GORE VIDAL, American author, born (d: 2012); American raconteur and author of novels, stage plays, screenplays, and essays. The scion of a prominent political family, Gore was an outspoken critic of the American political establishment and a noted wit and social critic. Gore wrote the The City and The Pillar in 1948, which created controversy as the first major American novel to feature unambiguous homosexuality. His mother Nina married Hugh D. Auchincloss, who later was stepfather of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Gore Vidal is a fifth cousin of Jimmy Carter, and a distant cousin of Al Gore. Mortal enemy of Truman Capote, he said, “I can’t read him; I’m diabetic.”
Because of his matter-of-fact treatment of homosexual relations in such books as The City and The Pillar, Vidal is often seen as an early and unrelenting champion of sexual liberation. Sexually Speaking: Collected Sex Writings, a representative sampling of his views, contains literary and cultural essays that document his long campaign to mock and subvert conventional American attitudes toward sex. Focusing on, in his view, the anti-sexual heritage of Judaeo-Christianity, irrational and destructive sex laws, feminism, heterosexism, homophobia, Gay liberation, and pornography, the essays frequently return to a favorite Vidal motif: the fluidity of sexual identity. Vidal argues that “although our notions about what constitutes correct sexual behavior are usually based on religious texts, those texts are invariably interpreted by the rulers in order to keep control over the ruled.” In repudiating this kind of rigid, narrow moralism,
Vidal argued that “sex is a continuum” made up of “different phases along life’s way” and thus “everyone is potentially bisexual.” He explained that “the human race is divided into male and female. Many human beings enjoy the sexual relations with their own sex, many don’t; many respond to both. The plurality is the fact of our nature and not worth fretting about.” Therefore, “there are no homosexual people, only homosexual acts.” Given the diversity of human desire, Vidal predictably resisted any effort to categorize him as exclusively “homosexual”— either as writer or human being — and instead celebrated this polymorphous eroticism as natural and inevitable. For much of the late twentieth century, Vidal divided his time between Ravello, Italy, on the Amalfi Coast and Los Angeles, California. In 2003, he sold his cliff side Ravello villa (La Rondinaia, The Swallow’s Nest) for health reasons, and moved to Los Angeles. In November 2003, Howard Austen, Vidal’s life partner since 1951, died. In February 2005, Austen was buried in a plot maintained for himself and Vidal at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Gore Vidal is buried next to him.
After Vidal’s death, tributes immediately poured in from various media sources. The New York Times described him in his obituary as being in his old age “an Augustan figure who believed himself to be the last of a breed, and he was probably right. Few American writers have been more versatile or gotten more mileage from their talent.”The Los Angeles Times described him as a “literary juggernaut” whose novels and essays were considered “among the most elegant in the English language”The Washington Post remembered him as a “major writer of the modern era” and an “astonishingly versatile man of letters”.
We will not likely see his like again for a long long time.