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Gore Vidal was entitled to claim that he was the wittiest and most elegant writer of his time. Asked why he excited so much antagonism, Vidal always explained that he was one of the few people in the world who spoke in perfect sentences — a talent which particularly infuriated literary rivals, whom he said were lucid only on paper.

Indeed, it was one of the reasons he made so many enemies.

He said: ‘The genius of our ruling class is that it has kept a majority of the people from ever questioning the inequity of a system where most people drudge along, paying heavy taxes for which they get nothing in return.’The Vidals were American aristocracy.

His father, Gene, was director of air commerce in Franklin D.

Vidal’s writings are saturated with a sense that the world, and in particular the United States, were in terminal decline.

The great age of empire was over, and America, he believed, had abandoned itself to the ‘cult of stupidity’.

I was the only eight-year-old authority on bi-metalism (the economic monetary system based on the price of gold and silver).’ The precocious Vidal was educated at Exeter College — one of the top undergraduate ‘schools’ of New England.

They reflected his view that the Founding Fathers had created a model of democracy that later American presidents had destroyed with their autocratic power.

In 1960 — choosing, for a change, to participate rather than philosophise — he stood in New York as a Democratic nominee for the House of Representatives.

However, despite his literary success, his money and his looks, he never seemed satisfied with the way fate had treated him.

Asked about his occasionally wistful air, he spoke about ‘divine discontent’.

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