Gore Vidal has died at the age of 86, and with his passing passes the last of the best generation. Never a man to be plagued with self-doubt his was a polished acerbic and waspish view of the decline of the best nation in the world. A lover of the old Republic, our Cicero resented the empire of the Presidents.
An oligarch to his fingertips he contrived to be the people’s oligarch with a range of talents that kept him to the fore of the nation’s consciousness for half a century. Novels just flowed from his pen, with memoirs and seemingly endless essays, plays, screen-plays all magisterial in tone searing in touch and always, always a delight to read or watch.
Gore was born in the South to a family long established as aristocratic and oligarchic. He remembered with deep affection his grandfather Senator “Blind Gore” whom he accompanied as a child to the Senate.
The family were never dull. His father Eugene is supposed to have bedded Amelia Earhart. His mother, later reviled as a bullying, self-pitying alcoholic at least remarried Hugh Auchincloss III the step father of Jacqui Kennedy. This lead to his moving in quite the most elevated of circles and his always reminding you of those days.
Politically as well as socially Gore was close to the Kennedys but fell out after a social event where he had rather too much to drink. Thereafter he became one of their most implacable enemies drifting further left as the years progressed. A right thorn in the establishment flesh.
His novels are especially prized for their lightness of touch and sureness of feeling with the American Chronicles rightly centre stage. Washington DC, Burr, 1876, Lincoln (my favourite) but best of all were the essays and political pieces filled with all those memorable phrases such as “The United States of Amnesia”.
Success never mellowed him and he became a stalwart of the TV chat show which allowed his waspish bon mots their true home. There he could be his dinner party show-off, learned and funny, stylish and gossipy. Here are just some of my favourites:-
“It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail”
“You know, I have been around the ruling class all my life and I’ve been quite aware of their contempt for the people of the country.”
“A good deed never goes unpunished.”
“The four most beautiful words in our language – I told you so”.
“There is no human problem which could not be solved if people simply do as I advise”.
He will be deeply missed.
Copyright David Macadam 2012