The Demise of a Wine Blogger’s Hero

I’ve been attempting to understand the meaning of Gore Vidal’s death since the unhappy day I was confronted with his demise. I get the sense that Gore’s death may mark either the finish of a writer who I loved reading and related to or it may mark the end of an important chapter in American letters. Either way, a great inspiration for this writer has been lost.

I don’t know much about Vidal’s relationship with wine, other than he drank it. However, we do know that he minced no words concerning the relationship between alcohol and other great American writers.

“In this century, it would be safe to say that a significant percent of American writers are to a greater or lesser degree alcoholics and why this should be the case I leave to the medicine men. Alcoholism ended the careers of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner, to name three fashionable novelists of our mid-century. Out of charity toward the descendants and keepers of the still flickering flames of once glorious literary figures, I shall name no other names. Heavy drinking stopped Hemingway from writing anything of value in his later years; killed Fitzgerald at forty-five; turned the William Faulkner of As I Lay Dying into a fable.”

And it appears there is a near-irony in Vidal re-hashing this troubled connection between other great men of letters and alcohol as it is reported by Michael Mewshaw in the Washington Post that in his later years, Gore drank heavily and apparently didn’t care who saw him drunk and snarly.

The fact is Gore Vidal was well known to be incredibly capable of being petty, vicious and unforgiving…and being so publicly and in print. It lost him a lot of friends and it’s interesting to speculate whether he cared.

In fact, what’s clear is that upon Vidal’s death, many commentators chose to speculate about him and particularly the psychic forces that made him not only a great writer but also a character of extremes, self reverential and one that clearly experienced a bitter, personal decline in his later years.

None of this I care about. When I think about, read or consider Gore Vidal, what I see is a writer and thinker of remarkable courage in whom I find great inspiration. More than anything, I wish I possessed one-tenth of his talent as a writer. Vidal focused on some of the most unpopular ideas in American culture: He derided America’s adherence to Monotheism. He brazenly threw America under the racist bus. He flaunted his homosexuality when it was decidedly not cool to do so. He made political idiots into textual clowns, despite them having achieved the adoration of a large swath of the country’s body politic. And he did all this with precise and shockingly perfect prose.

Though I did not agree with all his positions., I could not wait to read how he expressed them.

In the “who-among-the-dead-would-you-invite-to-a-dinner-party” game. Gore Vidal is now high atop my list.  I wonder if he would possess any really good nuggets to pass on to me when I asked him how best to represent one’s ideas in writing and if he would be willing to actually pass them on. I know he’d be happy that I revere him, being the ego-manic he was.

The point though, I think, is this: Those who try to write well must have heroes. Even wine bloggers.

Posted In: Wine Blogs, Writing

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9 Responses

  1. JohnLopresti - August 31, 2012

    I encountered a funny mention of Vidal 4+ years ago on the internet, by someone who was his niece or grand-niece, or some such relation. She operated her own blog basically covering ethics in politics and government. Since those times, she has relinquished daily posting to some associates, only occasionally writing there, from what I can tell based on my now infrequent visits to her site. I believe she teaches in a southern California university. At one time she had studied law courses, and may be a law prof.

    I might try to find her humorous remark about her relative, Mr. Gore Vidal, from her archives online. It was something along the lines of describing his writings as voluminous. His works always were of the sort I would heft and skim in the bookstore, before internet was available; but the books never accompanied me to the cashier, so truly ponderous they were, yet with some allure as if they held a meritorious sense of the process of history.

  2. Tom Wark - August 31, 2012

    John:

    Despite having all of Gore’s “American History” series in first editions and some signed, I always treasured his essays most. Here is where is mind shined.

    Would love to hear what his relative had to say about him.

    • Thomas Pellechia - September 1, 2012

      Tom,

      We share the reverence for Vidal–the writer and thinker. He proved one thing about writing: to be a writer is to tell your version of the truth so that others might understand, whether or not they agree.

      Like you, I’ve read through his history series of books (among others). Fabulous writing.

      He was quite adept at using the words and phrases that he intended to make his point. For instance, in the quote that you include in your post, he refers to the alcoholic novelists as “three fashionable novelists.” The operative word int hat phrase is “fashionable.” It makes no statement about their writing, but it makes a BIG statement about their status, of which, once you get to know his writing, he likely disapproved.

      I’ve always harbored a desire to meet the man, but that wouldn’t be the first and last time for one of my desires to remain unsatisfied.

  3. fredric koeppel - September 1, 2012

    Tom, I agree, I think that increasingly Gore Vidal’s novels will seem like interesting, well-written curiosities, but the essays will live as powerful expressions of an incisive, expressive intellect. Funny that he calls Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner “fashionable” writers of the mid-century. Faulkner certainly deserves more serious judgment than that. Another writer whom drink destroyed was Malcolm Lowry…

  4. Tom Wark - September 1, 2012

    Fred…when I read Vidal’s novels I feel like I’m reading the best gossip columnist who ever wrote. When I read his essays I feel like I’m watching a literary marksman that had no use for prisoners.

  5. Thomas Pellechia - September 1, 2012

    I do agree–Vidal was an incomparable essayist.

    He was also quite good at debating, a truly lost art in America.

  6. JohnLopresti - September 1, 2012

    Frederic, What a pity about M Lowry! A prof once explained that Under the Volcano actually had its original manuscript destroyed in a fire within Lowry’s residence, and that Lowry actually rewrote the entire novel again taking ten years to replicate the riginal, and ultimately giving us the one we now may read.

    I checked my Vidal relative story, above, and discovered I had remembered inaccurately. My apologies to Tom. It turned out that the blogging professor I remembered was a relative of a famous economist/politician whose name is similar to Vidal’s. But, I thank Tom for the opportunity to research that bit of ancient lore of the web, as the prof wrote some exquisite treatises extemporaneously over the several years I was among her erstwhile interlocutors.

    I have been doing some translating of newly published works of Federico García Lorca …circa 1898-1936… As I progressed thru the regionalisms, the poetry, the renaissance imagery, and overlay of 1930s generation European surrealism in his writings, I saw prototypes for what occurred as well with Dylan Thomas; and I wondered if there, too, were two more renowned writers with a penchant for genius misced with alcohol.

    For a while, in an effort which caused ample personal misery and inculcated me with slovenly intellectual comportment, I studied all sorts of philosophy. Quite forgotten to me was a Georgian-Armenian writer’s work which was an early modern form of existentialism; there, again, on recent re-reading of one of his essays, I was surprised to rediscover a prefatory paean to the likes of rare calvados. I suspect that only a few philosophers would admit to inspiration from sipping brandy.

  7. L.M. Archer - September 2, 2012

    Well-scribed tribute to an unflinching literate, and literary, force of nature.

  8. george kaplan - September 14, 2012

    Nice tribute to Vidal. Although everybody agrees on his essays, I think his novels are underrated. He loved Henry James but his novels remind me of Thomas Mann( a far greater writer, but no disservice to Vidal). The potency of Vidal’s novels creep up on you, until by the end you’re moved. At least I feel this way about Julian, Lincoln, Burr, 1876, Creation, Messiah, Empire, even Myra Breckinridge, if you read it right. A friend of mine wrote on his blog, RIP, Scoundrel.


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