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literature

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Vidal, Gore (1925-2012)  
 
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Myra Breckinridge alternates first-person narrators (one as if transcribed from unedited tape recordings) very effectively. Regarded as scandalous and even dangerous when first published, the sexual content is fairly tame by the standard of what is discussed regularly on television nowadays.

The sequel Myron (1974) uses filmmaking effectively as a metaphor for time travel to contrast the present unfavorably to the past; the book is also highly successful in manipulating euphemisms to mock Nixon-decade politicians.

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But even with all this and a raunchy sexuality, the book was neither a critical nor a popular success; because of changing standards of taste, although appearing only six years after Myra Breckinridge but five years after Stonewall, it was not even a succès de scandale.

Two Sisters (1970) is, however, Vidal's most successful tour de force both in experimental point of view and in realistic representation of homosexual identity. A silly screenplay for an unmade film is the centerpiece of this work. There are again alternating first-person narrators from past and present who have very different perspectives on the nature of this curious piece of writing.

The work is something of a roman à clef satirizing Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Anaïs Nin, Norman Mailer, and other celebrities--and perhaps Vidal, who has written himself into the book as one of the two main narrators.

This self-projection is in the tradition of Somerset Maugham or Christopher Isherwood, but Vidal writes with much more forthrightness about his sexuality, thus taking the nonfiction novel to a new plane of self-revelation. He shows himself exploring sexual as well as artistic freedom in Europe away from the conservatism of America.

Early in his career Vidal wrote occasional short stories. Kiernan credits the stories collected in A Thirsty Evil (1956) with bringing Vidal's style to maturity by enabling him to develop a feel for a variety of narrators. And these stories include Vidal's most focused attention on gay milieux before Myra Breckinridge.

"Three Strategems," for example, uses two narrators in the manner of several of Vidal's most technically proficient novels to bring insight to an encounter between an epileptic hustler and a prospective client. And "The Zenner Trophy" with a third-person restrictive point of view shows a teacher gaining respect for a boy being expelled from school for homosexual activity by the clear certainty with which the boy apparently understands himself.

Vidal also wrote for film and television. Among his most successful screenplays is that for Joseph Mankiewicz's film of Tennessee Williams's Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). Although he is not credited with the screenplay, he contributed scenes to William Wyler's 1959 film Ben Hur. He is said to be responsible for the film's strain of homoeroticism, especially between Ben Hur (Charlton Heston) and his childhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd).

Vidal is also known for his novels about American history, including Burr (1973), 1876 (1976), Lincoln (1984), Hollywood (1990), and The Golden Age (2000). These novels combined Vidal's penchant for iconoclasm and his deep interest in history. Many of them also include homosexual incidents and themes.

Other novels include Julian (1964), a historical fiction about the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate, and Live From Golgotha: The Gospel According to Gore Vidal (1992), which parodies the Gospels, with Paul as a huckster and Jesus a buffoon.

Many critics esteem Vidal's essays as his greatest achievement. His essays, many of them published in the New York Review of Books and collected in 8 volumes, are often disputatious and pointed. Many of them are literary critiques and appreciations, but most are barbed critiques of American politics and history. Among the latter is "Pink Triangle and Yellow Star" (1981), in which Vidal describes how neo-conservative Jewish intellectuals undermine their own minority rights by their .

In addition, Vidal wrote two memoirs, Palimpsest (1995) and Point to Point Navigation (2006).

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