Cover image for The scarlet letters
The scarlet letters
Auchincloss, Louis.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
Physical Description:
177 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



With such classic works as The Rector of Justin and, more recently, Manhattan Monologues, Louis Auchincloss has long established himself as one of our "most useful and intelligent writers" (New York Observer). Now this American master offers his cleverest novel yet: a triumphant modern twist on the legendary Hawthorne tale, in which secrets, sin, and suspense collide among the fabulously rich.
The year is 1953, and the coastal village of Glenville, on the opulent north shore of Long Island, is shaken by scandal. Ambrose Vollard, the managing partner of a prestigious Wall Street law firm, gets word of an alleged affair in his family. Most astonishing, the adulterer is Rodman Jessup, Vollard's son-in-law, junior partner, and most likely successor. Until now Jessup has been admired for his impeccable morals and high ideals, so what could explain his affair with a woman of fading charms? All is on the line for Jessup, who threatens to upset Glenville's carefully calibrated social order. As each family member learns of the affair, the story reveals layer upon layer of abiding loyalties and shameless double-crossing.
Wise, rich, and exuberantly entertaining, The Scarlet Letters posts a seductive missive to anyone ever tempted by power, wealth, or passion.

Author Notes

Louis Auchincloss was born on September 27, 1917 in New York. He attended Groton College and Yale University and received a law degree from the University of Virginia. He served in the U.S. Navy for four years during World War ll. A practicing attorney, Auchincloss wrote his first novel, "The Indifferent Children," in 1947 under the pseudonym Andrew Lee, establishing a dual career as a successful lawyer and writer.

Born into a socially prominent family, Auchincloss generally writes about society's upper class. Strong family connections, well-bred manners, and corporate boardrooms are subject matter in such novels as "Portrait in Brownstone" and "I Come As a Thief." He has also written several biographical and critical works on such notable writers as Edith Wharton and Henry James.

Auchincloss was President of the Museum of the City of New York.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Ambrose Vollard has a successful career as managing partner of a distinguished Wall Street law firm and a useful marriage to the practical daughter of an old Boston family. The only thing lacking is a son, until his favorite daughter, Vinnie, marries Rod Jessup. But adultery destroys Vinnie's marriage, and change in the form of both her husbands--the honorable Rod and the less honorable Harry--undermines the old ways at Vollard Kaye. There is a sameness to Auchincloss' elegant tales of the Manhattan brownstone set, especially true in this novel, which is a reworking and expansion of a clever story in his 2002 collection, Manhattan Monologues. Some of the names have been changed; Ambrose was previously called Arnold Dillard. Some passages have been transplanted from the story word for word. But Auchincloss now provides more backstory, especially about Arnold--Ambrose, rather, and also takes his tale further into the future. In giving himself more scope to flesh out characters and examine shifting mores, Auchincloss sacrifices some of the story's original punch, but his many loyal readers probably won't mind. --Mary Ellen Quinn Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Auchincloss's latest novel takes place in familiar territory-the world of the privileged classes in 1950s New York-and acquires extra resonance from its mirroring of Hawthorne's famous tale of guilt and redemption. The story opens with a scandal: respected New York lawyer Ambrose Vollard is shocked by the flagrant adultery of his favored son-in-law and heir apparent, Rod Jessup. The author then explores Vollard's rise from ignored son to head of his beloved law firm; his marriage to Hetty, the intelligent daughter of a Boston preacher; his indulgence of his favorite daughter Lavinia; and her relationship to the somewhat puritanical Rod, who is troubled by ghosts of the past, personified in the more hedonistic Harry Hammersly, his best friend and colleague at Vollard's law firm. When Vinnie and Rod divorce and she quickly marries Harry, the story-the battle between a too-strict moralism and a cynical disregard for right and wrong-is only beginning. Auchincloss's writing, which can seem somewhat old-fashioned and burdened with authorial exegesis rather than demonstration of character, makes perfect sense in the context of this near-allegorical morality tale, and readers are rewarded with an embellishment of the simple dichotomies of Hawthorne's novel with an appropriately ambiguous ending. The 1950s context allows the scenes of spiritual, sexual and legal corruption to have an impact they might not in a modern setting, and while the author makes apparent the force of personal history justifying each character's actions, it is always clear who the good guys and bad guys really are. This is a satisfying and sometimes surprising story from a past master of New York tales. (Nov. 5) Forecast: Readers should not be put off by the fact that this is an expansion of a short story from 2002's Manhattan Monologues-it stands on its own as one of Auchincloss's most engrossing novels. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In his 59th work, Auchincloss plays with the old theme of adultery among New York's upper crust in the 1950s. Ambrose Vollard has founded a prestigious law firm on Wall Street, married the right woman, and had the requisite number of children-alas, all are girls. Then favorite daughter Lavinia, or "Vinnie," marries Rodman Jessup-a fine, morally upstanding fellow who soon becomes the son Ambrose never had. Into this picture of bliss comes Harry Hammersly, Rod's oldest friend from prep school, and social havoc soon follows. Each chapter reveals how one character double-crosses another and connives to better his or her self at the expense of others. At the center is Rod, who tries to retain his high ideals only to be caught up in the social machinations of the very rich. Using Hawthorne's classic story as his model, Auchincloss has created a short tale of deceit, ambition, and disloyalty among the scions of society. Unfortunately, the result is a bit precious, the allusions to Hawthorne too forced. It's hard to care about these characters. Recommended for public libraries where society novels are in vogue. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/03.]-Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



