Vidal, Gore

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Vidal, Gore

Gore Vidal (Eugene Luther Gore Vidal, Jr.), 1925–2012, American writer, b. West Point, N.Y. He grew up in Washington, D.C., where a formative influence was his witty and scholarly grandfather, Senator Thomas Gore of Oklahoma. Vidal was an acerbic observer of the contemporary American scene and an acute commentator on the nation's history. His first novel, Williwaw (1946), was based on his experiences in World War II. The City and the Pillar (1948, rev. ed. 1965) was one of the first mainstream novels to deal frankly with homosexuality. His best-known novel, the best-selling Myra Breckenridge (1968), is a witty satire about the Hollywood adventures of a glamorous transsexual.

Vidal's historical fiction includes an interlocking septet of American novels—consisting of Washington, D.C. (1967), Burr (1973), 1876 (1976), Lincoln (1984), Empire (1987), Hollywood (1990), and The Golden Age (2000)—as well as Julian (1964), Creation (1982), Live from Golgotha (1992), and The Smithsonian Institution (1998). In all, he wrote some 25 novels. Among his plays are Visit to a Small Planet (1955) and The Best Man (1960, film 1974), a drama concerning a presidential election that mirrored his political interests—he ran unsuccessfully for the House (1960) and the Senate (1982). He also wrote screenplays and television dramas. Vidal's sharply argued, stylish, and often controversial essays, which some critics consider his finest works, are collected in several volumes, including Reflections on a Sinking Ship (1969), The Second American Revolution (1982), Armageddon (1987), Screening History (1992), United States: Essays 1952–1992 (1993), and The Last Empire: Essays 1992–2000 (2001). He also wrote murder mysteries under the name Edgar Box.

See his memoirs, Palimpsest (1995) and Point to Point Navigation (2006); R. J. Stanton and G. Vidal, ed., Views from a Window: Conversations with Gore Vidal (1980); R. Peabody and L. Ebersole, ed., Conversations with Gore Vidal (2005); biography by F. Kaplan (1999); studies by B. F. Dick (1974), R. F. Kiernan (1982), J. Parini, ed. (1992), S. Baker and C. S. Gibson (1997), and S. Harris (2005).

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