In a new edition of The City and the Pillar that I bought a few years ago, a much older Gore Vidal reflects upon the early reception of his book and its impact. Upon its publication, he tells us, his grandfather was filled with sorrow. The publisher, E. P. Dutton, distanced itself from the book. But a few luminaries, such as Vidal’s literary hero, Thomas Mann, found it “an important human document.” The 73-year-old—and probably gay—Mann wrote that, perhaps for the first time, he had been moved by a love scene involving two men. Coming as it did in the late 1940s, The City and the Pillar helped to launch a conversation about a forbidden topic. The book helped to plant in me the seed of understanding who I was, however differently my life would turn out from those of its characters.
Laura Jones, a freelance writer, is completing her MFA at Northwestern University.