Gore Vidal in Translation

Click Cover To Enlarge Click Cover To Enlarge Since 1947 - one year after the publication of his first novel - Gore Vidal's writing has been published in 39 foreign languages, and one of his essays has even been rendered in Braille. My collection includes translations in all of those 39 languages, and the links in each section below will introduce you to many of the covers of these editions, along with some information about each cover.

The rare Thai edition of his 1978 novel Kalki (top left) has a dedication inside the book that reads, "For Kukrit Pramoj, who first told me of Kalki." The Thai publisher put these words, in English, on the book's cover, presumably to make it more appealing to Thai readers. Pramoj was a great Thai statesman and the prime minister of Thailand for a while in the 1970s. Vidal has called the cover illustration of the novel "lurid." Pictured top right is the only Slovak translation of a Vidal novel: It's his historical novel Burr, a name probably not too familiar to Slovak readers, so the title has been changed to "I Could Have Been President." And below right is the Greek edition of Julian.

Click Cover To Enlarge Click Cover To Enlarge Vidal's 1968 novel Myra Breckinridge appeared in a 2003 Taiwanese edition (left). The title in Chinese means "Forever, Perpetual Myra." Vidal's 1967 novel, Washington, D.C., was translated into Chinese in Beijing in 1981. That book's title in Chinese, roughly translated, means "a fiery desire to be on the political stage," although Vidal's name in Chinese doesn't mean anything at all. An Indian scholar, Jayanto Ghosh, has translated Vidal's 2001 essay on the World Trade Center attack into Bengali and hopes to publish it soon in an Indian journal. In the meantime, he has provided The Gore Vidal Index with the first 100 words of his translation. This is the first known translation of Vidal into Bengali.

Vidal has not been published in Urdu, although a Pakistani psychiatrist living in London is working on a translation of Messiah that he some day hopes to publish. He has provided the Index with this Urdu sample of the book's title and Vidal's name beneath it. Nor has Vidal been translated into Amharic, the language of Ethiopia. To remedy that oversight, I have translated Vidal's name into Amharic, and I offer an explanation of my choice of Amharic letters. Here, too, is Vidal's name in braille. And for the truly needy (and nerdy), here is Vidal's name translated into two of the languages of Star Trek. So far, none of his books have appeared in these (or any other) invented languages.

I've grouped the titles in the sections below by subject rather than by language, which will allow you to see how different publishers at different times interpreted the novels through their cover illustrations, and also how foreign publishers often changed the titles of the books. You can click on every cover in this link to get a closer look at it. As always, feel free to send me comments about this or any page in The Gore Vidal Index.

Click Cover To Enlarge Here's a miscellany of covers from around the world that presents more than half a century of Vidal's writing. His earliest translations appeared in Scandinavia and then in the rest of Europe, especially France and Italy. In the 1960s, when he returned to writing fiction, his historical novels enjoyed worldwide Click Cover To Enlarge interest and success (often in pirated editions, which naturally didn't please him). So, too, did his essays, offering the world a series of bristling dissertations on history, culture and politics. But in terms of translations, that's about it: His early novels have rarely been translated in foreign countries, which seem to prefer his historical novels (especially the American Chronicles) and his often-incendiary political writing. Pictured here are the world's only two translations of Vidal's seminal novel, Williwaw (1946), whose title refers to a type of ocean storm unique to the Aleutians, where the novel takes place. Both the French and Italian titles - Ouragan and L'Uragano, respectively - simply mean "hurricane." Strangely, in 2004, a Syrian publisher issued Vidal's 1949 semi-autobiographical novel The Season of Comfort in an Arabic translation. One wonders how the translator dealt with the homosexual content of the novel in a culture that is far less tolerant than even America was at mid-century. FEATURED PAGE: A slide show of various book covers from early works by Vidal.

Click Cover To Enlarge Click Cover To Enlarge The covers of Myra Breckinridge show how different cultures captured the spirit of the novel - in some case, much more provocatively than U.S. editions. Myra has been translated into more than a dozen languages, and in Italy alone, there have been numerous cloth and paperback editions in the last 30-plus years. After the death of Franco, Spain got to read the book, which still apparently has not been translated into Russian, although it exists in Japanese and Turkish. Two different French translations, published in 1970 and 1988, seem to be especially squeamish about translating some of Vidal's most explicit language. Pictured here, at left, is the 1978 Spanish edition with a cover that shows Raquel Welch in a racy scene from the awful 1970 film version of the book. And at right is the 1999 Portuguese edition, the most graphic Myra cover anywhere in the world. Quite clearly, someone has been a very bad boy. FEATURED PAGE: A slide show of covers from Myra Breckinridge.

