Notes on Vidal's NARRATIVES OF EMPIRE
I have been--for pleasure and also potentially for scholarship--reading through Gore Vidal's Narratives of Empire series. I hope at some point to have enough thoughts to make an essay out of, but for now here's some assorted thoughts:
1. Reading these books in conjunction with finally seeing Veep is an interesting experience; I suspect that there is not so much of a distance between the view of politicians in either work, in spite of one being a [purportedly] serious series of novels and the other being a television comedy. It takes little imagination, for instance, to see Vidal's pudgy, jumpy Theodore Roosevelt interacting with Selina Meyer.
2. I bracketed "purportedly" up there because I'm not convinced these novels are altogether serious. Hollywood opens with William Randolph Hearst breaking a chair and falling to the ground. Empire has Theodore Roosevelt as a comic relief character. Burr suggests that George Washington was somewhat dim. And so on.
3. I liked Lincoln less than most people seem to and I'm liking Hollywood somewhat more than ditto.
4. I like none of them as much as Myra Breckinridge, which I read twice in a row and wrote a [forthcoming] article about.
5. I won't bother trying to rank them right now, but Burr and 1876 are probably going to wind up in my numbers 1 and 2 spots. I also really liked Washington, D.C., which is a weird fit for the series. That said, I've really enjoyed all of them so far (we'll see how The Golden Age goes).
6. It's funny that some people seem to think this series is showing the slow fall away from the ideals of the Republic and the development of American Imperialism (I don't have citations to hand, so perhaps I'm mistaken but it's my impression). If anything, I think the series shows that the purported ideals of the Republic were never very deep to begin with and the leaders were planning empire even from the days of the founders.
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Nathanael T. Booth. All views are my own.