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Gore Vidal's America

Gore Vidal's America

Dennis Altman

ISBN: 978-0-745-63363-3 October 2005 Polity 220 Pages


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Gore Vidal is one of the most significant American writers of the second half of the twentieth century, having produced a large number of best selling novels, essays, plays and pamphlets which have impacted on major political and social debates for fifty years. He is both a serious writer and a television and movie celebrity, whose increasingly acerbic picture of the United States guarantees he is both revered and reviled.

Gore Vidal's America examines the ways in which Vidal's writings on history, politics, sex and religion throw into focus our understandings of the United States, but also recognizes his versatility and inventiveness as a creative writer, some of whose novels - Julian; Myra Breckinridge; Lincoln; Duluth - are among the important literary works of their time.

Ranging from Vidal's early defence of homosexuality in The City and the Pillar (1948) to his most recent writings on the war in Iraq, this book provides a unique perspective on the evolution of post-World War II American society, politics and literature. As Altman writes: “Difficult not to see in the results of the 2004 elections, where the Republican right gained in both the White House and the Senate, proof of Vidal's worse fears, namely that the impact of imperial adventure, big money and religious moralism would increasingly imperil the American Republic."

Preface: The Writer as Social Critic.



One Vidal's Life.

Two Celebrity.

Three America and its History.

Gore Vidal's American Chronicles.

The Growth of American Empire.

Masculinity and Empire.

Four Politics.

Vidal and America in the Twenty First Century.

Gore Vidal and 'Political Correctness'.

Five Vidal as Writer.

Six Sex.

Gore Vidal and Queer Theory.

Seven Hollywood.

Eight Religion.

Nine Gore Vidal's America.

Personal Note.




General index.

Index of Fictional Characters.

"Altman's book of evidence is neither biography nor autobiography, as he says, but a study deeply indebted to its subject. He has a long personal acquaintance with Vidal and a profound appreciation of his daring writing on sex and gender, confessional and transgressional ... He is especially good on the 'aggrieved patriot', saddened and angered at what his country has come to."

-- Alex Danchev, Times Higher Education Supplement

"Dennis Altman has certainly evoked with great thoroughness a now lost world – American and European – ranging from Depression to World War II to the decline of the Hollywood studios to the rise of global television, not to mention that global empire to which his protagonist stands so edgily aslant."

-- Gore Vidal

"Dennis Altman, it turns out, is the perfect person to write a study of Gore Vidal. A revolutionary thinker in his own right, a long-time friend of Vidal, an Australian, Altman has the ideal perspective on America’s grand old expatriate of letters and politics. In this exciting portrait Altman gives us Vidal alive and well and more radical than ever. This is a profound picture of Vidal’s thought, not just a trivial biography of his quirks."

-- Edmund White

"Dennis Altman has written what amounts to the finest work yet published on Gore Vidal. Altman understands the unique role Vidal has played -- as novelist, playwright, and essayist -- in defining and critiquing American culture from the inside, as someone who has both watched the culture evolve and played a role in its production. This wise, beautifully written, and insightful book will stimulate discussion for years to come."

-- Jay Parini, Middlebury College

"Dennis Altman is well placed to unravel the paradox of Gore Vidal, concentrating here on his politics, sexuality and love-hate relationship with the US. This study is every bit as fascinating as the great man himself."

Gay Times

"Altman's main purpose is to provide a detailed analysis of Vidal's long and prolific career and he succeeds brilliantly in this aim. Vidal's extraordinary productivity means that Altman has a great deal of primary material to work with, but he marshals his forty and more key texts with remarkable ease. It is a long time since I've experienced such clarity in a critical work of this kind; Altman has a positive but open style, which directs the reader without ever shutting out the possibility of alternative readings of the Vidal oeuvre."

Laurie N Ede, Screening the Past

  • A major new examination of the ways in which Vidal's writings on history, politics, sex and religion throw into focus our understandings of the United States.
  • Ranges widely - from Vidal's defence of homosexuality in his earliest works to his most recent writings on the war in Iraq.
  • Provides a unique perspective on the evolution of post-World War II American society, politics and literature through one of the most significant writers of the 20th Century.
  • Written by an experienced and well known author who has had personal contact with Vidal for more than 20 years.
  • Is pitched at a general reader as a trade title and will also be useful for students of American Literature and Society.