Click Cover To Enlarge Click Cover To Enlarge The covers of Julian and Creation, Vidal's two highly regarded novels of antiquity, have not differed widely from country to country: Virtually all show familiar images of the ancient cradles of civilization in the few centuries before and after Christ. So the covers of Julian and the covers of Creation have provided international publishers with opportunities to create some of the most colorful covers in Vidaliana - although these covers are somewhat more conventional than the books they illustrate. Pictured here are the covers of two Iranian editions of the novel, the first from 1989 (published in two volumes), and the second from 2004. Each had a printing of around 1,350 copies. The Bulgarian hardcover of Julian is especially attractive inside, offering about a dozen glossy pages with black-and-white photographs of actual Roman artifacts and busts. At the back of the book, there's a fold-out map of the Roman empire as it was in the days of Julianus II. FEATURED PAGES: A slide show of covers from Julian or from Creation.

Click Cover To Enlarge Click Cover To Enlarge Vidal wrote two novels that might well be called tales of a death cult: In Messiah, published in 1954, a former undertaker who preaches that "death is good" becomes the Christ-like center of a new world religion; and in Kalki, published in 1978, a deranged Vietnam veteran concocts a religious cult from Eastern dogma with the intention of killing humankind and repopulating Earth with his own progeny. Both books embrace very cynical views of religion and postulate that it doesn't take much to turn people into ideological sheep. The covers of these books tend to capture the haunting and moribund sensations of the novels, like the beguiling Bulgarian cover of Kalki, at left, which suggests how Kalki plans to kill everyone on earth - by dropping poisonous flowers from an airplane on the people he's seduced into believing he's the new messiah. The striking cover of the Brazilian edition of Messiah, pictured here at right, taps into its notion that the repeated, televised image can seduce people into submission regardless of its content. No other cover of Messiah plays on this element of the book, with most choosing to depict its cult-religion overtones. Vidal began writing Messiah in 1949, somewhat before this notion became common currency thanks largely to the writing of Marshall McLuhan. Together these novels are interesting companion pieces, excellently told (or foretold) and, finally, very grim. FEATURED PAGE: A slide show of covers from Messiah and Kalki.

Click Cover To Enlarge Click Cover To Enlarge When Vidal published The City and the Pillar in 1948, he miscalcuated the degree to which prudish middlebrow book critics would associate its story of a young homosexual with Vidal himself. The daily critic for The New York Times refused to reviews Vidal's next few novels, and though The City and the Pillar sold briskly and won Vidal a reputation, it wounded his novel sales and forced him to begin writing screenplays and teleplays. Around the world, the novel has been translated almost as widely as Julian and Myra Breckinridge. Some international covers display the book's homoeroticism, while some depict the character of Jim as a tennis instructor (which he is for a time). Still others simply capture a sense of the central character's isolation, suggesting that the dark lonely city is a place where tragic figures like Jim Willard are likely to be found. The Greek edition, seen here at left, features a Norman Rockwell painting of two all-American young men - just like the novel's Jim Willard and Bob Ford. The title means "a young man by the river," borrowed from the 1949 French re-titling of the book. The 1949 Italian first edition, at right, retitles the tale "The Perverse City" and calls it "a drama of the third sex." FEATURED PAGE: A slide show of covers from The City and the Pillar.

Click Cover To Enlarge Click Cover To Enlarge Around the world, the seven books of Vidal's American Chronicles have taught some history lessons not found in standard texts. The first five books cover the time from the American Revolution through the first two decades of the 20th Century. The last two books pick up the story around 1937 and take the characters into the early 21st Century. Some of these books were quite popular in former Soviet-bloc countries, so much so that a Bulgarian publisher issued all of the novels in uniform Bulgarian editions, joining earlier Bulgarian translations of three novels by three different publishers. In the early 1970s alone, translations of Washington, D.C. appeared in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Albania and Armenian. The first six books in this series are, in order of American history, Burr, Lincoln, 1876, Empire, Hollywood and Washington, D.C., Click Cover To Enlarge Click Cover To Enlarge although Vidal did not write them in that order. In the fall of 2000, Vidal published The Golden Age, a finale to the remarkable series of historical novels. This last book retraces the years of Washington, D.C. to tell the story from a different point of view. The covers of the American Chronicles in translation usually depict images of Americana. The snazzy cover of the 1971 Latvian edition of Washington, D.C. (top left) shows two impressionistic revelers puttin' on the Ritz at a cocktail party, perhaps like the one that opens the novel. But in neighboring Lithuania, the same novel (top right) has a cover that appears to depict a politico-thug spewing his demagoguerie at a collection of microphones. The very rare Armenian edition of Washington, D.C. simply has the name of the book and author on the front (lower left). And in Latvia, in 1991, a Russian translation of Lincoln appeared in three paperback volumes. Pictured here, lower right, is the cover of volume one. Click on it to see volumes one and two. FEATURED PAGES: Watch a slide show of covers from Washington, D.C. and The Golden Age, or from Lincoln, or from Burr.

