Catalogue


Gore Vidal : a biography /
by Fred Kaplan.
edition
1st ed.
imprint
New York : Doubleday, 1999.
description
xi, 850 p. : ill.
ISBN
0385477031
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
New York : Doubleday, 1999.
isbn
0385477031
catalogue key
3234291
 
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
Fred Kaplan is Distinguished Professor of English Literature at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the critically acclaimed author of the biographies Henry James, Dickens, and Thomas Carlyle (which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pultizer Prize), and the editor of The Essential Gore Vidal. Kaplan has held Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, received a Queens College Presidential Award, and been a Fellow of the National Humanities Center. He is currently at work on a biography of Mark Twain. Kaplan lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Awards
This item was nominated for the following awards:
Lambda Literary Awards, USA, 2000 : Nominated
Excerpts
Excerpt from Book
Origins: 1776-1925 GORE VIDAL'S last name is his father's family name, his first his mother's. Born October 3, 1925, at West Point, New York, he was named, and thirteen years later baptized by the canon of Washington's Episcopalian National Cathedral Church, Eugene Luther Gore Vidal, Jr. His father, who had a poor memory for such things, could not remember for certain whether his own name was Eugene Louis or Eugene Luther. He mistakenly put Louis rather than Luther on his son's birth certificate. His exasperated son remarked, years later, that since his father was then an instructor at West Point, "He might have asked the head of his department what his name was. "You know, I've forgotten my name. Could you tell me?'" At his baptism the Luther was restored. He also added, as another middle name, his mother's maiden name. His maternal grandfather, Thomas Pryor Gore, the young boy's highest model of worldly achievement, was a United States senator. Then, at the age of sixteen, Eugene Luther Gore Vidal, Jr., decided that a partial act of self-naming would anoint him with the best of both traditions. He wanted a sharp, distinctive name, appropriate for an aspiring author or national political leader. "I wasn't going to write as Gene since there was already one. I didn't want to use the Jr." He dropped his first two names and the Jr. Thenceforth he was, so to speak, just Gore Vidal. The Gore family saga is aggressively American, mostly Southern and Southwestern. When, in the early seventeenth century, the first Gores arrived in America from their Protestant Anglo-Irish origins, one brother went to New England, the other to Maryland, apparently never to meet again. The brothers probably came from Ireland, where the English Gores (of whom there were many) had been awarded land for service to the crown. They settled in Donegal, resolutely Anglo-Irish and anti-Catholic. Where they originally came from in England is unclear; so too is the nature of their service to the crown, though it probably had something to do with putting down the Irish. In Maryland, James Gore flourished, the patronymic father of seemingly innumerable farmers, ministers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, soldiers, politicians--three hundred years of ambitious, stubbornly assertive individualists. English and Irish origins faded into family legend and historical mist. They later associated themselves with the category Scots-Irish, which proved useful to those who wanted to make clear that though they were from Ireland, they were not Catholics. From generation to generation American Gores were to have names like James, Thomas, Manning, Austen, Albert, Notley, Elias, Ellis, Ezekiel. The immigrant James and his immediate descendents leased and owned substantial tracts of land in what is now part of central Washington and in the Georgetown-Rock Creek Park area. They fought in the French and Indian and then in the Revolutionary War, by the time of the latter apparently staunchly anti-British. They were fruitful and multiplied. As each died, land had to be divided or sold or both. Each needed a property, a stake, an opportunity. Fortunately, there was always land to the west. Toward the end of the French and Indian War, one of the immigrant James's grandsons, Thomas, was granted or bought land in South Carolina. Selling extensive property in Maryland, part of the large family moved, before the Revolution began, southward and westward, to Chester County, near Spartanburg, in northwestern South Carolina. Thomas Tindal Gore, perhaps Thomas Gore's nephew, the son of his brother Manning, was born in South Carolina in the celebratory year 1776, and became the patriarch of the next generation. With his wife, by whom he had eight sons and five daughters, he raised cotton along the fertile banks of the Sandy River. In 1817, in wagons, Thomas Tindal moved his family south and westward, probably looking for better land, more land, more
First Chapter
Origins: 1776-1925

