The Scarlet Letters

The Scarlet Letters

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.

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  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547630526

  • ISBN-10: 0547630522

  • Pages: 192

  • Price: $11.99

  • Publication Date: 11/05/2003

  • 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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  • reviews

    Speedy and fleet-footed fiction of the highest order.

    Kirkus Reviews, Starred

  • excerpts

    1

    It 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 Fanny’s 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 wife’s 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 father’s death and clung to with a tenacity that he dared not disturb. Elias’s 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 nothingness.

    His son Russell, or “Stuffy,” justified his nickname. He had a high brow, a large nose, a square chin and slickly combed, diminishing brown hair; his air of arrogant self-sufficiency was a wide shield to cover everything else. And “Rosebud” was a heavy, gushing, vaguely pretty blonde, subject to wild outbursts of fatuous enthusiasm, who once told her kid brother Ambrose that she would rather see him dead than a disbeliever in the divinity of Christ. What he replied disposed permanently of what little there was of her sibling affection.

    This trio obviously needed a more robustly equipped individual to guide and manage them in the highways and byways of a New York and Newport life, and they had one in Mama. When one knew that Fanny Vollard had been born a de Peyster — she never mentioned it because she never had to — one knew not the most important thing about her but what she considered the most important. The de Peysters were old Knickerbocker stock, related to Van Rensselaers and Stuyvesants, and Fanny belonged to a minor branch of that tree which still looked askance at the new railroad and steel barons of the postbellum era, and disdained, unwisely, to seek marital alliances with Vanderbilts and Goulds. Remaining pure, she had married a “gentleman,” and kept her eyes firmly fixed on the past, pronouncing “girl” “goyle” and “pearl” “poyle” in the aristocratic manner of the late eighteenth century, embarrassing her descendants who mistook it for a vulgar Brooklynese.

    But Fanny had character. Diminutive, disciplined, with some hint of faded beauty, with lips virgin to rouge and cheeks to powder and hair unwaved by machinery, she possessed a dignity and quiet force that was almost regall. Few suspected that her air and demeanor constituted a fort to protect a garrison of inner fears, fear of contagious diseases, unprinciiiiipled men, stock market upsets and, above all, a day of judgment waiting at the end of the road and the very real possibility of hellfire. What bore her up was her pride and her ability — or was it an instinct — to draft other humans into a regiment to afford her both moral and material support.

    If it was an instinct it was that of a parasite plant or animal. Fanny would reach out, presumably unconsciously, to grasp in a tight ineluctable embrace the neighboring organism most endowed to supply her own deficiencies. In Elias she sensed the male who would always sympathize with her valetudinarianism, surround her with the comforts she imagined she required, and admire the fortitude with which she bore her anxieties and depressions. In her son Stuffy she flared the insecurity behind his pomposity and in her daughter Rosebud the anxiety beneath her little spring showers of good will, and knew that a mother’s love and approval, or at least the easily adopted appearance of such, would be rewarded by a devotion gratifyingly servile.

    Fanny’s instinct may even have been what guided her steps as far as Philadelphia where she consulted the famous Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, whose popular prescribed “rest cure” for wealthy society ladies totally justified to the eyes of Elias and the two elder children the long hours that Fanny spent in her chaise longue and the hushed atmosphere of a household where family and servants silently and uncomplainingly performed what otherwise might have been considered her duties.

    But all that left out the twins. Indeed it did. The parasite at once recognizes the organism that will not welcome its octuple embrace. Fanny felt in the very agony of her delivery that Ambrose and Bertha would not be her subjects, at least not willingly. The remedy for this was simple enough: it was to make it appear to the world that the twins, rowdy and ungovernable juniors, had by their own stubborn and ungrateful natures rejected the love that their irreproachable mother so freely offered them. Few guests at the family board could have detected any reprehensible difference between the ways Fanny treated her elder and younger offspring. But perhaps a keen one might have.

    “Ambrose, my dear, don’t wolf your food down that way, and do, child, try to sit up a little straighter. The way Russell does. Of course, I realize that Russell is older and has had the advantage of boarding school discipline, but you can still take him as an example. There, dear, that’s better. And Bertha, darling, how many times must I tell you that ladies don’t put their elbows on the table? You don’t see Rosebud doing that, do you? Oh, but I must stop calling Elsie by that name, now she’s almost a debutante, ...

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547630526

  • ISBN-10: 0547630522

  • Pages: 192

  • Price: $11.99

  • Publication Date: 11/05/2003

  • Carton Quantity: 1

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