Thursday, August 2, 2012

In Memoriam - Gore Vidal, 1925-2012

The highly successful novelist, screenwriter, playwright, essayist, literary critic and satirist Gore Vidal (M) has died at the age of 86. A man of many literary accomplishments, he was recognized as a eloquent and witty writer, but also a man of strong opinions. He never shied away from controversy and critical discourse. Love him or loathe him, everybody respected his ability as a man of letters.

His first novel was Williwaw published in 1946. It received good reviews at the time and seemed to set the course for future success. However, his third novel, The City and the Pillar almost derailed his career completely. He was essentially blacklisted for future book reviews for several years. The book's theme of homosexuality as natural behaviour was the root cause of the controversy.

Fortunately for us readers, Vidal persevered and continued writing, even going so far as to create the pseudonym of Edgar Box. He also successfully delved into television and stage writing. He was even hired as a contract screenwriter writer at MGM in 1959.

He began publishing fiction under his own name again in 1960s, starting with Julian and Washington, D.C.. He stirred the pot of controversy again in 1968 with the novel Myra Breckinridge (M), a satirical exploration of transsexuality. Fortunately, the literary world was far more accepting of such subject matters than when he published The City and the Pillar. Myra Breckinridge was even made into a major motion picture in 1970 - featuring actresses Raquel Welch and Farrah Fawcett. Unlike the book, the film was not well received.

Vidal was also known as a brilliant essayist, especially in the area of US politics, foreign policy and culture. He was often provocative and seemed to love a good argument. He became involved in several high profile spats with other public figures, notably suing Truman Capote for libel, arguing live on camera with Norman Mailer- whom Vidal had compared to Charles Manson- and an epic ongoing battle with William F. Buckley.

Check out his memoir Palimpsest: a memoir (M) and/or Vidal Gore: a biography (M) by Fred Kaplan for more details on Vidal's incredibly dynamic and entertaining life.

In our fiction collection, checkout Lincoln (M) for a good example of his historical writing and consider Myra Breckenridge (M) as a great example of his satirical work.

May he rest in peace.

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