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Authors: Gore Vidal


BOOK: Empire
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Acclaim for


“Mr. Vidal demonstrates a political imagination and insider’s sagacity equaled by no other practicing fiction writer I can think of. And like the earlier novels in his historical cycle,
is a wonderfully vivid documentary drama.”

—Justin Kaplan,
The New York Times Book Review

“A subtle and important book. It deals with issues that most other novelists (and historians) are reluctant to confront.”

—William Appleman Williams

“Gore Vidal has a superb eye for the telling detail in describing a landscape, a building, a character. That eye, married to an admirable prose style, is at work throughout this book.”


“A rich and dazzling novel filled with more of the social observations, behavioral insights, political arguments and personal quirks that have made him one of our most public of writers.… He knows and suffers humanity gracefully. And he writes masterfully.”

The Plain Dealer

“One of our finest novelists, he is also perhaps our most interesting historian.”

—Ronald Steel,
USA Today

“It is probably impossible to be an American and not be fascinated and impressed by Vidal’s suave telescoping of our early history.”

The New Yorker

“Vidal is a masterly American historical novelist.… Vidal’s imagination of American politics, then and now, is so powerful as to compel awe.”

—Harold Bloom,
The New York Review of Books


Gore Vidal was born in 1925 at the United States Military Academy at West Point. His first novel,
, written when he was nineteen years old and serving in the Army, appeared in the spring of 1946. Since then he has written twenty-two novels, five plays, many screenplays, short stories, well over two hundred essays, and a memoir.







Washington, D.C

The Golden Age


1987 by Gore Vidal

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Random House, Inc.,
New York, in 1987.

Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage International and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the Random House edition as follows:
Vidal, Gore, 1925–
I. United States—History—1901–1909—Fiction. I. Tide.
PS3543.I26E4 1987 813’.54 86-29782

eISBN: 978-0-307-78424-7


– 1 –

ended last night, Caroline. Help me with these flowers.” Elizabeth Cameron stood in the open French window, holding a large blue-and-white china vase filled with roses, somewhat showily past their prime. Caroline helped her hostess carry the heavy vase into the long cool dim drawing room.

At forty, Mrs. Cameron was, to Caroline’s youthful eye, very old indeed; nevertheless, she was easily the handsomest of America’s great ladies and certainly the most serenely efficient, able to arrange a platoon of flower vases before breakfast with the same ease and briskness that her uncle, General Sherman, had devastated Georgia.

“One must always be up at dawn in August.” Mrs. Cameron sounded to Caroline rather like Julius Caesar, reporting home. “Servants—like flowers—tend to wilt. We shall be thirty-seven for lunch. Do you intend to marry Del?”

“I don’t think I shall ever marry anyone.” Caroline frowned with pleasure at Mrs. Cameron’s directness. Although Caroline thought of herself as American, she had actually lived most of her life in Paris and so had had little contact with women like Elizabeth Sherman Cameron, the perfect modern American lady—thus, earth’s latest, highest product, as Henry James had not too ironically proclaimed. When Del asked Caroline to join the house-party at Surrenden Dering, deep in the English countryside, she had not even pretended to give the matter thought. She had come straight on from Paris, with a single night at Brown’s Hotel in London. That was Friday, and the United States and
Spain had been at war for three exciting months. Now, apparently, the war was over. She tried to recall the date. Was it August 12 or August 13, 1898?

“Mr. Hay says that the President agreed to an armistice yesterday afternoon. Which was last night for us.” She frowned. “Those roses look rather awful, don’t they?”

“They’re a bit … dusty. I suppose from all that heat.”

“Heat!” Mrs. Cameron laughed, a fairly pleasant sound so unlike the stylized staccato screech of a Paris lady. “You should try Pennsylvania this time of year! My husband has two places. Each hotter than the other, with mosquitoes and gnats and something very small and vile that burrows like a mole under your skin and raises a welt. You would make a good wife for Del.”

