Louis Auchincloss’s family wasn’t among the very richest in New York City at the start of the twentieth century, but they certainly did well enough for themselves. As a result, his family was astonishingly well connected and rubbed shoulders with many of the most privileged figures of the twentieth century world; he is related to quite a few people and he drops names like Vanderbilt and Kennedy on a fairly consistent basis. Since New York society has changed drastically over the course of his life, he takes us back to the beginning and explores his life as a child of privilege and takes us through his quest to find his life’s goal, which turned out to be writing, and the way he got there.
I’d never heard of Louis Auchincloss before but I absolutely could not resist a memoir set amongst New York City’s highest levels of society. My maternal grandparents both grew up in New York City (they are both slightly younger than Auchincloss, although also very much poorer and from immigrant stock) and I’ve spent quite a few happy times looking at their old photographs, imagining what it might have been like. What better way than to hear it from someone who lived it? I wasn’t disappointed; in fact, I could sort of imagine an Auchincloss character, especially when young, acquainting himself with a few of the characters from the Luxe series, especially when he describes debutante balls. Even when he was heading to college, women from the highest classes still didn’t always choose to go, but instead had that money spent on elaborate coming out balls to catch a wealthy, handsome husband.
What really comes through brilliantly in this memoir is the character of the writer himself. I felt like I was having a chat with him from beyond the grave, as he’s now regrettably passed on. His voice comes through so strongly and I began to regret that I hadn’t read any of his novels – something I’d like to rectify ASAP. He seems like he was quite a character; I at times felt that he was looking at the world from a position of too much privilege, but when he acknowledges that readily himself it’s hard to blame him for something so beyond his control. He does say society wasn’t as exciting as everyone must have thought, but I thought that was only something an experienced socialite could say! Many of his friends are wealthy, but for me that was all a bit of the excitement as I felt I was getting a peek into a lost world. There isn’t much of the dissipation that exists among the current day wealthy; rather he’s surprisingly tame, and after he marries ceases going out at night or even meeting up with other famous writers.
I found A Voice from Old New York to be an endlessly fascinating memoir. I loved Auchincloss’s descriptions of society, colleagues, and contemporary schools. His experience is so outside mine that I just couldn’t get enough of it and I ended up only wishing the memoir were longer. It’s humorous, interesting, and above all very distinctive. Highly recommended.
I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free from Netgalley for review.