• print • Dec/Jan 2007

    Montaigne, Ben-Hur, and JFK

    Few writers have enjoyed a life as illustrious and a career as versatile as Gore Vidal. A self-taught intellectual and the author of twenty-five novels and eleven essay collections—among them Julian (1964), Myra Breckinridge (1968), Creation (1981), Lincoln (1984), Screening History (1992), and United States: Essays 1952–1992 (1993)—Vidal appears to have done it all. He has run for seats in both the House and the Senate, written for the Broadway stage and both the small and big screens, acted in films, drawn the blueprint for what would become the Peace Corps, appeared regularly on the late-night

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    Society's Child

    When a young Edith Wharton first met Henry James at a dinner party, the twenty-five-year-old New York socialite thought she knew just the thing to make a lasting impression: Deck yourself out in the latest French design. Needless to say, this had little effect on the stoic and reclusive James. “Those were the principles in which I had been brought up,” she would later write with some embarrassment, “and it would never have occurred to me that I had anything but my youth, and my pretty frock, to commend me.”

    But Wharton would reinvent herself as a serious writer, at age forty-three, with her

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