1It was commonly said, in the early 1900s, in the large and not undistinguished Manhattan social circle of the Vollard clan, of Ambrose, then a lad of twelve or thirteen, that he seemed the all-American boy: comely, tousle-haired, blue-eyed, grinning, the prototype of a youth out of Mark Twain or even Horatio Alger. But only a few years later he had grown into something quite different: a large, rather hulking type, almost menacingly muscular, whose good looks were darkened by an air of surly moodiness not quite redeemed by his brooding, now blue-gray eyes. If there were, or at least had been, two Ambroses, it might have been because there seemed to be two Vollard families in which the boy had been reared. There was what might be called the older branch: Papa, Mama, son Russell, nicknamed Stuffy by his school pals, and daughter Elsie, known with unblushing sentimentality in the home as Rosebud. And then there were the two younger children, the twins, Ambrose and fat little Bertha. Why did that make two families? The answer, as in so many American social problems, must be sought in Mama. When Fanny Vollard had found herself the mother of two fine infants, the required son and the desired daughter, she supposed that she had fulfilled her generative duties and could present a completed family to the proper ranks of her excellently proper relatives. But whether it was a too importunate husband or one who lacked the discretion of Onan she made the unwelcome discovery that she was again pregnant, and most uncomfortably so with twins, and was obliged to undergo a delivery that was not only excruciatingly painful but that almost cost her her life. Thereafter the partition that divided the two families was like the closed door of Fannys bed chamber shut, that is, to Papa, consigned to a back room of their Manhattan brownstone overlooking the bare yards, while his wife continued to occupy her comfortable and commodious apartment in the front of the house whose three large windows faced the street. Taking up the Vollards in reverse order of their importance, Elias, Papa, was the first. He was a large, expensively clad gentleman with a big potbelly and features that might have been well enough in younger, leaner days, but which now bore the blankness of one who sought relief from real things in perfunctory tasks and compulsive habits. He looked the part of a sober and prosperous man of affairs, and indeed he sat on some important boards where his fixity of apparent attention concealed his daydreaming, but his ineptitude as an investor had reduced his wifes inherited capital far more than she knew, and he maintained only with difficulty their brownstone in town and the larger shingle cottage in Newport that she had taken over on her fathers death and clung to with a tenacity that he dared not disturb. Eliass life consisted in forms; they were the only things of which he could be sure, and he clung to them as his salvation from an eternity of nothingne Excerpted from The Scarlet Letters by Louis Auchincloss All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.