He could be considered this century's answer to Oscar Wilde. He was contentious--he had many feuds with writers like Norman Mailer, William F. Buckley, Jr., and Truman Capote. Mailer and Vidal once had a legendary debate, on the December 15, 1971 taping of The Dick Cavett Show. Mailer allegedly head-butted Vidal during an altercation prior to their appearance on the show. When asked about the scuffle, Vidal said in his caustic wit, "Once again, words failed Norman Mailer." Vidal had written about Mailer, which prompted Mailer to say: "I've had to smell your works from time to time."
However, Vidal's greatest feud was with Willian F. Buckley Jr. In 1968, Vidal was asked to be a political analyst (alongside William F. Buckley Jr.), for the Democratic National Convention, which led to days of animated back-and-forth banter between the two. During the course of their talk, Buckley mentioned freedom of speech for the American protesters displaying a Viet Cong flag, calling them, "Pro-Nazi protesters" Vidal's response was: "shut up a minute." Vidal said, "As far as I'm concerned, the only sort of pro-crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself." The discussion continue to get worse after that. Buckley later apologized for his name-calling, but their feud continued for another 40 years until, Buckley's death in 2008.
Deborah Solomon later asked Vidal, "How did you feel when you heard that Buckley died this year?" Vidal responded, "I thought hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins forever those whom he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred.”
Vidal often referred to himself as a "gentleman bitch". He was grossly in-tune with who he was, never asking for agreement or forgiveness--just seeming to desire a certain openness to his ideas.
NOVELSVidal's novels, fall into camps--historical and social. His historical works included Julian (1964), Burr (1973), and Lincoln (1984). These works were written with the goal of getting the reader to look at these famous (as well as sometimes controversial and pivotal) figures in a different light. He does not usually examine their lives in a favorable way (as history prefers to remember them).
Vidal's socially themed novels include The City and the Pillar (1948), which outraged conservative critics. The book was the first major American novels to feature unambiguous homosexuality. Myra Breckinridge (1968) is another novel in that vane. Dennis Altman called it, "part of a major cultural assault on the assumed norms of gender and sexuality which swept the western world in the late 1960s and early 1970s." The themes throughout the book include: feminism, transsexualism, American expression of machismo and patriarchy, and deviant sexual practices.
Love him or hate him, his works and his views made us debate and ask questions--for good or for bad. Asking the questions is never a bad thing, it is not asking the questions that is.
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