Click Cover To Enlarge Vidal prides his inventions quite highly among his novels, using them to satirize all aspects of American life and culture. In fact, because he wrote contemporary novels early in his career - like such literary ancestors as Hemingway and Fitzgerald - and then turned to writing metafiction, he has said that his work is the Click Cover To Enlarge missing link in the study of the 20th Century novel. Few literary scholars have taken up his challenge. Vidal's first invention was the ribald Myra Breckinridge in 1968, followed by asequel, Myron, in 1974. Three others inventions ensued: Duluth, Live from Golgotha and The Smithsonian Institution, the latter being something of a bridge between his historical fiction and his metafiction. Pictured here, at left, is the brash Brazilian edition of Myron, which visualizes the central character's struggle with his sexual identity, although the real Myron would only be caught dead in a dominatrix outfit, and he certainly didn't have so fine a physique (at least not as a man). The striking image on the Bulgarian edition of Golgotha, at right, evokes a Munchian crucifixion. FEATURED PAGE: A slide show of covers from Vidal's inventions.
Click Cover To Enlarge In the 1950s, his literary novels not selling well, Vidal wrote three mystery novels under the pseudonym "Edgar Box." The first of these novels appeared as a Dutton hardcover in 1952, with one following from Dutton for each of the next two years. Vidal's British publisher at the time, Heinemann, also issued Click Cover To Enlarge hardcover editions of the books. Then, Edgar Box disappeared, although he remained in print for decades in a variety of U.S. and U.K. paperback editions, not to mention translations in about half a dozen countries. Seen here, at left, is the colorful 1955 Italian hardcover edition of Death Before Bedtime, and at left is a 1986 Italian edition of the same book with a new title and from a new translator - and also, with "Gore Vidal" cited as the author rather than "Edgar Box." Only in very small print on the copyright page does the 1986 edition mention the book's "original" author. And note the spelling of the author's name on the cover of this 1955 French translation of Death Likes It Hot. No doubt someone at the French publishing company lost his job over that faux pas. FEATURED PAGE: A slide show of covers from the Edgar Box novels.

Click Cover To Enlarge Vidalís many and varied works of nonfiction have appeared in far fewer languages than his fiction, and when they are translated, the covers are often very straightforward or even austere. Most of his foreign-language nonfiction consists of selected essays about literature, politics and occasionally himself. Very few of these collections correspond one-to-one with an American counterpart: rather, the editors of the foreign editions choose Click Cover To Enlarge essays from a variety of collections that they believe their countryís readers will enjoy. The 1971 German essay collection Betrachtungen auf einem Sinkenden Schiff has a title that's virtually a literal translation of the American title, Reflections Upon a Sinking Ship (1969), but contains only 10 of the American editionís 25 essays. Its cover is quite phallic and provocative: the front (at left) pictures a shapely woman straddling the barrel of a gun and wearing only an American flag, with a hotdog held high in her hand; and the back (at right) shows - well, a rear view of the same woman wearing even less. Vidal's books on the Sept. 11 attacks have been translated around the world, and in some cases, they have appeared in other countries before appearing in the U.S. In addition to essay collections, Vidalís little Screening History, in which he reflects upon his childhood love of movies, has appeared in French and Italian, while the engaging Views from a Window: Conversations with Gore Vidal exists in French and Spanish editions. And in 2001 there appeared a Spanish translation of Sexually Speaking with a racy cover to beat all covers. Vidalís memoir, Palimpsest, has been translated into a few languages but always with a cover very similar to the American edition, which features a photo of the author as a young man.

Click Cover To Enlarge Vidal's Inventing a Nation is unique in his canon: It's a book of history, not a historical fiction, and not merely a collection of essays. So far, it has only been translated into two languages: Italian ( left) and Spanish (right). In the book, Vidal's tells the story of America's founding by George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and various other early Americans in their circle and their orbit. The founders of the Click Cover To Enlarge United States of America become crystal clear about the need for a federal constitution after the Shays rebellion of 1786-87. Before it, a Federalist faction favored a strong central government, while an anti-Federalists (later "Republican") faction favored wider states' rights. But when Shays rose up against the moneyed class and fought for the overtaxed poor, "there were no Federalists, no future Republicans," Vidal writes, "only frightened men of property." Vidal's narrative in Inventing a Nation sticks pretty much to history, although sometimes he moves very forward, drawing parallels between his central historical events and the emerging history of the 21st Century. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks pop up, as does Britain's New Labor prime minister, Tony Blair, whose victory Vidal sees as a reminder of the pre-destiny - or at least, the consistency - of national character, for better or for worse. Money and power are the villains of the piece, although Vidal never goes so far as to suggest that the People would do any better. Needless to say that while the book is a work of history, it's heavy laced with Vidal's interpretation of his historic events.

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©Copyright 2005 by
Harry Kloman
University of Pittsburgh