Cover image for The golden age
Title:
The golden age
Author:
Vidal, Gore, 1925-2012.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, 2000.
Physical Description:
467 pages ; 25 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780385500753
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

The Golden Ageis the concluding volume in Gore Vidal's celebrated and bestselling Narratives of Empire series-a unique pageant of the national experience from the United States' entry into World War Two to the end of the Korean War. The historical novel is once again in vogue, and Gore Vidal stands as its undisputed American master. In his six previous narratives of the American empire-Burr, Lincoln, 1876, Empire, Hollywood, and Washington, D.C.-he has created a fictional portrait of our nation from its founding that is unmatched in our literature for its scope, intimacy, political intelligence, and eloquence. Each has been a major bestseller, and some have stirred controversy for their decidedly ironic and unillusioned view of the realities of American power and of the men and women who have exercised that power. The Golden Ageis Vidal's crowning achievement, a vibrant tapestry of American political and cultural life from 1939 to 1954, when the epochal events of World War Two and the Cold War transformed America, once and for all, for good or ill, from a republic into an empire. The sharp-eyed and sympathetic witnesses to these events are Caroline Sanford, Washington, D.C., newspaper publisher turned Hollywood pioneer producer-star, and Peter Sanford, her nephew and publisher of the independent intellectual journal The American Idea. They experience at first hand the masterful maneuvers of Franklin Roosevelt to bring a reluctant nation into World War Two, and later, the actions of Harry Truman that commit the nation to a decades-long twilight struggle against Communism-developments they regard with a marked skepticism, even though they end in an American global empire. The locus of these events is Washington, D.C., yet the Hollywood film industry and the cultural centers of New York also play significant parts. In addition to presidents, the actual characters who appear so vividly in the pages ofThe Golden Ageinclude Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Hopkins, Wendell Willkie, William Randolph Hearst, Dean Acheson, Tennessee Williams, Joseph Alsop, Dawn Powell-and Gore Vidal himself. The Golden Ageoffers up United States history as only Gore Vidal can, with unrivaled penetration, wit, and high drama, allied to a classical view of human fate. It is a supreme entertainment that will also change readers' understanding of American history and power.


Author Notes

Gore Vidal was born Eugene Luther Gore Vidal Jr. on October 3, 1925 at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. He did not go to college but attended St. Albans School in Washington and graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire in 1943. He enlisted in the Army, where he became first mate on a freight supply ship in the Aleutian Islands.

His first novel, Williwaw, was published in 1946 when he was twenty-one years old and working as an associate editor at the publishing company E. P. Dutton. The City and the Pillar was about a handsome, athletic young Virginia man who gradually discovers that he is homosexual, which caused controversy in the publishing world. The New York Times refused to advertise the novel and gave a negative review of it and future novels. He had such trouble getting subsequent novels reviewed that he turned to writing mysteries under the pseudonym Edgar Box and then gave up novel-writing altogether for a time. Once he moved to Hollywood, he wrote television dramas, screenplays, and plays. His films included I Accuse, Suddenly Last Summer with Tennessee Williams, Is Paris Burning? with Francis Ford Coppola, and Ben-Hur. His most successful play was The Best Man, which he also adapted into a film.

He started writing novels again in the 1960's including Julian, Washington, D.C., Myra Breckenridge, Burr, Myron, 1876, Lincoln, Hollywood, Live From Golgotha: The Gospel According to Gore Vidal, and The Golden Age. He also published two collections of essays entitled The Second American Revolution, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism in 1982 and United States: Essays 1952-1992. In 2009, he received the National Book Awards lifetime achievement award. He died from complications of pneumonia on July 31, 2012 at the age of 86.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The latest in Vidal's series of intelligently wrought historical novels tracing the rise and development of the American republic joins its predecessors in the front rank of historical fiction written over the past three decades. This one covers U.S. politics and culture from 1939 to 1954, the period when American democracy triumphed over fascist tyranny and just before the cold war settled in over the globe and brought a new kind of international conflict. Vidal makes history palpable by writing about what he knows best--specifically, Washington, D.C., in the 1940s and 1950s and the literary and social milieu in Hollywood. The primary figure around which Vidal spins his elaborate, authentic, and compelling story is Caroline Sanford, an actress turned Washington newspaper publisher who is also a friend of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As Vidal's tale opens, we see political Washington divided over the issue of whether to aid the Allies in their fight against German aggression. His large cast of characters includes both real and fictional politicians, moviemakers, and writers (with Vidal himself making an appearance). All, in their own fashion, weigh in on the the major issues of what Vidal terms the Golden Age: prewar indecisiveness, the war itself, FDR's unprecedented third and fourth presidential elections, and the immediate postwar "responsibility" of the U.S. to take care of the world. Outstanding historical fiction. --Brad Hooper


