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Arrivederci Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal, left, with Federico "Fred" Fellini. Photo courtesy Guardian/AP.
I cannot let Gore Vidal's passing go without a brief mention of the huge influence he had on me as a writer, both in terms of encouraging me to love the written word and subversive wit, but also to believe that the writer has a role to play in society as a public provocateur and commentator, both of which Vidal did with vast intelligence, grace, and acerbic, often unforgiving humor.

I had the immense good fortune to meet Mr Vidal a couple of years ago at a Hollywood Hills party, thrown by our wonderful British friend, Stephen Fry, and there was not the slightest disappointment - quite the reverse: I was somewhat terrified of what to say, to avoid appearing foolish.

Gore was in a wheelchair and rather frail, yet still he held court with a kind of imperial glee, very much the man once quoted as saying, "There is not one single human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I say."

I told him that I loved his novel, Burr, so much, that I had visited the Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights, Manhattan, where the novel opens, simply to stand in the footsteps of history - and his words.

A sharply satirical account of America's third Vice President (under Thomas Jefferson), Aaron Burr - and a scandalizing history of the early days of the Republic itself - Burr delighted me when I first read it, and opened my eyes to a different way of approaching history - and the present.

At one point in the novel, its narrator, young Charlie Schuyler remarks, "[Burr's morality was] hardly worse than that of anyone else at the time, or now."

I had also greatly enjoyed Mr Vidal's hugely provocative explosion of multi-sexuality, Myra Breckinridge (and I used to know Mike Sarne, who directed the ill-fated movie of it), as well as so many of his other novels and essays and appearances on television and film.

In fact, it is hard for me to think of Gore Vidal without thinking of Federico Fellini (whom Gore called, "Fred") and his glorious 1972 film, Roma, in which Mr Vidal makes an appearance at a noisy al fresco dinner table on the Via Veneto, pronouncing: "What better place than Rome in which to await the end of the world!"  (See the Guardian's excellent piece on Gore Vidal and the cinema.)

Above all, I loved the passion and ferocity with which Gore Vidal skewered politicians of every slant. He was, in his way, quite radical - and what I liked most about him was the fact that, despite his patrician style, he fought for the equality even of those he considered fools - which was a sizable portion of humanity.


  1. Thank you for introducing me! I've not read him, but will now. xoxo

  2. Thanks, Jan Marie. I don't think you'll be disappointed: Vidal is a wonderful writer, a superb essayist - and has a wit and humor that you won't forget in a hurry!


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