Gore Vidal

Portrait Gore Vidal
© Hartwig Klappert

Gore Vidal was born in Westpoint, New York, in 1925.  His full name is Eugene Luther Gore Vidal, which refers back to his grandfather, Senator Thomas Pryor Gore, and thus, to his descent from one of the most politically influential families in the USA.  He entered the army at eighteen and served 1945 as first mate on a transport ship in the Aleutian Islands near Alaska.  During this time he wrote his first novel, ‘Williwaw’, a seafaring tale in the style of Melville and Hemingway, published in 1946.  After its success he gave up the job at a publishing house that he had accepted upon his discharge.  In 1946 he moved to Guatemala and worked as a freelance writer, and in 1948 embarked on extensive travels through Europe, during which he met literary greats including André Gide.  That same year his novel ‘The City and the Pillar’ was published, which caused a stir due to the appearance for the first time of a homosexual protagonist who was neither eccentric nor moved in a dubious milieu, but came rather from the petit-bourgeois middle class. Despite this first bestseller, Vidal failed to receive critical recognition in the years that followed.  He turned to writing detective stories, scripts for film and television, as well as Broadway plays and essays.  In addition Vidal exhibited the political acumen that he had acquired through his familial ties to America’s political elite.  Since the mid 1950’s his engagement in US politics has been highly visible.  He ran for political office and belonged to John F. Kennedy’s “inner circle”. His minutely researched historical novels, in which ancient and American history and its ambivalent heroes such as Julian, Xerxes, Lincoln and Burr become characters, are a facet of his prolific and polymathic oeuvre. Another facet is the parodic, which finds expression in his play with travesty like in ‘Myra Breckinridge’ (1968), or in ‘Messiah’ (1954) and ‘Live from Golgotha’ (1992), when questioning the Christian sanctimoniousness of society.  His reputation as a biting and pertinent commentator on the political landscape of the United States is legendary. Current evidence for this lies in the volumes of essays ‘Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace’ (2002) and ‘Imperial America’ (2004), in which he criticises above all US foreign policy. After many years in Italy, Gore Vidal once more lived mainly in the United States, where he died on July 31st 2012 aged 86.

© international literature festival berlin