Sunday, November 10, 2013

Gore Vidal bequeathed his entire estate to Harvard University, but he died anyway.

Gore Vidal died in 2012, leaving his entire estate to Harvard University. I'm sure he received a nice thank-you note. Harvard knows how to charm the suckers.

I know. I once received a letter from Harvard confirming my appointment as a teaching assistant. I think it was signed by the Provost. It came on fine stationery and closed with the words, "Your most obedient servant."  Of course the job only paid $300 a month, less than my family's monthly health health insurance bill. But a  letter from some Harvard muckety muck signed "Your most obedient servant" meant more to me then than a living wage. I kept the letter for years.

William F. Buckley & Gore Vidal
Photo credit: CSU Archives/Everett Collection & New York Times
According to the New York Times, Vidal died in his home at age 86, tormented by alcoholism, incontinence, and dementia. Apparently, no one in his life meant more to him than Harvard, which gets the royalties from Vidal's book sales plus his $37 million estate.

But why give the money to Harvard, which after all has loads of money. Perhaps Gore Vidal sought to buy immortality. As one of his friends said in the New York Times story, "Gore was clearly uncomfortable talking about a wold without Gore Vidal. Nothing above immortality and world domination would ever be enough for him."

But a $37 million bequest to Harvard won't buy immortality. and Neither will Vidal's 25 novels.  Even literary giants die and their reputations fade into obscurity. Remember Norman Mailer, supreme egotist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner? How many people read Armies of the Night last year do you suppose?

We all creep toward death, most of us in obscurity. I have no money to give to Harvard and wouldn't give it if I had.  Harvard figured that out years ago and stopped sending me its glossy Harvard magazine. I will never be rich, never be famous, never be powerful.

But I am comforted at this time in my life by my wife and family--comforts Mr. Vidal apparently never had, although he had a long time companion he loved very much. I am grateful for my small home in a friendly Southern town, by the beauty of South Louisiana's swamps and bayous, and by the mild and temperate sun that shines most days throughout our Southern winters.

And I am comforted by my faith. I feel sure a priest will give me last rites in my final hours. I know I will have a funeral Mass at Christ the King Church on the LSU campus; and I am confident that at least some of my grandchildren will attend.  And surely someone will write my name in the Book of Remembrance and will pray for my soul now and then.

And in my remaining years, God will strengthen me with the Mass, with Christ's body and blood. And when bitter memories and regrets sweep over me, I am reassured by God's forgiveness.

I am sorry  Gore Vidal did not have these comforts in his final years. It made me sad to learn that this famous and dazzlingly creative man felt compelled in the last year of his life to make the pathetic gesture of giving the fruits of his life's work to a soulless university he never attended.

References

Tim Teeman. A Final Plot Twist. New York Times, November 10, 2013, Style Section, p. 1.

1 comment:

  1. http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2012/10/19/essay-gore-vidals-relationship-harvard

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