Publisher's Weekly Review

The newest entry in Vidal's "narratives of empire" series (which includes Burr, Lincoln and 1876) is a densely plotted, hugely ambitious novel that manages to impress and infuriate in equal measure. A series of historical essays masquerading as a historical novel, it endeavors to present Vidal's philosophy regarding our nation's ascent to global-empire status, from 1939 into the 1950s. The protagonists are Peter Sanford, a prescient young intellectual from a well-to-do family, who helps to found the American Idea, a politically radical journal; his aunt, Caroline Sanford, a former film star who has returned to her D.C. newspaper publishing roots; and Timothy X. Farrell, Caroline's half-brother and an acclaimed documentary filmmaker on the rise in Hollywood. The narrative carries its myriad charactersÄincluding FDR, William Randolph Hearst, Tennessee Williams and Vidal himselfÄthrough the political machinations that culminate in the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the economic boom engendered by WWII, even the dark years of McCarthyism and the Korean War. However, it is in the misadventures of the cynical yet idealistic Peter Sanford that Vidal advances his powerful (if rather familiar) central thesis. Events include Sanford's brush with politically motivated murder at the 1940 Republican Convention, and a bitter clash with golden-boy politico and bogus war hero Clay Overbury years later. In Vidal's view, the U.S. has been manipulated by a dangerously insular governing class for most of the past century, a self-serving and inbred elite determined to use incessant war (be it against drugs, terrorists or other nations) to keep the real decision-making power out of the hands of the masses. Vidal's historical savvy and insider's understanding of the psychodynamics of Washington's power players is constantly in evidence; a feel for the humanity of his characters is not. His protagonists are an arrogant, bloodless lot, and his narrative meanders. Accordingly, what could have been the crowning achievement of Vidal's long career feels incomplete, a philosophical treatise in desperate need of a more human literary framework to stabilize it. Major ad promo; author tour. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

This concluding volume to Vidal's history of the American "empire" covers the period from 1939 to the end of the Korean War, with a brief coda set in the present and Vidal himself serving as the narrator. At the cusp of World War II, Roosevelt is plotting his own reelection to an unprecedented third term and looking for a way to insure popular support for American involvement in the fight against Hilter. Once again, a descendant of Aaron Burr finds himself at the center of the political, social, and, to a lesser extent, cultural whirl. With the right family connections to gain him entry into the portals of power and the literary abilities that allow him to found a successful magazine of commentary, Peter Sanford cynically observes as F.D.R. maneuvers us into war and as Truman the haberdasher digs in against the "Communist menace." The novel is replete with a lively cast of both real and imagined characters and exhibits the typical Vidal wit and erudition. As were the earlier volumes in this series (e.g., Lincoln, 1876), this is likely to be very popular with a library audience. Essential for all public and academic libraries collecting Vidal's work. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/00.]DDavid W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, FL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

