant ethical conflict. Superb reading.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547690100
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 1/11/1993
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 213
  • File size: 185 KB

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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Table of Contents

The Epicurean 1
The Realist 87
The Stoic 135
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