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Louis Auchincloss, Chronicler of Upper Crust, Dies

Louis Auchincloss, 92, a novelist, essayist, biographer, editor and lawyer whose literary beat was the decline of the old WASP world of power and privilege to which he belonged, died yesterday in Manhattan.

The author of more than 60 books in a career stretching over seven decades, Mr. Auchincloss was best known for such novels as "The Rector of Justin" (1964), about the founding headmaster of an elite prep school, and "The Embezzler" (1966), about an upper-class Wall Street stockbroker who succumbs to temptation during the Great Depression.

Mr. Auchincloss took issue with a complaint frequently made about him: that in dwelling on characters and conflicts peculiar to the Eastern upper crust, his fiction is parochial. In a 1997 interview, he replied, "If you look through the literature of the ages you will find that 95 percent of it deals with the so-called 'upper class,' from 'The Iliad' and 'The Odyssey' through to Shakespeare with his kings and queens."

Mr. Auchincloss was often called a novelist of manners. In light of all the sinning and thieving in his fiction, "novelist of ethics" might be more accurate.

Author Gore Vidal, whose stepfather was an Auchincloss, called attention to a socio-political dimension in his kinsman's handling of his material: "Of all our novelists, Auchincloss is the only one who tells us how our rulers behave in their banks and their boardroom, their law offices and their clubs."

Staff Writer Dennis Drabelle's obituary for Mr. Auchincloss is here. What are your favorite Auchincloss books, and do you feel his writing will endure?

By Adam Bernstein  |  January 27, 2010; 2:50 PM ET
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