From the New York Times:
Mr. Vidal was, at the end of his life, an Augustan figure who believed himself to be the last of a breed, and he was probably right. Few American writers have been more versatile or gotten more mileage from their talent. He published some 25 novels, two memoirs and several volumes of stylish, magisterial essays. He also wrote plays, television dramas and screenplays. For a while he was even a contract writer at MGM. And he could always be counted on for a spur-of-the-moment aphorism, putdown or sharply worded critique of American foreign policy.
The late Christopher Hitchens, on Vidal’s influence and their eventual falling out:
But I always knew, as one had to know – and it was in his writing too – that he had this mean streak in him, of a kind of paranoia – a conspiracy-based paranoid view of the world, and particularly of American history, which leads to isolationism and what I call Lindberg-ism, because he was a great admirer of [Charles] Lindberg, because this stuff is indissoluble from a very tiny stain of Judaeo-phobia which he could never dispel. He had it in under control – but it’s quite hard to keep it under control.
And I remember worrying, in the Nineties, that as he got older that he would start to say and do things that would mean his old age would start to shame the mature years of his youth – and he started to do it.
The last of his historical novel series – Washington – is a straightforward conspiracist’s account about Pearl Harbour; very well informed – but mad. Then he started to apply it to 9/11. And that was curtains. And bad. A complete sacrifice of any accuity or wit. Just awful.
The Twitter tributes roll in:
The first thing to cross my mind when I saw Gore Vidal trending on Twitter this morning was: what would the great man himself have had to say about his sudden digital popularity? Something scathing, undoubtedly, something funny and clever and sharp. He died yesterday, so we will never know, but the site is flooded with tributes to the great man this morning – mostly, and most joyfully and poignantly, in the form of some of his own great quotations.
Tim Stanley at The Telegraph:
His outrageous sexual appetite earned him the reputation of a liberal, but his politics were actually rather conservative. His maternal grandfather, Thomas Gore, was an isolationist Progressive Democrat: a worldview that said that if money must be stolen from the taxpayer, then let it be spent at home rather than abroad. Vidal defended that perspective throughout his life, arguing that the Cold War, Vietnam, the War on Drugs, the Iran-Contra scandal etc were all unconstitutional distortions of the modest intent of the Founding Fathers. He wanted a republic, not an empire. In his later years, he became an obsessive about the rise of the “National Security State” and the glee that he took in baiting the Israeli lobby led some to accuse him of anti-Semitism. But even as the quality of his rhetoric dimmed, his writing remained some of the most important in postmodern America. His Vanity Fair essay detailing his correspondence with Timothy McVeigh was a triumph. It was an example of his old-style liberalism at its best – a hope that evil can be understood and reasoned with and, with a bit of luck, ameliorated.
A good round-up of Vidal quotes from the BBC:
[Vidal], on the US electorate:
“Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half.”
Gaby Wood remembers Vidal for The Telegraph:
Vidal was a member of what he called The Greatest American Generation, words capped up in irony. His grandfather was a senator who fell foul of FDR, and his father supposedly slept with Amelia Earhart; Vidal said he had seen his father more often in newsreels than in life. His one true love, a school friend named Jimmy Trimble, died at Iwo Jima, and he claimed never to have been in love again.
Jesse Walker of Reason magazine:
I’ll also put in a good word for Vidal’s nonfiction, or for most of it anyway. (Yes, he produced some odd, disjointed quasi-Truther stuff in his final decade. I’ll forgive a man an eccentric senescence.) He wrote the first serious literary criticism I can recall reading, way back in my early teens; and while he wasn’t a libertarian, his political essays helped steer me in that direction: He was a fierce defender of civil liberties, a caustic critic of puritanism, an angry foe of war and empire, and a patrician populist prone to quirky deviations from the usual left-liberal positions on economics. (When he ran for the Senate in 1982, Vidal called for a flat tax of just 5 percent. In 1989 he warned about “a worldwide Green movement, and the establishment of a worldwide state, which the few will take over, thus enslaving us all while forgetting to save the planet.” And in the 1990s, drawing on James Bovard, David Kopel, and other libertarian writers, he denounced the DEA and IRS as “inveterate thieves of private property without due process of law.”)
Jon Wiener remembers Vidal at The Nation:
In 1986, Gore wrote an essay for the magazine’s 120th anniversary issue. Shortly after it was published, Victor was invited to lunch by the publisher of Penthouse magazine, Bob Guccione, at his East Side townhouse famous for its $200 million art collection. “We had barely consumed the amuse gueules when Bob asked me how much it cost to get Gore Vidal to write his essay,” Victor recalled. “When I told him we had paid each contributor to that issue $25 and Gore got the same $25 that everyone else got, he almost choked on his Chateau Margaux and told me he had offered Vidal $50,000 to write an article for Penthouse and Vidal declined.”
From a 2005 profile by Emma Brockes of The Guardian:
It has always been hard to work out how much of Vidal’s aloofness is genuine. He plays up to his image as the foremost American aristocrat, slow in speech, noble in gesture, with a confidence in his own opinion that derives as much from background – his grandfather was a senator, his father a founder of the airline TWA and he had a stepfather in common with Jackie Kennedy – as from expertise. If he has ever reserved judgment on a subject, it has not been recorded, which is why, while he talks like an intellectual, he has the output of a hack: more than 35 novels, 20 non-fiction titles, scores of screenplays (most notably Suddenly, Last Summer) and opinions at the ready every time a world event requires lofty interpretation.