I recently paid a solemn and respectful visit to Gore Vidal's grave. It is to be found in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington. You take a few paces down the slope from the graveyard's centrepiece, which is the lachrymose and androgynous Mourning Figure sculpted by August St Guldens for Henry Adams's unhappy wife Clover (whose name always puts me in mind of an overworked pit pony). And there in the grass is a stone slab, bearing the names and dates of birth of Vidal and his lifelong companion Howard Austen. The hyphens that come after the years (1925 and 1928 respectively) lie like little marble asps, waiting to keep their dates. Who knows what decided the cemetery authorities to advertise their prospective clients in this way? Elsewhere among the crosses and headstones one may find Upton Sinclair, Nobel laureate and defeated Socialist candidate for the governorship of California, Alice Warfield Mien (mother of Wallis Simpson) and Alice Roosevelt Longworth, grande dame of Washington dynastic bitchery. (She had a motto emblazoned on her sofa-cushion in Georgetown: 'If you can't think of anything nice to say about anybody, come and sit by me.') A clutch of Supreme Court Justices, political bosses and Civil War generals completes the roll. And all this seems fitting for Vidal: radical candidate in a California Senate race, collector and generator of gossip from the exile Windsors and the Georgetown ladies, and master in novel form of the Washington of Henry Adams. John Hay and Teddy Roosevelt.
LRB 19 October 1995 | PDF Download