ONE Timothy X. Farrell suddenly visualized the opening shot to the film that he had planned to make of Daphne Du Maurier's lush novel Rebecca. He had just pulled into the driveway to Laurel House, set high above the slow-churning Potomac River, and there before him in the icy silver moonlight was the start of his movie had David O. Selznick not outbid him for the movie rights and then hired Alfred Hitchcock, of all people, to direct. Plainly, a true disaster was now in the making. Attendants parked cars in front and to the side of the mock-Georgian facade of the house of what would have been his brother-in-law, Blaise Delacroix Sanford, had Timothy and Blaise's half sister, Caroline Sanford, ever had time to get married in those busy years when, together, they had created a film studio that, for a time, nearly changed movie history until . . . What was the name, he wondered, of Olivia De Havilland's sister? The one who was now the lead in Rebecca. Timothy parked at the front door. He could almost hear what's-her-name's voice over the screen: "Last night I dreamed I had gone back to Manderley"--or whatever the line was. Purest junk, of course. Timothy preferred his own "true to life" Hometown series of movies, but the public was supposed to be more at home with beautiful houses and beautiful people and a dark mystery at the heart of it all; not to mention a great fire that reveals a terrible secret. Even so, he had wanted desperately to direct Rebecca: something un-Farrellesque in every way. The butler was since his time. "Sir?" Timothy gave his name. Then: "Is my film crew here?" The butler was now all attention. "Oh, yes, Mr. Farrell! This is an honor, sir. To meet you. Your camera people are setting up in the library." The drawing room was full of Washington grandees, some elected; some born in place, like Alice Roosevelt Longworth, wearing for once the wrong blue; some newly arrived from abroad now that England and France were at war with Germany. Nevertheless, for an average American like the butler, the defining, the immortalizing presence of The Movies took precedence over everything else. "Shall I show you into the library, sir?" "No, not yet. I must say hello. . . ." Timothy had forgotten the rapid lizardlike Washington gaze when someone new enters an important drawing room. Conversations never drop a beat and all attention remains fixed on one's group and yet the newcomer is quickly registered and placed and then set to one side, until needed. The Hollywood stare was far more honest, more like that of the doe frozen in a predator's sight line. Fortunately, Timothy's face was not absolutely familiar to anyone except Frederika Sanford, Blaise's wife, who now moved swiftly through her room filled with guests, many in military uniform, some drably American, some exotically foreign, like the embassy attaches. War or peace? That was the only subject in this famous "city of conversation," or the new phrase that Frederika used when she embraced the brother-in-law that never was: "The whispering gallery has been roaring with the news that you were coming here to make a film." Frederika was now a somewhat faded version of her original bright blond self. Timothy recalled how Caroline had always preferred her sister-in-law to her half brother Blaise. But then Frederika was a born peacemaker while Blaise liked to wage war, preferably on every front. At the far end of the room he was regrouping his forces beneath a Sargent portrait of his father. Blaise was now stout; mottled of face--had he taken to drink? He looked like one of Timothy's Boston Irish uncles. To the troops attending him, Blaise was laying down the law as befitted the publisher of the Washington Tribune, which was still the Washington newspaper despite the efforts of Cissy Patterson, whose Times-Herald, published in bumpy tandem with William Randolph Hearst, was only just--at last--making a profit. Cissy was standing beside Blaise. She was almost as red-faced as he, and even across the room, Timothy could hear the growl of her laughter. Cissy was a reluctant supporter of the Roosevelt Administration while Blaise had been, more often than not, a critic of the New Deal. But on September 1, Germany had invaded Poland. Two days later, England and France had declared war on the aggressor; and the New Deal was history. There was now only one issue: should the United States cease to be neutral and help finance England in the war against Germany? Cissy was beginning to revert to her family's isolationist roots; her cousin Bertie McCormick's Chicago Tribune had already declared war on both the President and the British Empire, while her brother, Robert Patterson, creator of the New York Daily News, was, true to the family's Irish heritage, no friend to England. Timothy himself was less provincial than these great Irish publishers, possibly because, unlike the McCormick-Patterson clan, he had been brought up poor enough to have no passionate interest in anything but himself. "Basically," he heard himself saying to Frederika, "it's got to be a pretty neutral documentary. L. B. Mayer says I have to be fair to all the people who want us in the war and to all the ones who don't. I'm not to offend a single ticket-buyer." "What do you want?" Frederika's practiced vague stare suddenly focused on Timothy as he took a glass of ginger ale from a passing waiter. "I'm neutral. Pretty much," he added. "Like America!" Frederika laughed. "Come say hello to Blaise. He's delighted you're making this film. Just as long as you do it entirely his way." "Which is?" "He changes from day to day. We've got three thousand English people here in town, all working out of the embassy." "To get us into the war?" "Splendid party, Mrs. Sanford!" A huge, dark-haired, ruddy-faced Englishman complimented his hostess while giving Timothy the swift Washington lizard's gaze that asked two simultaneous questions: Who are you? Can I use you? Frederika introduced Timothy to John Foster. "He's . . . what at the embassy?" Excerpted from The Golden Age: A Novel by Gore Vidal All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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