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Gore Vidal Biography

(1925– ), Williwaw, The City and the Pillar, A Search for the King, Julian, Memoirs of Hadrian

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American writer, born in West Point, New York, educated in New Mexico and at the University of New Hampshire; he served in the US army from 1943 to 1946. His first novel, Williwaw (1946), a Second World War story, was derivative of Hemingway; however, Vidal employed this influence to good effect in The City and the Pillar (1948). Telling the story of a homosexual's obsession with his childhood companion, the novel is distinguished by its honesty and lack of self-pity; the central figure is unexceptional in every respect but his sexual choices. Vidal published his sixth novel, the original and entertaining A Search for the King (1950), when he was 25; set in the time of Richard Cœur de Lion, it displayed the imaginative interest in the reconstruction of history that characterizes so much of his mature work. One of his most successful forays into the historical is Julian (1964); in the manner of Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian, by which it is possibly influenced, this novel is presented as the autobiography of a renowned emperor of Rome. Vidal's fascination with the ancient world is exuberantly displayed in Creation (1981), which examines, through the encounters of its central figure, the Persian Cyrus Spitama, with their originators, the growth of such eastern creeds as Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, and their formative impact on culture and history. Always a versatile and bold novelist, and almost impossible to categorize successfully, Vidal does, however, produce fictions that can be loosely defined in two genres: the bizarre and satirical—such as the cult favourite Myra Breckenridge (1968), a farce involving transsexuality, male rape, and Vidal's favoured setting, Hollywood; its sequel, Myron (1975); and Duluth (1983); and the epic, including Creation; 1876 (1976); and Lincoln (1984), a portrait of the American president, considered by many to be his masterpiece. In later works such as Hollywood (1990) and Golgotha (1992) the modes occasionally combine, though the documentary element, rich with Vidal's impressive understanding of the vagaries of American (and world) politics, is usually privileged. The scale and ambition of Vidal's writings occasionally obscure the fact that he is a lucid and elegant stylist, a fact that is amply proved by the occasional prose essays and reviews, which display his erudition as a cultural commentator, collected in such volumes as Pink Triangle and Yellow Star and Other Essays 1976–1982 (1982) and Armageddon and Other Essays 1983–1987 (1987). Palimpsest: A Memoir appeared in 1995.

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