Gore Vidal: In quotes


Celebrated author, satirist and political commentator Gore Vidal has died, aged 86. He was famed for his biting political critiques and his acerbic take on American society. Here are some of his best quotes.

Gore Vidal... on US politicians

"The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country - and we haven't seen them since."

On the US electorate

"Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half."

On his campaign to become a US Senator in 1982

"I'm part of the furniture. I've been on TV for over 30 years. And look what TV did for Ronald Reagan. It's all a bit chilling."

On Ronald Reagan

"He is not clear about the difference between Medici and Gucci. He knows Nancy wears one of them."

On John F Kennedy

"He was one of the most charming men I've ever known. He was also one of the very worst Presidents." (The Progressive)

On David Cameron

"He's everything we thought Bertie Wooster was - and God knows we worship Bertie Wooster, in the form of Hugh Laurie." (New Statesman)

On political speeches

"In America, if you want a successful career in politics, there is one subject you must never mention, and that is politics. If you talk about standing tall, and it's morning in America, and you press the good-news buttons, you're fine. If you talk about budgets, tax reform, bigotry, and so on, you are in trouble. So if we aren't going to talk issues, what can we talk about? Well, the sex lives of the candidates, because that is about the most meaningless thing that you can talk about."

On the press

"A writer must always tell the truth, unless he is a journalist."

On art and politics

"There is something about a bureaucrat that does not like a poem."

On secrets

"When anyone says to me, 'Can you keep a secret?' I say, 'Why should I, if you can't?'"

On punishment

"I'm all for bringing back the birch, but only between consenting adults."

On style

"Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn."

On looks

"A narcissist is someone better looking than you are."

On adolescence

"Until the rise of American advertising, it never occurred to anyone anywhere in the world that the teenager was a captive in a hostile world of adults."

On jealousy

"Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies."

On sexuality

"There is no such thing as a homosexual or a heterosexual person. There are only homo or heterosexual acts. Most people are a mixture of impulses if not practices."

On procreation

"Never have children, only grandchildren."

image captionAs well as his novels, Vidal was a frequent contributor to magazines like Playboy and Esquire

On learning to read

"I was taught to read by my grandmother. Central to her method was a tale of unnatural love called 'The Duck and the Kangaroo'. Then, because my grandfather, Senator Gore, was blind, I was required early on to read grown-up books to him, mostly constitutional law and, of course, the Congressional Record. The later continence of my style is a miracle, considering those years of piping the additional remarks of Mr. Borah of Idaho." (Paris Review)

On WH Smith banning his novel Myra Breckinridge in 1970

"There must be some legal action I can take. I am not British and I have nothing to lose. I don't give a damn whether anybody buys it or not - I think far too many people have read it - but I am angry that a bunch of shopkeepers are setting themselves up as a literary tribunal, for which they have neither the competence nor the right." (The Times)

On censoring his own novel, Myron in 1974

"I've removed the dirty words and replaced them with clean words... I thought and thought for a long time: What are the cleanest words I can find? And I discovered that I could not come up with any cleaner words than the names of the five Supreme Court justices who have taken on the task of cleansing this country of pornography. I inserted the words in place of the dirty words. For example, a cock becomes a rehnquist."

On the death of the novel

"You hear all this whining going on, 'Where are our great writers?' The thing I might feel doleful about is: 'Where are the readers?'" (Esquire)

On his arch-rival, writer Norman Mailer

"You know, he used the word 'existential' all the time, to the end of his life, and never even learned what it meant. I heard Iris Murdoch once at dinner explain to Norman what existential meant, philosophically. He was stunned." (The Independent)

On Truman Capote

"A Republican housewife from Kansas with all the prejudices."

On F Scott Fitzgerald

"I like best what he leaves out of The Great Gatsby. A unique book. Incidentally, I think screenwriting taught him a lot. But who cares what he wrote? It is his life that matters. Books will be written about him long after his own work has vanished - again and again we shall be told of the literary harvest god who was devoured at summer's end in the Hollywoods." (Paris Review)

On ageing

"At a certain age, you have to live near good medical care — if, that is, you're going to continue. You always have the option of not continuing, which, I fear, is sometimes nobler." (Esquire)

On the secret to a happy life

"Never pass up a chance to have sex or appear on television."

On the human condition

"There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise."

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