RIP Gore Vidal (1925-2012)

The American novelist, essayist, playwright, screenwriter and all-round man of letters Eugene Louis ‘Gore’ Vidal has died at the age of 86. He spent much of his life living in self-imposed exile in Italy though returned to the USA in 2003 when his partner Howard Austen died and his own health began to fail.

“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn”

A true individualist and a Liberal who sought political office more than once, his exegesis includes hundreds of essays which alone would guarantee him literary immortality as the Cicero to JFK’s Julius Caesar.

“I never miss a chance to have sex or appear on television”

Renowned for such sexually outspoken works as The City and the Pillar (1948) and Myra Breckinridge (1968), he displayed his often corrosive wit in such satires as Visitor from Another Planet (1957) and The Best Man (1960). He was also, apparently in the wake of the scandal caused by the publication of The City and the Pillar, the author of a trio of detective novels published under the pseudonym ‘Edgar Box’ in the 1950s as well as Thieves Fall Out (1953) published as by ‘Cameron Kay’. For fine coverage of these books, visit Curt Evans’ blog The Passing Tramp. He also turned to screenwriting for television and the cinema and also wrote several important plays, the most enduring of which may also be his overtly political, The Best Man, which he later adapted into a film starring Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson. He also fashioned significant works from such diverse historical figures as Billy the Kid and Zola’s defence of Dreyfus, pointing to his great success in the 60s and 70s with novels based on historical fact (including his own family).

The list of novels published under his own name includes:

  • Williwaw (1946)
  • In a Yellow Wood (1947)
  • The City and the Pillar (1948)
  • The Season of Comfort (1949)
  • A Search for the King (1950)
  • Dark Green, Bright Red (1950)
  • The Judgment of Paris (1952)
  • Messiah (1954)
  • A Thirsty Evil (1956) (short stories)
  • Julian (1964)
  • Washington, D.C. (1967)
  • Myra Breckinridge (1968)
  • Two Sisters (1970)
  • Burr (1973)
  • Myron (1974)
  • 1876 (1976)
  • Kalki (1978)
  • Creation (1981)
  • Duluth (1983)
  • Lincoln (1984)
  • Empire (1987)
  • Hollywood (1990)
  • Live from Golgotha: The Gospel according to Gore Vidal
  • The Smithsonian Institution (1998)
  • The Golden Age (2000)
  • Clouds and Eclipses: The Collected Short Stories (2006) (short stories)

His historical novels, beginning with Julian in 1964, which saw his return to the novel form under his own name after a decade, signalled an important shift in his work and it is perhaps for his long cycle of novels starting with Washington, D.C. (1967), combining his fascination with the past and US politics, that saw him at his considerable best. His first volume of memoirs, Palimpsest (1995), also comes highly recommended.

His official website can be found at: www.gorevidalnow.com/

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10 Responses to RIP Gore Vidal (1925-2012)

  1. Sergio – A very appropriate, well-written and thoughtful tribute to Vidal. Such a true talent and he had so much influence in so many areas. He will be missed. Thanks for this.

  2. Mike Ripley says:

    Possibly my favourite historical novelist – ‘Julian’ and ‘Burr’ take some beating – and no mean historian. His last (?) book, ‘Inventing A Nation’, Vidal’s take on those founding fathers Washington, Adams and Jefferson, published in 2003 by Yale University is brilliant, not to mention rude and funny in parts. (I don’t think it was ever publised in the UK). I read his three Edgar Box detective stories over 40 years ago and really enjoyed them, but everything he wrote had an impish magic about it even if the subject was an obscure spect of American politics or completely weird, like the plot of ‘Kalki’!

    • Inventing a Nation is one I’ve not read in fact – I think the last thing of hid I read was part 2 of his memoirs, Point to Point Navigation, which was very much a volume prepared with death on the horizon. A wonderful and colourful perrsonality and a great mind. I think you are right about his historical novels Mike, though I do the rudeness of Myra, Myron and Duluth too and his political punditry is wonderfully witty and unimpressed, even by the most obscene of chicanery …

  3. curtis evans says:

    A nice tribute, Sergio (and thanks for the mention). He’s certainly a controversial but genuinely noteworthy figure in American literary culture. And he was not a “snob” who looked down on the mystery genre. He even praised Agatha Christie–and not just for her plotting, but for her character drawing, which I suspect would surprise some (but not your Passing Tramp)!

    The City and the Pillar was a national bestseller in the United States, so Vidal was not exactly starved for cash in its aftermath; but he had just bought a Greek Revival mansion with that City and Pillar money, so I’m sure had high expenses–and the Box books helped out there!

    • Thanks Curt – I think the boycott of his books in the Times (if we take his word for it as I haven’t checked their index) after Pillar seemed to be his reason for finding other outlets (and names to publish under). But he was always a film nut so the screenwriting was a natural extension (Myra Breckenridge is the most bizarre of love letters to the movies of course)

  4. It was fun witnessing the literary/political feuds involving Capote, Mailer, Buckley and Vidal. Personally, I found Vidal to be at his best with political essays. Gore Vidal was the last of the four to go. Miss them all. Thank you for the post.

    • Thanks very much Ron – really is the end of an era. Of my great personal literary heroes of the 60s and 70s, Harlan Ellison is I think the only one left now (and dammit if he doesn’t keep going around saying he is due to check out soon, which rea;;y puts me in a funk).

  5. I haven’t read much of Vidal’s work though “Washington, D.C.,” which I read some two decades ago, is still fresh. I liked the way he tackled political opportunism in that novel, as a man and his (prospective?) son-in-law aim for the political high office. I must look out for the Cameron Kay novel.

    • Hi Prashant – I’m just about to start re-reading Washington D.C. actually ut it is a great book. I think getting the book as by ‘Kay’ is much tougher to find that those as by ‘Edgar Box’ though.

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