Louis Auchincloss, a novelist, essayist, biographer, editor and lawyer whose literary beat was the decline of the old WASP world of power and privilege to which he belonged, died Tuesday at Lenox Hill Hospital, near his home in Manhattan. He had complications from a stroke and was 92.
The author of more than 60 books in a career stretching more than seven decades, Auchincloss was best known for such novels as "The Rector of Justin" (1964), about the founding headmaster of an elite prep school; and "The Embezzler" (1966), about an upper-class Wall Street stockbroker who succumbs to temptation during the Great Depression.
Auchincloss was born in Lawrence on Sept. 27, 1917, and grew up on Manhattan's Upper East Side. As a youth, he was put off by his father's arid practice as a corporate lawyer and drawn to his mother's artistic pursuits.
But the young man did what was expected of him. He entered Yale in 1935, leaving three years later without a degree to attend law school at the University of Virginia. He found the law congenial and, after graduating from Virginia in 1941, returned to New York to work for the white-shoe firm of Sullivan and Cromwell. He interrupted his legal career to serve in the Navy during World War II but rejoined the firm afterward.
All along, however, Auchincloss harbored literary ambitions. In 1947, he published the novel "The Indifferent Children" under the pseudonym Andrew Lee. The book received favorable reviews, and he began placing stories under his own name in such periodicals as the Atlantic Monthly and the New Yorker.
In 1951, he resigned from Sullivan and Cromwell to write full time, only to discover that he didn't like being cut off from what he called "the real world." Three years later, he joined the Wall Street firm Hawkins, Delafield and Wood, where he remained until his retirement in 1986. He juggled his two callings by confining legal work to weekdays and creative writing to weekends.
As subject matter, however, the law looms large in Auchincloss' fiction; among his best books is "Powers of Attorney" (1963), a collection of related short stories about a Manhattan law firm. The titles of other novels and story collections suggest the boundaries within which Auchincloss liked to operate: "Portraits in Brownstone," "A World of Profit," "Tales of Manhattan," "Honorable Men," "Diary of a Yuppie."
His biggest bestseller, "The Rector of Justin," takes place in a proving ground for that rarefied world: a New England boys' boarding school. A portrait stitched together from the diaries and observations of multiple observers, "The Rector of Justin" reaches a climax when the now-retired great man perceives that, despite his best efforts to inculcate high ideals, "snobbishness and materialism were intrinsic in [his school's] makeup."
Auchincloss took issue with a complaint made about him: That in dwelling on characters and conflicts peculiar to the Eastern upper crust, his fiction is parochial. In a 1997 interview he replied, "If you look through the literature of the ages you will find that 95 percent of it deals with the so-called 'upper class.' "
Auchincloss' civic contributions included serving as president of the Museum of the City of New York and as a member of the executive committee of the New York Bar Association.
Auchincloss received the National Medal of Arts in 2005. He wed Adele Lawrence in 1957; the marriage lasted until her death in 1991. Survivors include sons John Auchincloss of Weston, Conn.; Blake Auchincloss of Hingham, Mass.; and Andrew Auchincloss of Manhattan; a brother; and seven grandchildren.