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Today In History: A Small New York Times Review

Jim Burroway

January 11th, 2008

It turns out that the month of January, 1948 was a rather scandalous month for the American Public. On January 5, Sexual Behavior In the Human Male, the first of the the two Kinsey Reports, was released. Then on January 10, Gore Vidal’s novel, The City and the Pillar was published. Gore wrote this novel, his third, at the relatively tender age of twenty-one, and it was the first mainstream novel dealing with homosexuality in its central characters.

I guess both books coming out within the space of less than a week was too much for the New York Times. Sixty years ago today, a small review appeared on its pages:

Presented as the case history of a standard homosexual, this novel adds little that is new to a groaning shelf. Mr. Vidal’s approach is coldly clinical: there is no real attempt to involve the reader’s emotions, as the author sets down Jimmie’s life story–his first experience during his high school days, his life as a cabin boy, a tennis bum, his adventures in Hollywood and points East. Backdrops are gaudy, and Jimmie’s more ardent acquaintances include a picture star (the idol of a million bobby soxers), a fashionable novelist and members of the armed forces. But the over-all picture is as unsensational as it is boring…

Most papers refused to review the novel, but those that did gave it mixed reviews. Perhaps the New York Times was experiencing “Kinsey Fatigue,” but the Washington Post called it “an artistic achievement” and the Atlantic Monthly said it was “a brilliant exposé of subterranean life.” Despite it’s “subterranean” themes and the New York Times’ displeasure, The City and the Pillar nevertheless made it to the best-seller’s list.

Although the gay characters’ portrayals were generally positive, the tone was dark and the ending tragic. It’s been widely reported that the publishers forced Vidal to change the ending to an unhappy one, but Gore himself denies this. But twenty years later, he published the novel again as The City and the Pillar Revised and changed the overall tone to be less dark.



Timothy Kincaid
January 11th, 2008 | LINK

And let’s not forget that Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms was also published in January 1948.

While the homosexual content was more hinted than stated, there is little doubt that the famous picture of the very young looking Capote reclining on a couch and looking seductively at the camera was a large part of his first novel’s success.

And, by the way, the Times liked this one.

Perhaps it was Capote’s talent for subtext that allowed the Times to look the other way and say, “it is not possible to be certain just what is going on in certain passages”.

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