GORE VIDAL'S last name is his father's family name, his first his mother's. Born October 3, 1925, at West Point, New York, he was named, and thirteen years later baptized by the canon of Washington's Episcopalian National Cathedral Church, Eugene Luther Gore Vidal, Jr. His father, who had a poor memory for such things, could not remember for certain whether his own name was Eugene Louis or Eugene Luther. He mistakenly put Louis rather than Luther on his son's birth certificate. His exasperated son remarked, years later, that since his father was then an instructor at West Point, "He might have asked the head of his department what his name was. "You know, I've forgotten my name. Could you tell me?'" At his baptism the Luther was restored. He also added, as another middle name, his mother's maiden name. His maternal grandfather, Thomas Pryor Gore, the young boy's highest model of worldly achievement, was a United States senator. Then, at the age of sixteen, Eugene Luther Gore Vidal, Jr., decided that a partial act of self-naming would anoint him with the best of both traditions. He wanted a sharp, distinctive name, appropriate for an aspiring author or national political leader. "I wasn't going to write as Gene since there was already one. I didn't want to use the Jr." He dropped his first two names and the Jr. Thenceforth he was, so to speak, just Gore Vidal.

The Gore family saga is aggressively American, mostly Southern and Southwestern. When, in the early seventeenth century, the first Gores arrived in America from their Protestant Anglo-Irish origins, one brother went to New England, the other to Maryland, apparently never to meet again. The brothers probably came from Ireland, where the English Gores (of whom there were many) had been awarded land for service to the crown. They settled in Donegal, resolutely Anglo-Irish and anti-Catholic. Where they originally came from in England is unclear; so too is the nature of their service to the crown, though it probably had something to do with putting down the Irish. In Maryland, James Gore flourished, the patronymic father of seemingly innumerable farmers, ministers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, soldiers, politicians--three hundred years of ambitious, stubbornly assertive individualists. English and Irish origins faded into family legend and historical mist. They later associated themselves with the category Scots-Irish, which proved useful to those who wanted to make clear that though they were from Ireland, they were not Catholics. From generation to generation American Gores were to have names like James, Thomas, Manning, Austen, Albert, Notley, Elias, Ellis, Ezekiel.

