Thursday, January 28, 2010

Author/ Attorney Louis Auchincloss Dies

The New York Times reports that Louis Auchincloss died on Tuesday night at the age of 92, due to complications from a stroke. His life was dedicated to literary pursuits despite a time-consuming "day job." Auchincloss had two careers: he was a full-time lawyer and a prolific writer. In his legal career, he specialized in trusts and estates for wealthy clients. In his writing career, he chronociled the lives of wealthy elitists living in mid-twentieth century Manhattan. Both careers reflect his life: he himself was a man of money and power who lived his entire life in New York City.

The NYT article discusses how Auchincloss managed to publish "more than 60 books of fiction, biography and literary criticism" despite being a full-time attorney for most of his life. "I think my secret is to use bits and fractions of time," Auchincloss is quoted as saying in an interview. "I trained myself to do that. Anybody can do it. I could write sitting in surrogate’s court answering calendar call."

Auchincloss' father was an attorney, but when used to visist his law offices, he said he was filled with gloom by "those dark narrow streets and those tall, sooty towers." He went to college at Yale, where he published stories in the literary journal, of which he later became President. He "yearned for a literary life." His first book was rejected by Scrivners and he decided to become a lawyer like his father, thinking that "a man born to the responsibilities of a brownstone bourgeois world could only be an artist or writer if he were a genius." He went to the University of Virginia Law School and then joined the Wall Street law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell.

He joined the Navy during World War II, which is when he wrote his first novel that was to be published. The Indifferent Children was published by Prentice-Hall in 1947, at which time Auchincloss was practicing again with Sullivan & Cromwell. He published this book under a pen name, Andrew Lee, because his mother thought it was "vulgur" and would destroy his legal career. It met with success, however, so he kept writing and publishing. It seems that Auchincloss' pursuit of writing was in some way tied to external rejection or acceptance, because he was dissuaded early on with the rejection of his firt novel, but enthused by the success of his first published novel, which spurred on many other short stories, essays, and novels.

He took three years off from practicing law to dedicate himself to writing, and then went to work for another Wall Street firm, Hawkins, Delafield & Wood. He wrote that at some point he stopped thinking of himself as a lawyer or a writer, and was "simply doing what I was doing when I did it." His novel The Education of Oscar Fairfax, published in 1995, is partly autobiographical and is a story about a "well-born Social Register type who abandons his dream of a literary career to join his father’s law firm."

I have been making it a habit to write for at least an hour (I aim for an hour and a half) every day, before or after work. If Auchincloss could write all of this while also being a lawyer, a husband, and serve on several committees for the city of New York, I can certainly keep writing. Next time I want to complain about being both a lawyer and a writer, I'll look to Louis Auchincloss for inspiration!

A Biography of Louis Archincloss:

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