“But would he make a good husband for me?” Through the tall windows Caroline could see her co-host, Don Cameron, on the grassy lower terrace. He was driving a buggy, drawn by a pair of American trotting-horses. Senator Cameron was a red-faced, heavily moustached but modestly bearded man, older by a quarter century than his wife. As she could not abide him, she treated him with exquisite courtesy and deference; just as she treated in a rather cool and offhanded way Caroline’s other co-host, the equally ancient Henry Adams, who entirely adored her as she entirely accepted him. According to Del, the trio had struck Henry James, who lived a few miles away at Rye, as “maddeningly romantic.” When Del had repeated this to Caroline, both agreed that although antiquity might indeed be instructive, exotic, even touching, no couple so aged could ever be romantic, maddeningly or otherwise. But then the celebrated expatriate Mr. James was like some highly taut musical string of feline gut, constantly attuned to vibrations unheard by cruder ears.

Yet old as Mrs. Cameron was, Caroline could not help but admire the slender waist, which seemed unstayed; also, the heat had so flushed her cheeks that she looked—Caroline finally capitulated—beautiful, at least this morning, with naturally waved, old-gold hair, cat-like blue eyes, straight nose and straight mouth, framed by the square jaw of her celebrated uncle. Had Caroline not been so recently and so arduously finished at Mlle. Souvestre’s Allenswood School she might have offered herself as an apprentice to Mrs. Cameron: “Because I want to live forever in America, now that Father’s dead.” Caroline heard herself say rather more than she had intended.

“Forever is a long time. But if I had forever to spend somewhere it wouldn’t be there, let me tell you. It would be Paris.”

“Well, since I’ve spent most of my life—so far—in Paris, home looks all the greener, I suppose.”

“May you find it so,” said Mrs. Cameron vaguely, her attention now distracted by the cook, an elderly woman who was at the door, with the day’s menus to be discussed. “Oh, Cook! What a triumph last night! Senator Cameron admired—and couldn’t stop eating—the sweet potatoes.”

“Impossible things he gives me to prepare.” In a long white dress, the cook looked like an abbess in a novel by Scott.

Mrs. Cameron laughed without much joy. “We must do our best to please. All of us. My husband,” she turned to Caroline, just as Don Cameron made a second appearance on the lower terrace, waving a whip, his trotting-horses busily trotting, “hates English food. So he sends home to Pennsylvania for everything we eat. Tonight we shall have corn.”

“But which is it, ma’am?” The cook looked desperate; the abbey besieged.

“It is green and cylindrical and should be shucked of its covering and boiled, but not too long. We’ll have the watermelon with the other fruits. I trust you with the rest, dear Cook.”

“But …” The abbess wailed, and fled.

Mrs. Cameron sat on a sofa beneath a Millais portrait of a lady of the previous generation; and looked, in her yellowy-white lace, as if she, too, belonged to that earlier time, before the new era of loud clattering railroads, sinister silent telegraphs, garish electric lights. Caroline noticed a delicate line of perspiration on her hostess’s upper lip while a vein at the forehead’s center pulsed. Caroline thought of goddesses as she gazed upon Mrs. Cameron; thought of Demeter’s long search for her daughter Persephone in hell; thought of herself as Persephone and Mrs. Cameron as the mother that might have been. On the other hand, was she herself in any sense in hell? And if she was, would Mrs. Cameron rescue her? But Caroline was quite aware that she had never really known anything except her life just as it was; yet she also knew enough of metaphysics to realize that it is often a condition of hell
to suspect the existence of any alternative to one’s life. Caroline had gone from nuns to a freethinkers’ school. From one concentric ring of hell, she now decided, to another. Yes, she was in hell—or Hades, at least, and though regnant over the dead, she eagerly awaited the earth-mother goddess to free her from Death’s embrace and restore—oh, the glamor of Greek myth!—springtime to all the frozen world above.

BOOK: Empire
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