The Reading Room

Narratives of Empire

Gore Vidal’s Narratives of Empire series…

gviThis week I have begun to read the first volume of Gore Vidal’s classic serialisation of novels which chronicle the history of the United States from its Founding Fathers until the heyday of the Cold War in 1954. Narratives of Empire combines historical fact with fiction in the form of astute wit and insight so typical of Gore Vidal. The prose is typical Vidal, a man famous for his impressions of US Presidents past, it is difficult not to read the book without hearing Vidal’s voice throughout. In Burr, we see almost immediately the deliciously gossipy side of politics in the late 1700s.

Narrated through the eyes of the fictional Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler, it can be viewed in two parts, an account of New York life from that period and President Burr’s own recollections to Schuyler of British colonial rule and the fight for independence. Most fascinating of all perhaps, is (will be!) the dual to the death between Burr and Alexander Hamilton in 1804 in which Burr killed Hamilton in retaliation for spreading the rumour that he was sleeping with his own daughter, Theodosia. How the elite must have enjoyed that particular scandal, Presidential incest must surely beat Clinton’s cigar antics in the grand scheme of things?

It is set to be a remarkable read, Vidal himself seemed to live through and witness most of what really mattered in American politics and society in the last century and the inclusion of Hollywood and its conception is a clever one. Vidal long stressed how other countries views of America were so much different to its own perceptions and in the novel he demonstrates how this new movie business sought to influence world opinion in that regard.

So as the long, dark nights consume us all in the UK I shall read away the hours in the presence of Mr Vidal. It could be worse, much worse.

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