Auchincloss’s forebears came to America from Scotland in 1803. His father, Joseph Howland Auchincloss, born in 1886, was a third cousin of Franklin Roosevelt on the Howland side. He suffered from periodic depression, yet had a successful career as a partner in the New York law firm of Davis Polk.
Auchincloss marvels that in 1931 his father was able to maintain a brownstone on 91st Street; a weekend house on Long Island; a rented villa in Bar Harbor, Maine, where the family retreated every July; four housemaids; two children’s nurses; a couple to maintain the Long Island house; a chauffeur; four cars; several social clubs; and private schools for his four children – all on an income of “just” $100,000 a year. Auchincloss comments, “Of course the dollar went further then, but still! Yet it never occurred to me that we were rich.”
In fact, Auchincloss’s world was so narrowly circumscribed that perspective was clearly difficult. He writes, “To me, New York society (we never used the term) was not a class that dominated my world; it simply was that world.”
Although he notes that he was both parents’ favorite, Auchincloss’s relationship with his mother, Priscilla Dixon Stanton Auchincloss, had its stresses – particularly when she strongly discouraged his proclivity toward writing. He explains, “She was afraid that I was just slick enough to get my toe on the publishing ladder and would ruin my life and happiness as a hack. She felt it her duty to save me from such a disaster.”