Gore Vidal Additional Biography


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Gore Vidal was born Eugene Luther Vidal on October 3, 1925, at West Point, where his father, Eugene Vidal, taught aeronautics at the military academy. His father helped to establish civil aviation in the United States and later became the director of air commerce in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential administration. His mother, Nina, was a beautiful socialite, the daughter of Thomas P. Gore, the powerful U.S. senator from Oklahoma, and soon after Vidal’s birth, the family moved to Senator Gore’s mansion in Washington, D.C. He began using the name Gore Vidal when he was fourteen years old.

One of the most learned of contemporary writers, Vidal never went to college. His education began at the home of Senator Gore: The senator, who was blind, used his grandson as a reader and in return gave him free run of his huge library. In 1935, Nina and Eugene Vidal were divorced, and Nina married Hugh D. Auchincloss, a member of a prominent family of bankers and lawyers. Gore Vidal then moved with his mother to the Auchincloss estate on the Potomac River in Virginia, where his education included rubbing shoulders with the nation’s political, economic, and journalistic elite.

Vidal was brought up removed from real life, he has stated, protected from such unpleasant realities as the effects of the Great Depression. He joined other patrician sons at St. Albans School, after which he toured Europe in 1939, then spent one year at Los Alamos School in New Mexico before finishing his formal education with three years at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.

In 1943, Vidal joined the U.S. Army and served on a transport ship in the Aleutian Islands. His military service gave him subject matter and time to write his first novel, Williwaw. He finished his second book, In a Yellow Wood, before he left the Army. In 1946, he went to work as an editor for E. P. Dutton and soon published The City and the Pillar. Good critical and popular response brought him recognition as one of the nation’s best young authors. He used Guatemala as his home base from 1947 to 1949 and then bought an old estate, Edgewater, on the Hudson River in New York. He wrote five more novels before he was thirty years old.

Meanwhile, a controversy engulfed Vidal and shifted his life and career. The City and the Pillar deals with homosexuality, and because of this, the literary establishment removed him from its list of “approved” writers and critics largely ignored his next few novels. To earn money in the 1950’s, Vidal wrote mysteries under the name Edgar Box and wrote scripts for the...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

This versatile and controversial American novelist, dramatist, and essayist is a keen observer of the American scene. He is pessimistic about the future of his country, whose decline he analogizes, often subtly, with the late Roman Empire.

Along the way, Gore Vidal often allows his message, even strong beliefs, to have the better of his characterizations. There are exceptions to his cardboard personalities. For example, he fleshes out Jim Willard in The City and the Pillar as an average all-American boy who is confused in his journey to homosexual self-discovery. In Myra Breckinridge, Myra is the transsexual narrator who entertains a life’s dream of vindicating women by liberating them from male dominance and thus completely redefining the balance between the sexes. In the sequel, Myron, the libidinous and imperious Myra and her male alter ego, Myron, alternately possess the Breckinridge psyche. Here also, Vidal snipes at what he considers American intolerance of sexual variety.

In his so-called American chronicle novels, such as Washington, D.C., Burr, 1876, and Lincoln, as well as in his most successful play, The Best Man, the author describes the infighting, greedy maneuvering, corruption, and social dalliance that have characterized American political life and many of its major protagonists. Aaron Burr, the least admired early celebrity, and Abraham Lincoln are given credible human, even superhuman, dimensions, admittedly with some historical revisionism and poetic license.

It is in Williwaw, Vidal’s first successful novel, that the characters are among the most fully drawn. The novel is set in the Aleutian islands and profiles a group of bored World War II servicemen removed from more civilized environments. Vidal’s issues in the wide diversity, range, and volume of his works are as varied as his characters. In In a Yellow Wood (1947), love of money triumphs over passion. In The Judgment of Paris, love wins out over riches and power. In Julian, Vidal wants to show that, just because Christianity won the struggle against the Hellenistic pagan gods, such an outcome was not necessarily inevitable.

Regardless of the genre or the plot or the alleged time frame or the setting of his many novels, plays, and motion picture and television scripts, Vidal has found a popular way to use his characters as vehicles for his message about sexual mores and the decadence of American political institutions.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Regarded as one of the most promising novelists to emerge in the period after World War II, Gore Vidal (vee-DAHL) not only created an important body of fiction but also became an influential man of letters, rivaling his contemporary John Updike in the scope and consistency of his work. Born Eugene Luther Vidal to a politically prominent family—he adopted his name “Gore” in honor of his grandfather, Oklahoma senator Thomas P. Gore, and is a distant cousin of former vice president Al Gore—Vidal grew up in Washington, D.C., and has written novels and essays that have the authoritative character of one steeped in politics, but he first came to prominence with the war novel Williwaw. His reputation took a sharp downturn...

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(Drama for Students)

Describing himself as America's "current biographer," Vidal's work has been widely applauded for its depth of satire and biting wit. Named...

(The entire section is 407 words.)