Gore Vidal died. He won't be sadly missed. But if that fixed phrase does not apply, that other phrase -- "untimely death"" -- does: his death was untimely. He ought to have died, twenty, thirty, forrty, fifty years ago.
The BBC is making much of Gore Vidal. And why not? He railed against what the BBC reporter says,without any distancing of any kind, "American imperialism." He thought America should not have entered any war. That includes the very late entry of the United States in World War I, which forced the Germans to finally surrender, which ended a colossally wasteful and stupid war, one in which that BBC reporter's own country suffered idiotically. And he also included World War II, because he didn't think, apparently, it was worth stopping Hitler -- did the BBC reporter know that, and if he did, why didn't he mention that in his adoring coverage of Gore Vidal?
He was always reminding people of what which he affected to despise: lineage. His lineage. His grandfather the Senator from Oklahoma. His distant connection to Al Gore. His distant relationship to Jackie Bouvier, stepdaughter to Hugh Auchincloss, Kennedy. In his constant reminding audiences of his relations -- why should such things be harped on? -- of Patricia Rutledge as Mrs. Bouquet (Bucket). He may have thought himself a Jamesian figure of great transatlantic sophistication, but his world was entirely an American one. Despite having an expensive house in Amalfi, where he lived with assorted passing catamites kept briefly for immoral purposes, as well as with a steady date, and liked to mention, and pretend to have been close to, such writers as Calvino, his Italian remained primitive, and he never sank below the surface of Italian, or European, life.
His works of history were like his historical fiction, that is travesties of history.
He had a stance. The stance was: America is a great, big, stupid country, and has gone steadily downhill. That was it.
That was not enough for Christopher Hitchens. It was enough, howevewr, for the man the BBC reporter described as his great friend, the Foreign Minister of Australia, Bob Carr, who described Vidal as possessing "an unrivalled knowledge of his nation's history." How would Bob Carr, Australian, know if Gore Vidal had an "unrivalled knowledge" of American history without consulting the historians who specialized in Lincoln, Burr, and other figures about whom Gore Vidal wrote? He, Bob Carr, has not earned the right to utter an opinion on whether or not Gore Vidal had this "unrivalled knowledge." A sentence later in the brief interview with him, he shows that he likes that adjective, for he then calls Vidal "an unrivalled essayist." Unrivalled? Compared to whom? Montaigne?
Christopher Hitchens, who had a lot in common with Gore Vidal but who finally decided, after the 9/11 attackes when Vidal said it was unclear who was responibile for the attacks (did I mention that Vidal could not stand Israel, and has never written a word about maleficent Islam?), wrote a good piece on Vidal.
But much better than that was the one glancing mention of Gore Vidal by Vladimir Nabokov, who in an interview with Martha Duffy for TIME was asked about Portnoy's Complaint, at the time a hot topic:
""Portnoy's Complaint? Dreadful. Conventional, badly written, corny. It's farcical—such things as the father's constipation. Even such a writer as Gore Vidal is more interesting."
That's how terrible Nabokov thought "Portnoy's Complaint" and its author, Philip Roth: "Even such a writer as Gore Vidal is more interesting."