Gore Vidal

Eugene Luther Gore Vidal (he went by his last names only from the age of seventeen onward) was born on October 3, 1925 at West Point military academy. His father, Eugene Vidal, was Franklin Roosevelt’s director of air commerce from 1933 to 1937 (Parini, “Obituary”) . His mother, Nina Gore, was the daughter of Senator Thomas Pryor Gore, with whom Vidal spent a lot of time during his childhood. Having to read to his grandfather, who was blind, he became interested in politics and literature at a young age. His parents divorced in 1935, after which his mother got remarried to Jacqueline Kennedy’s stepfather. After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy, where he began writing under the name of Gene Vidal (Dick 10), he enlisted in the army in 1943 and was stationed on the Aleutian islands. Shortly afterward, he published his first novel, Williwaw (1947), which was quite a success and after briefly working in publishing, he decided to devote his time entirely to writing. Over the next 65 years, he would go on to become a highly prolific author, with “25 novels, numerous collections of essays on literature and politics, a volume of short stories, five Broadway plays, dozens of television plays and film scripts, and even three mystery novels written under the pseudonym Edgar Box” (Parini, The Guardian). He is perhaps most famous for a series of seven historical novels on the period from the American Revolution to the present, although he wrote many influential novels and essays over the course of his career. In comparison to his contemporaries, Vidal’s works have been described as classicist and traditional, following the rules instead of being innovative (Dick 193), making him irregular in his regularity. Still, his inspiration came from a range of sources; from Hollywood films to classical antiquity. Even his own personal life was a source of inspiration.

In addition to being a writer, he was involved in politics, running for a seat in the House of Representatives as a ‘Liberal Democrat’ in 1960, which he described as a victorious defeat because it had been a close race in a traditionally Republican district. He spent a significant amount of time abroad, spending longer periods of time in Guatemala and even buying an apartment in Rome in the early nineteen-sixties, splitting his time between Italy and the United States from then on. As a vocal critic, Vidal frequently got into conflict with other writers, including Norman Mailer, and, perhaps most famously, with conservative critic William F. Buckley Jr. The two had a debate on television during the 1968 conventions (Parini, “A Life in Feuds”), where it became clear just how fundamentally different their views were. Gore Vidal died, age 86, on July 31, 2012 at his home in Hollywood Hills.

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