Prolific and controversial American writer withcaustic wit
GORE VIDAL:GORE VIDAL, the American writer, controversialist and politician manqué, who has died aged 86, was celebrated for his caustic wit and mandarin's poise.
His public career spanned seven decades and included 25 novels, numerous collections of essays, a volume of short stories, five Broadway plays, dozens of television plays and film scripts, and even three mystery novels written under the pseudonym Edgar Box.
After the September 11th attacks on New York and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, he returned to centre stage with a series of blistering pamphlets and public pronouncements that led many, including his former friend Christopher Hitchens, to disagree with him. But Vidal never looked back.
Despite his output as a novelist and playwright, many considered Vidal's witty and acerbic essays his best work. He liked to present himself as an insider - a man who understood the world and how it worked. This knowing quality, registered in the tone of his prose, permeates the essays. Their edge and vitality derive from his complete mastery of the scene he described, whether ridiculing Ronald Reagan as "a triumph of the embalmer's art", reassessing the presidency of John F Kennedy or outlining the theory of the French "new novel".
Vidal's critics disparaged his tendency to formulate an aphorism rather than to argue, finding in his work an underlying note of contempt for those who did not agree with him. His fans, on the other hand, delighted in his unflagging wit and elegant style.
Probably no other US writer since Ernest Hemingway lived his life so much in the public eye. His father was Eugene Vidal, Franklin Roosevelt's director of air commerce from 1933 to 1937. His maternal grandfather was the senator Thomas Gore, a commanding figure in Washington politics for many decades.
His mother, Nina Gore Vidal, divorced his father in 1935, then married the financier Hugh D Auchincloss, who in turn divorced her and married Jacqueline Kennedy's mother, thus establishing a connection between Vidal and the Kennedy clan. Vidal's unflattering view of the Bouvier sisters was registered in Two Sisters (1970).
In 1940 he entered the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, where he was an indifferent student. After leaving in 1943, he joined the Army Transportation Corps as an officer.
In 1944 he began his first novel, Williwaw. Suffering a bad case of frostbite, Vidal was invalided back to the US.
Williwaw focused on a rivalry between two maritime officers. In style it owed something to Hemingway and Stephen Crane. For a writer barely out of his teens when it was published, in 1946, the book was an unusual achievement. He was compared favourably to Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and Saul Bellow.