Gore Vidal – my kind of guy.

I woke up this morning with the news on my clock radio telling me that Gore Vidal had died in Hollywood, at the age of 86. A good age, especially when you consider that his beloved schoolfriend Jimmie Trimble didn’t survive the fighting on Iwo Jima in World War II. You can read the Guardian tribute to Vidal here.

My first experience of Gore Vidal was seeing him on TV years ago during an American presidential campaign. He used to be given the job of commenting on the whole thing in his wonderfully witty and cynical way. He had stood for election a couple of times himself and as the grandson of the first ever senator for Oklahoma, he had plenty of information to pass on to the viewers.

It must be about 25 years since I started reading his books, his American historical fiction novels are my favourites but his memoir, Palimpsest is a fascinating read. He was a great writer, if you haven’t read anything by him you should give him a go, especially if you’re interested in American history.

Have a look at the video below if you want to listen to some of Vidal’s wisdom, you can follow on to parts 2,3 and 4 too.

It was Maeve Binchy yesterday, Gore Vidal today. Will there be a third author death this week?

Last week it was actors, with Simon West, Angharad Rees and Geoffrey Hughes (Onslow in Keeping Up Appearances).

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.

First I have to say that I think that the previous reviews of this book have been great. I’m just hoping that I can add a few more things of interest.

Edith Wharton won the Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Innocence in 1921. She was the first woman ever to win it. However, her joy was short lived as she discovered that the judges had chosen it because in their opinion it was “the American novel which shall best present the wholesome atmosphere of American life and the highest standard of American manners and manhood”.

She had written it to be a satirical and dark comedy of manners, but whichever way you take it, the fact is it is very well written and amazingly detailed, full of social history.

I think that Newland Archer underestimates his fiance May as he is under the impression that he will have to educate and mould her to resemble his married lady friend with whom he had had an affair.

In reality he gave up on her even before they were married.

When he meets May’s cousin, the Countess Ellen Olenska, who has left her husband, he is at first worried that he is going to be affiliated with a family which is about to have a scandalous divorce. However, in the course of his negotiations with Ellen, on behalf of the family who want to avoid the divorce and subsequent scandal, Newland falls in love (lust) with Ellen.

Status and family name is all important in this society and Ellen’s family can’t think why she would want to give up her title of countess and become a divorced woman.

It has been mentioned that people have found the names a bit confusing, with surnames cropping up as first names often. This still happens in Scotland with boys’ names. The women are reluctant to give up their maiden names completely and so they are given to the eldest boy as a first name or sometimes a middle name. In fact we have done this in our family, we have also used one grandmother’s maiden name. Obviously in 1870s New York society it was important to remind people that they were the product of two wealthy, influential families.

Newland had led a very narrow life compared with Ellen and when he tells her that he wants to go with her into another world where words such as ‘mistress’ won’t exist- where they will simply be two human beings who love each other. Ellen replies –
“Oh my dear- where is that country? Have you ever been there?” she asked, and as he remained sullenly dumb she went on: “I know so many who’ve tried to find it; and believe me, they all got out by mistake at wayside stations at place like Boulogne, or Pisa, or Monte Carlo- and it wasn’t at all different from the old world they’d left, but only rather smaller and dingier and more promiscuous.”

I think if they had run off together then it would only have been about six months before Newland regarded Ellen as the trollope who had ruined his life. He would have been miserable living a life being ostracised by the only society that he had ever known.

The ever generous May would have welcomed him back though and he might have learned to appreciate her attributes, which he hadn’t managed to do in 26 years of marriage.

This was a re-read for me. I read it about 20 years ago when Gore Vidal (whose writing I love), waxed lyrical about Edith Wharton’s writing and I think he was correct.

Flashback Challenge

I’ve been reading about all these book challenges that are going on and thought that it was about time that I signed up for one myself. The Flashback Challenge seems like a great excuse to re-read ‘old friends’ and I’m really enthusiastic about it, so I’m planning to read 12 books again, one for each month of the year – and here they are.

Flashback Challenge books

As I’ve never participated in a book challenge before, I’m just presuming that the idea is you write a review in your blog. Anyway, that’s what I’ll be doing with these books, although not particularly in this order.

1. The Enchanted April – by Elizabeth von Arnim.
2. Lark Rise – Flora Thompson.
3. And Quiet Flows the Don- Mikhail Sholokhov.
4. The Fortunes of War – Olivia Manning.
5. Strong Poison – Dorothy L. Sayers.
6. The Railway Children – E. Nesbit.
7. The Golden Age – Gore Vidal
8. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee.
9. Scenes of Clerical Life – George Eliot
10. Peter Pan – J.M. Barrie.
11. Kidnapped – R.L. Stevenson.
12. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier.

I’m looking forward to it.