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Portrait in Brownstone [Paperback]

Louis Auchincloss


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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Mcgraw-Hill Book Co (Mm) (June 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0070024413
  • ISBN-13: 978-0070024410
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 10.2 x 2.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 113 g

Product Description

Book by Auchincloss, Louis

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not One of Auchincloss's Best Oct. 1 2002
By David A. Kemp - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This novel purports to be a multi-generational portrait of the fortunes, foibles, loves, and infidelities of a an affluent, extended New York City family covering the years over half a century, from 1901 to 1951. It concentrates on five characters, three women and two men, representing two generations. Some have considered it one of Auchincloss's best books; I don't agree. Its main problem in my eyes is that none of the five main characters is sympathetic: all the major players paraded for our view are fundamentally unattractive, unengaging, or uninteresting. And a book devoid of characters that can engage our sympathies or our interest has a hard time being memorable. An additional shortcoming is that its mixed narrative strategy--omniscient (third-person) narration in some parts and first-person narration in the "Ida" sections--doesn't work very well here: the narrator Ida is much too verbally sophisticated a chronicler for the kind of character she is portrayed here as being; she writes, indeed, just like the polished, sophisticated, urbane Mr. Auchincloss himself, although that is not at all the kind of person she is supposed to be. Narrator Ida and character Ida, then, are jarringly and unconvincingly at odds. It is an important miscalculation and a significant failure.
On the plus side of the ledger, there is quite a powerful and effective showdown scene at the end of the novel between a cold, selfish, egotistical father who is senior partner of the investment banking firm he has built up, and his daughter and son-in-law, who have schemed and connived behind his back to bring about his retirement so that the ambitious son-in-law can take over the firm. There is a fine irony here in that the father, who as an ambitious young man himself squeezed out his own benefactor and the founder of the firm so that he could take it over, now finds the same thing being done to him. Even the least of Auchincloss's books are readable, and in the main enjoyable, but I don't find this one particularly successful. (There is a small historical blunder about the singer Galli-Curci that reveals Auchincloss didn't do his homework very thoroughly.)
Auchincloss would like to see himself as a writer in the genteel tradition of Henry James and Edith Wharton; he is in fact more in the genteel tradition of John P. Marquand. His main fault is his glib facility: writing is too easy for him; he was written too much; and too much of it, smoothly ushered in on its cushion of graceful, well-oiled prose, is pallid, thin, brittle, superficial; too much of it is engaging enough while you're reading it, but forgettable, leaving no lasting imprint. This fault, I regret to say, is in evidence here.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A consistently entertaining novelist tells family epic Dec 11 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Again, Auchincloss portrays upperclass New York patrician society, here with three generations off businessmen and their wives/lovers. The main character emerges as a compelling matriarch finally and satisfyingly triumphant after years of suppression and constriction. Well-told tale of a culture, a family, and a woman.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Doll Collector Jan. 14 2005
By Mary E. Sibley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The brisk pace of the book is ideal for the subject matter. Geraldine Brevoort's suicide had a nasty twist. Ida Trask Hartley, her cousin, is married to Derrick and has a son, Hugo, and a daughter, Dorcas. Geraldine falls eight stories from a hotel window. She collected dolls. Ida learns of an affair between Geraldine and her husband.

Before Ida's marriage to Derrick, he had been interested in Geraldine. He continued to pursue Geraldine even after he learned that she was just aboutto be engaged to marry Talbot Keating. Derrick was beholden to the family of Ida and Geraldine because he had been given a job by their uncle in his investment firm. Derrick had a premonition that his cause was hopeless. He felt that the family operated on the moral principles of children's books.

Ida's dying father tells her that she can be a leader and that he is afraid she will just slide into something. Derrick has secured the love and affection and respect of the whole family even though he lost his head over Geraldine. Ida is urged to consider his marriage proposal. Ida does love Derrick and she suits him. Later, Derrick is successful in business and feels free to drop the name of Ida's uncle from the title of the firm. This fills Ida with chagrin.

Eventually the Hartleys divide into rival pairs of mother and son, father and daughter. Dorcas resembles Derrick and Hugo has a razor-sharp wit. Dorcas marries a publisher first, and then a member of her father's firm. Her first husband tells her that her father is a tyrant.

Geraldine and her second husband, Freddy Brevoort, live in France for a decade. France is a haven for irregulars. After Freddy dies she stays with Ida and Derrick and later moves to an apartment subsidized by Derrick. In the first year of managing her money he is able to double the funds. Derrick is not romantic, he is calculating. In childhood Dorcas adores her father, but later becomes disillusioned and pities her mother. The interlocking family and business interests are described interestingly. Edith Wharton-like old New York is a cold and hard place.
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Portrait in Brownstone March 31 2009
By Elizabeth G. Montis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
One of his best! Louis Auchincloss entertains while making the reader think about his characters' motivations and ethics long after the book is read. He's a master.

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