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The City and the Pillar

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2004

    Great Book

    I picked up the book because I just wanted to read something while sitting all day in Jury Duty - I got really into the book. I like the main character Jim Willard. I was not able to put the book down. I really love the story. I am trying to hunt down some early edition with the original ending.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 13, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal The book opens in the pre

    The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal

    The book opens in the present - sometime in the late 1940's in a bar where men looked for men - and the protagonist, Jim Willard, has a flashback of his life.

    Jim Willard, a junior in high school in the late 1930's in a small town in Virginia, is the oldest of three children in a marriage that could best be described as cold. He's a very good tennis player but is not popular with the girls - not because he's ugly - he's a beautiful blond and muscular man - but rather because he's secretly in love with Bob Ford. Just as Bob is going to graduate from high school, Jim and Bob go camping to a secluded cabin in the woods and they have sex. Jim is infatuated with Bob for life.

    Bob decides he wants to sail: he joins the Merchant Marine and even though he writes to Jim for a short while, Bob practically disappears from Jim's life. Trying to find Bob, Jim goes to New York City with $75 in his pocket. Out of money and unable to find Bob, Jim becomes a cabin boy on a cruise ship. Jim sails all over the world until he's exposed by a fellow cabin boy, Collins, who calls him queer after Jim is unable to have sex with a woman.

    After this episode, Jim settles in L. A. where he becomes a tennis instructor at the Garden Hotel in Beverly Hills. He is introduced to the famous actor Ronald Shaw by Leaper, one of the bellhops at the hotel, and starts an affair with Mr. Shaw.

    Jim can't bring himself to love Mr. Shaw - he's still in love with Bob. Their affair is ended when Jim meets the writer Paul Sullivan who is in his late twenties. Jim is drawn to Paul because he seems so different from the other, more stereotypical homosexuals he meets at Hollywood parties. Bob had married once - although he never consummated the marriage.

    Again, Jim can't love Paul because he's still in love with Bob. Jim considers Paul adequate for the time being. Paul however, needing some pain in his relationships for artistic inspiration, introduces Jim to Maria Verlaine, who seems to specialize in seducing homosexuals, hoping his relationship will end in a suitably tragic way. Together, the three go to Yucatán, where Maria has to settle an inheritance. Jim actually falls in love with Maria, but he is unable to perform sexually. They remain good friends: lovers in every way but the physical part.

    This affair is broken up by WWII. Both Paul and Jim enlist. Jim gets transferred to a Colorado Air Force base, where he must deal with his sexuality. Bob ends up as a war correspondent. Due to the cold Colorado weather, Jim contracts a severe case of Strep throat which almost kills him. This leads to rheumatoid arthritis and a honorable discharge with disability benefits.

    Jim goes back to New York, where he meets Maria and Ronald again. Ronald has been forced to marry a lesbian, Calla Petra, by studio executives to uphold his public image and tries unsuccessfully to become a stage actor. He also introduces Jim to his local friends like the effeminate millionaire, Nicholas J. Rolloson (Rolly) . Rolly has frequent parties where he celebrates his two passions: modern art and the military.

    Jim begins frequenting gay bars to find sexual relief. Later, he meets Paul at a party and the two start an open relationship, not because of passion, but out of loneliness.

    In the meantime, Jim's father dies and Bob marries his childhood sweetheart, Sally Mergendall. When Jim finally goes home for Christmas, Jim meets with Bob. Jim is very excited and determined to win Bob back. Jim realizes that Sally wants Bob to settle down and leave the Merchant Marine, but Bob doesn't want to settle down. Jim arranges an appointment with Bob on his next stop in New York, hoping their affair can resume.

    The resolution of their relationship comes in New York, where they end up on the bed in Bob's hotel room after an all night out drinking. When Jim finally thinks he has attained what he wants, he moves closer. Grabbing Bob's "sex", he panics. Bob is outraged to be thought of as gay, and punches Jim in the face. The two struggle and Jim wins because he is stronger. Jim is infuriated enough to murder Bob but settles on raping Bob and then leaves the room. He then resumes a loveless life...

    "....Jim Willard sat at his table in his booth in his barroom and made lakes, rivers, islands. This was all he wanted. To be alone, a creature without memory, siting in a booth." (p. 10)

    The City and the Pillar is the third published novel by American writer and essayist Gore Vidal, written in 1946 and published on January 10, 1948. The story is about a young man who is coming of age and discovers his own homosexuality.

    The City and the Pillar is significant because it is recognized as the first post-World War II novel whose openly gay and well-adjusted protagonist is not killed off at the end of the story for defying social norms. It is also one of the first modern gay novels where the homosexual man is portrayed as masculine. Vidal set out to break the mold of novels that up until The City and the Pillar depicted homosexuals as transvestites, lonely bookish boys, or feminine. Vidal purposefully makes his protagonist a strong athlete to challenge superstitions, stereotypes, and prejudices about sex in the United States. To further this theme Vidal wrote the novel in plain, objective prose in order to convey and document reality. It is also recognized as one of the "definitive war-influenced gay novels", being one of the few books of its period dealing directly with male homosexuality. Gore introduces the reader to the homosexual terms of the period: "Beards" women who hung around homosexuals, the equivalent of today's "fag-hag;" "pansie" an effeminate homosexual, pejorative; "fairy" an effeminate homosexual, pejorative; "gay" the preferred term for homosexuals; "queen" an effeminate homosexual accepted term; "trade" young heterosexuals who offered themselves for seduction while proclaiming their heterosexuality. (p. 164)

    Told masterfully from the universal point of view it deals with the foolishness and destructiveness of wishing for something that can never be and to waste one's life dwelling on the past. Vidal believes that love is not achieved easily, not even in heterosexual marriage. When Jim goes home for Christmas after his father's death, his mother talks about her sham of a marriage: "I always believed if you make a bad bargain, you just have to keep it. But when it's over, there's no use pretending that it was the best thing that ever happened." (p. 187-8)

    It must be said that when the book was written in 1946, the ending consisted of Jim strangling Bob after his refusal to become Jim's sexual partner. However the ending was revised in 1965 to the current form possibly to reflect the changing trends of the homosexual life.

    I read the book in a day and a half. Could barely put it down. This is a must read for any self respecting homosexual and anyone who cares about us.....

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  • Posted July 7, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A truly sad story

    This book was wonderful. The relationship between the main character and his lover is strong in the beginning but you see the decline of jim throughout the novel into a very raw crash. Jim is not all that deeply delved into but some can connect with him on some levels. The book is sexy at parts and sad at others and kept my attention throughout.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2004

    Interesting Story ... The Main Character Lacks Though

    First, I would to sing the praises of Vidal's third novel 'The City and the Pillar.' The novel shows the complex world of gay men in the 1940s and allows you see their torment without making any moralistic comment which does not stem from the characters themselves. He shows the normality and abnormality of the life with grace and great control of style. However, some of his secondary characters, especially Sullivan and Maria, become more interesting than Jim. In several places he (Jim) seems like an necessary expedient to tell other character's stories. Also Jim's naiveté, which Vidal says he intended, almost boarders on the unbelievable. However, this novel shows the great able to illuminate American society which he will focus on in his later historical fiction.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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