The Friend of Women and Other Stories

The Friend of Women and Other Stories

The Los Angeles Times has lauded Louis Auchincloss as "a novelist committed to examining the complicated layers of character, psychology, and society." In The Friend of Women, that dedication shines on every page in the singular, epigrammatic style of an American master.The mysteries of character are at the heart of these six previously unpublished pieces. In the title story, a teacher at a private girls' school ruminates on a long career, wondering if he was right to encourage his students to find a life less constrained than the conventional one prescribed to them or if he cruelly raised unrealistic expectations. In "The Country Cousin" -- a delightful one-act play -- a wealthy woman's dependent niece unwittingly serves as the vehicle that reveals her rich relatives' self-involvement. Ranging from a boyhood friendship tested by the fabrications of the McCarthy era to an Episcopal priest tormented by an autocratic headmaster, Auchincloss's fiction illuminates the complications that ensue when our perceptions of other people's character -- as well as our own -- are upended.

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  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780544109001

  • ISBN-10: 0544109007

  • Pages: 224

  • Price: $11.99

  • Publication Date: 09/24/2012

  • Carton Quantity: 1

Louis Auchincloss
Author

Louis Auchincloss

Louis Auchincloss was honored in the year 2000 as a “Living Landmark” by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. During his long career he wrote more than sixty books, including the story collection Manhattan Monologues and the novel The Rector of Justin. The former president of the Academy of Arts and Letters, he resided in New York City until his death in January 2010.
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  • excerpts

    3 The Call of the Wild

    I have never had a friend quite like Harry Phelps. Everyone has always liked Harry, well enough, that is, but there was a general feeling that he was something of a bore, however harmless and amiable a one. He had an even temper—remarkably so, you never saw him either depressed or elated—and a bland, round countenance, a strong stocky figure, a thick head of black hair, and large, rather expressionless blue-gray eyes. Some women credited him with a subdued sex appeal, but his nature was certainly not a passionate one. Nor did he ever say anything particularly witty or even very interesting. Yet you could count on him. He was there, so to speak, always reassuringly sympathetic. He was like a glass of milk, and you couldn’t be drinking Scotch forever, could you? He was certainly a loyal friend.

    Nor could he be pushed around too much. He could be directed, yes, he could even be bossed, as we have seen him be, shrilly, by Lola, his first wife, but there were still things about which he could be immovable: his Saturday game of golf, his summer fishing trip with old college pals, his pipe and favorite radio program, his early morning calisthenics. Lola would break her fingernails in any effort to interrupt these. He was like a domestic animal that would submit meekly to be trained in certain routines but could be adamant in rejecting others.

    And the animal is not a bad analogy, either, as Harry, like one of them, saw no difference between himself and other members of his species. Animals are not snobs, and Harry appeared to make no distinction, say, between the fashionable society of his parents’ world and the sundry employees of his brokerage firm on Wall Street. He treated everyone in his same mild and modest way. People who met him had no notion of a social register background or an elite private schooling; these things had washed off him without leaving a trace.

    I remember at the New England boarding school in which we were classmates, at age fourteen, before our voices had changed, that we were both cast as sopranos in the chorus of young maidens in a performance of The Pirates of Penzance. While delivering one of our songs, Harry noticed that his shoe had become untied. Calmly, stolidly, he leaned down slowly and carefully to retie the laces, utterly indifferent to or at least unconscious of the fact that he was breaking the orderly line of the singers. After the performance the outraged director was heard to exclaim, “Harry Phelps has no idea there’s anyone in the world but himself, and he never will!” Life, however, doesn’t depend on one’s performance in amateur theatricals, and Harry passed easily enough through school and college and took his place ultimately in his father’s small brokerage house. He was the only child of very stylish parents who had just enough money to maintain their constant round of visits to the homes of their very much richer friends. The Gerald Phelpses were a handsome, beautifully attired, highly ordered, and disciplined couple of exquisite manners who played excellent bridge and golf. They were utterly baffled by Harry, but saw that he did well enough on his own and left him, after a few vain efforts to make him more socially presentable, pretty much to himself. This was fine by him. The only unfortunate part of their detachment was in their failure to prevent his picking Lola as his bride, or rather his being picked by Lola as her husband. Not that Mr. and Mrs. Phelps approved of Lola; they simply threw up their hands when confronted with her aggressive personality, her olive complexion, and sharp black eyes. She came from a dull, respectable family on the edge of the Phelpses’ fashionable world, close enough to be recognized and snubbed by it. But Lola knew enough to bypass them and go directly after Harry. He might not have been much, but she was shrewd enough to see that he was the best she could get.

