'Of course I like my country,' Gore Vidal has written. 'After all, I'm its current biographer.' With the publication of The Golden Age, the biography draws to a close. The novels which comprise it, to list them in order of the historical periods they cover, are Burr (1973), Lincoln (1984), 1876 (1976, of course), Empire (1987), Hollywood (1989), Washington, DC (1967) and now The Golden Age. According to Vidal's biographer, Fred Kaplan, it was while at work on Lincoln, in the early 1980s, that Vidal conceived of the series in its totality (though there were earlier links, 1876 being a sequel to Burr, and both introducing characters who are ancestors of those in Washington, DC, or whose surnames allow characters in Washington, DC to become their descendants). Lincoln is 'the linking centrepiece' (Kaplan's phrase) of the sequence, though it is also, according to Vidal, 'set somewhere apart' from the other volumes, mostly because of how few and marginal are its shared fictional characters; Empire and Hollywood take the story up to the 1920s and the rise of the cinema, 'the key to just about everything'; the first written of the novels, Washington, DC, covers the years of the Depression, New Deal, Second World War and Korea; and the final volume, The Golden Age, takes the story to the millennium, though for most of its almost five hundred pages, oddly, it covers the years from 1940 to 1950, reworking and amplifying the historical material covered by Washington, DC.
LRB 21 June 2001 | PDF Download