Louis Auchincloss

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File:Louis Auchincloss with President Bush.jpg
Auchincloss with President and Mrs. Bush in the Oval Office receiving the National Medal of Arts, November 9, 2005.

Louis Stanton Auchincloss (/ˈɔːkŋklɒs/; September 27, 1917 – January 26, 2010)[1] was an American lawyer, novelist, historian, and essayist. He is best known as a prolific novelist who parlayed his experiences into books exploring the experiences and psychology of American polite society and old money. His dry, ironic works of fiction continue the tradition of Henry James and Edith Wharton.[citation needed]

Gore Vidal 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.... Not since Dreiser has an American writer had so much to tell us about the role of money in our lives."[2]


Born in Lawrence, New York, Auchincloss was the son of Priscilla Dixon (née Stanton) and Joseph Howland Auchincloss.[3] His paternal grandfather, John Winthrop Auchincloss, was the brother of Edgar Stirling Auchincloss (father of James C. Auchincloss) and Hugh Dudley Auchincloss (father of Hugh D. Auchincloss, Jr.).[4][5] He grew up among the privileged people about whom he would write, although, as he put it, "There was never an Auchincloss fortune…each generation of Auchincloss men either made or married its own money". He attended St. Bernard's School, Groton School and Yale University, where he was editor of the Yale Literary Magazine. Although he did not complete his undergraduate studies at Yale, he was admitted to and attended law school at the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1941 and was admitted to the New York bar the same year.

Auchincloss was an associate at Sullivan & Cromwell from 1941 to 1951 (with an interruption for war service from 1941 to 1945 in the United States Navy during World War II, which might have inspired his 1947 novel "The Indifferent Children"). He joined the Naval Reserve as an ensign on December 4, 1940 and was promoted to lieutenant on December 1, 1942.[6]

After taking a break to pursue full-time writing,[7] Auchincloss returned to working as a lawyer, firstly as an associate (1954–58) and then as a partner (1958–86) at Hawkins, Delafield and Wood in New York City as a wills and trusts attorney, while writing at the rate of a book a year.

Auchincloss died from complications of a stroke at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan on January 26, 2010.[1]

Literary career

Auchincloss is known for his closely observed portraits of old New York and New England society. Among his books are the multi-generational sagas The House of Five Talents (1960), Portrait in Brownstone (1962), and East Side Story (2004). The Rector of Justin (1964) is the tale of a renowned headmaster of a prep school like the one he attended, Groton School[8] trying to deal with changing times.

In the early 1980s, Auchincloss produced three novels which were not centered on the New York he knew so well, i.e. The Cat and the King, set in Louis XIV's Versailles, Watchfires, concerned with the American Civil War, and Exit Lady Masham, set in Queen Anne's England. Auchincloss would remain close to New York again, however, in his later fiction writing.

Awards and accolades


Auchincloss authored more than 60 books.


  • Reflections of a Jacobite (1961)
  • Pioneers and Caretakers: A Study of Nine American Women Novelists (1965)
  • On Sister Carrie (1968)
  • Motiveless Malignity (1969)
  • Edith Wharton: A Woman in Her Time (1972)
  • 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 (1985)
  • The Vanderbilt Era: Profiles of a Gilded Age (1989)
  • 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)
  • Woodrow Wilson (Penguin Lives) (2000)
  • Theodore Roosevelt (The American Presidents Series) (2002)
  • A Voice from Old New York: A Memoir of My Youth (2010)[11]


Auchincloss's The Great World and Timothy Colt (1956) was adapted for television in an episode of the Climax! series (Season 4, Episode 22; Broadcast 27 March 1958).


Significant collections of Auchincloss's papers reside at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia and at the Beinecke Library at Yale University.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Holcomb B. Noble and Charles McGrath, Louis Auchincloss, Chronicler of New York’s Upper Crust, Dies at 92 The New York Times. Retrieved on January 27, 2010.
  2. Vidal, Gore (1974), “Real Class”, New York Review of Books, Vol. 21, No. 12 (JULY 18).
  3. Gelderman, Carol (2007). Louis Auchincloss: A Writer's Life. Univ of South Carolina Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-1-57003-711-5. 
  4. Birmingham, Stephen (1968). The Right People. Little, Brown. p. 326. 
  5. Buck, Albert H. (1909). The Bucks of Wethersfield, Connecticut. Stone Printing and Manufacturing Co. pp. 120–3. 
  6. Naval Reserve Register. 1944. pg. 39.
  7. [1] 1986 interview with Louis Auchincloss
  8. In an essay discussing his novel The Rector of Justin, Auchincloss says he modeled the main character not on an actual boarding school headmaster but on “the greatest man it has been my good luck to know--” Judge Learned Hand. See Origin of a Hero, in Auchincloss, Louis (1979). Life, Law, and Letters: Essays and Sketches. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-28151-2. 
  9. "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 7 April 2011. 
  10. Mallon, Thomas (19 December 2004). "Sunday Book Review of East Side Story by Louis Auchincloss". NY TImes. 
  11. Towers, Sarah (24 December 2010). "Sunday Book Review of A Voice from Old New York: A Memoir of My Youth by Louis Auchincloss". NY TImes. 

External links