    In my observance there are two kinds of nasty women: those who can be agreeable when they get what they want, and those who remain disagreeable even afterward. Lola was of the latter sort. She was one of those tormented souls who is always unhappy and wants everyone around her to be as unhappy as she is. Harry bowed meekly to all her demands: how the children should be educated, where the family should spend their vacations, what friends they should see, on what objects their money should be spent, even what church they should attend, everything, in short, except in the few areas of his pleasure specified earlier. Of course, these were just the ones she had to go after. Her possessiveness was satisfied only by totality; any reservation outraged her. But Harry was a rock when it came to thesse few retentions, and their domestic life was rent with turmoil. The two children, a docile son and a daughter who was her mother’’’’’s clone, had been drafted into the maternal alliance.

    I can see now that there may have been a latent cruelty in Harry’s submission to Lola in so many aspects of their existence. Her tantrums brought her no relief; she would have been happier without them. Had Harry only once said to her quietly, “Lola, I am moving out of the house. When you have calmed down and decided to be reasonable, I shall consider returning,” and acted on it, I have little doubt that she would have collapsed. And been the better for it. She needed a firm hand to steady her in her near fits. But it was never stretched out to her.

    I did not find Harry and Lola’s home a pleasant place to visit, and through the years I saw him mostly at bimonthly lunches at our downtown club. My law firm represented his brokerage house, and we occasionally had some business to discuss, but for the most part we simply exchanged items about old school and college mates. And so passed a decade and a half.

    The abrupt change in our talks came about one day when he brought me a startling piece of business. He announced it, however, in his customary dry tone, and for a moment I was too stunned to reply. He wanted me to represent him in a suit for divorce that Lola was bringing against him.

    When I spoke I was still too amazed to be tactful. “What did you do that finally broke the camel’s back?” “I rejected her plea for a reconciliation.” “Then you aren’t going to oppose her?” “Not in the divorce, no. But her terms are confiscatory.” “I suppose she wants the kids. That’s natural. You can always get visitation on holidays and summer.” “It’s not that. She can have the children. It’s my money I have to look out for.” “Well, of course you’ll have to give her a chunk of that. A big chunk, too. That’s inevitable.” “You don’t get it, Peter. She wants everything I’ve got. Right down to my last cuff link. I’m perfectly willing to be reasonable, even generous. But she wants to see me begging on the street corner with a steel cup in my hand.” I stared. “Harry, what have you done to her?” “It’s not so much what I’ve done. Though that’s certainly in it. It’s what I plan to do. I plan to wed Marianne Sykes. Do you know who she is?” Well, I did know. My firm represented Athena, a well-known liberal literary quarterly, with a reputation for controversy, that was backed by a wealthy woman client of ours. Marianne Sykes was one of its principal editors, and I had used her as a witness in defending the magazine against a libel case. And a very competent witness she had proved. She was a handsome, self-assured woman, with a reputation for being hard-boiled and famed for her biting wit. She was somewhere in her thirties, considerably Harry’s junior, and I knew she had been divo...

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780544109001

  • ISBN-10: 0544109007

  • Pages: 224

  • Price: $11.99

  • Publication Date: 09/24/2012

  • Carton Quantity: 1

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