Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal
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An intimate, authorized yet totally frank biography of Gore Vidal (1925–2012), one of the most accomplished, visible, and controversial American novelists and cultural figures of the past century
The product of thirty years of friendship and conversation, Jay Parini’s Empire of Self digs behind the glittering surface of Gore Vidal’s colorful career to reveal the complex emotional and sexual truths underlying his celebrity-strewn life. But there is plenty of glittering surface as well—a virtual Who’s Who of the twentieth century, from Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart through the Kennedys, Johnny Carson, Leonard Bernstein, and the crème de la crème of Hollywood. Also a generous helping of feuds with the likes of William F. Buckley, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, and The New York Times, among other adversaries.
The life of Gore Vidal teemed with notable incidents, famous people, and lasting achievements that call out for careful evocation and examination. Jay Parini crafts Vidal’s life into an accessible, entertaining story that puts the experience of one of the great American figures of the postwar era into context, introduces the author and his works to a generation who may not know him, and looks behind the scenes at the man and his work in ways never possible before his death. Provided with unique access to Vidal’s life and his papers, Parini excavates many buried skeletons yet never loses sight of his deep respect for Vidal and his astounding gifts. This is the biography Gore Vidal—novelist, essayist, dramatist, screenwriter, historian, wit, provocateur, and pioneer of gay rights—has long needed.
the Diners Club: Essays 1987–1991. This British-only collection found enthusiastic critics, from Hilary Mantel writing in The Spectator to James Wood in The Guardian. “The Brits,” said Gore, “were a reliable audience for my essays, but not so much for my novels. American history, in particular, bored them.” It helped, of course, that he often traveled to London to appear on television and radio programs. II. “THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CAMERA” Gore’s passion for film never waned, and when Alan
historical novel—my re-invention in the twentieth century—I am never mentioned.” It was, indeed, a constant refrain now that nobody understood his contribution to the genre of historical fiction. Gore and Howard stayed at the Plaza, and Gore drank more than usual after the installation dinner at the American Academy. At a late breakfast the next day he told me that Howard had been poisoned by the food the night before: “I never thought they’d sink that low.” Howard was indeed yellow the next
several lesions had not been removed from the brain and might create more problems of cognition. Soon Gore, with deep anxiety, decided he would take Howard back to Los Angeles, where better doctors could assess Howard’s condition. He hired a hospital plane at vast expanse, but cost didn’t matter now. Gore had the money, and Howard’s health was at stake. The small jet was cramped but outfitted for medical purposes. Howard lay like a corpse on a narrow bed, while Gore sat beside him and held his
could bear to leave Rome again. His aristocratic English friend Judy Montagu had an apartment in Rome now, too, and this added spice. At her bountiful table he soon met Katharine Graham, the owner of The Washington Post, and Princess Margaret, the younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, who soon became an important figure in his mind if not his life—a bold reminder to himself that he was important, and that he moved in the highest social circles. Rome attracted an endless rotation of friends and
coast. It was bigger than anything we wanted. It would be me who would have to look after it. But Gore liked grand houses, and the price seemed very low for such a place.” Gore recalled his visit to Amalfi with Tennessee Williams in 1948, when he had fallen in love with the rocky coastline along the Tyrrhenian Sea, with its deep blue inlets, expansive views, and flowery hillsides. He had visited Ravello, and then the ancient piazza, with a massive cathedral at its center, strongly appealed to