The immigrant James and his immediate descendents leased and owned substantial tracts of land in what is now part of central Washington and in the Georgetown-Rock Creek Park area. They fought in the French and Indian and then in the Revolutionary War, by the time of the latter apparently staunchly anti-British. They were fruitful and multiplied. As each died, land had to be divided or sold or both. Each needed a property, a stake, an opportunity. Fortunately, there was always land to the west. Toward the end of the French and Indian War, one of the immigrant James's grandsons, Thomas, was granted or bought land in South Carolina. Selling extensive property in Maryland, part of the large family moved, before the Revolution began, southward and westward, to Chester County, near Spartanburg, in northwestern South Carolina. Thomas Tindal Gore, perhaps Thomas Gore's nephew, the son of his brother Manning, was born in South Carolina in the celebratory year 1776, and became the patriarch of the next generation. With his wife, by whom he had eight sons and five daughters, he raised cotton along the fertile banks of the Sandy River. In 1817, in wagons, Thomas Tindal moved his family south and westward, probably looking for better land, more land, more
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1999-10-25:
Kaplan has written esteemed lives of Henry James, Dickens and Carlyle and is a professor of English at Queens College. He candidly admits, in a "prelude" that opens the book, "I prefer my subjects dead," and perhaps having a subject not yet dead has made it more difficult for Kaplan to synthesize the life and work, to put Vidal into context and to pinpoint the telling details of his subject's productive life. For this extremely long biography showcases erudition at the expense of selection, and the book drowns in encyclopedic detail. Much of the detail, drawn from Kaplan's access to Vidal's papers, is enlightening. Kaplan is especially good on Vidal's relationships with his editors at publishing companies and magazines and his friendships and feuds with Joanne Woodward, Christopher Isherwood, Tennessee Williams, Norman Mailer, William Buckley and others. His analysis of Vidal's multifarious work (novels, essays, plays, screenplays) is often elucidating. His accounts of Vidal's various runs for office are also useful. Yet it is annoying to read long-winded prose with a disappointing lack of immediacy. (Compare, for instance, Gerald Clarke's scintillating biography of Truman Capote, also about a contemporary writer known for his wit and style, and also written with the cooperation of its subject.) Kaplan, falling far short of that standard, convinces the reader that Vidal's unusually vast involvement with the political and literary life of his times is impressive, without seeming to draw much inspiration from Vidal's own biting prose, which, though cited dutifully, fails to spark in this context. Rather than coming to life, Vidal seems entombed within the pages of this book. 12 pages b&w photos. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 1999-06:
Distinguished Professor of English Literature at Queens College and CUNY's Graduate Center, Kaplan relied on interviews, newsreel and TV footage, and full access to Vidal's papers for this biography. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Reviews
Review Quotes
"Fascinating--. Vidal's life is so full of incident and celebrity, so much at the center of power and glamour, Kaplan's book is a pageant of entertaining stories."--The Atlanta Journal-Constitution "Kaplan must be commended...a splendid job."--San Francisco Chronicle "An invaluable font of research."--The Washington Post From the Trade Paperback edition.
"Fascinating--. Vidal's life is so full of incident and celebrity, so much at the center of power and glamour, Kaplan's book is a pageant of entertaining stories."--The Atlanta Journal-Constitution "Kaplan must be commended...a splendid job."--San Francisco Chronicle "An invaluable font of research."--The Washington Post
This item was reviewed in:
Library Journal, June 1999
Booklist, September 1999
Kirkus Reviews, September 1999
New York Times Book Review, October 1999
Publishers Weekly, October 1999
Boston Globe, November 1999
Globe & Mail, November 1999
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
Novelist, cultural critic, essayist, historian, comic satirist, image maker, provocateur, actor, homosexual, bisexual...controversial, brilliant, confrontational, unflinching, cynical, idealistic...finding words to describe Gore Vidal is never difficult. And yet, an accurate picture of this multifaceted chameleon has eluded us until now. Here, at last, is a vastly entertaining biography of an American icon. From his Washington childhood, a world of high political and social connections and domestic turmoil, to his Exeter education and U.S. Army experiences; from his Hollywood and television career to his literary life as a novelist, playwright, and essayist; from his friendships and feuds with Tennessee Williams, Anais Nin, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, and William Buckley to his exploration of homosexuality and celebration of bisexuality; from his cool satirical analyses of "the rich, the famous and the powerful" to his projection of himself onto the national stage of television talk shows and political ambition, Gore Vidal has been both participant in and spectator at the centers of American power. No other twentieth-century figure has moved so easily and confidently, and had such a profound effect, in the disparate worlds of literature, drama, film, politics, historical debate, and the culture wars. Fred Kaplan enjoyed complete access to Vidal's papers, letters, and private photographs, as well as television and newsreel footage, but was guaranteed a free hand by Vidal to write as he saw fit. The result is a lively, witty, and textured life of a literary colossus.
Table of Contents
Preludep. 1
Origins, 1776-1925p. 3
A Washington Childhood, 1925-1939p. 30
First Flight, 1935-1939p. 68
Brave New World, 1939-1941p. 99
Proudly Unfurled, 1941-1943p. 134
A Border Lord, 1943-1946p. 167
Two Eagles, 1946-1947p. 202
The Golden Age, 1947-1948p. 244
Byron Without Greece, 1948-1950p. 288
A Room of His Own, 1950-1955p. 332
Intolerable Absences, 1955-1957p. 374
Open and Shut, 1957-1960p. 417
Something to Say, 1960-1963p. 463
Delphi, 1963-1966p. 514
Trapped in a Nightmare, 1965-1968p. 564
From Chicago to Ravello, 1969-1972p. 603
The View from La Rondinaia, 1972-1978p. 650
The Same Sinking Boat, 1978-1986p. 699
Scenes from Later Life, 1987-1996p. 756
Endnotesp. 797
Acknowledgmentsp. 827
Indexp. 833
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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