Authors: Gore Vidal
“A brilliant marriage of fact and imagination. It’s just about everything a novel should be—pleasure, information, moral insight. [Vidal] gives us a man and a time so alive and real that we see and feel them.… A superb book.”
The Plain Dealer
“Utterly convincing … Vidal is concerned with dissecting, obsessively and often brilliantly, the roots of personal ambition as they give rise to history itself.”
—Joyce Carol Oates,
The New York Times Book Review
“An astonishing achievement.… Vidal is a masterly American historical novelist.… Vidal’s imagination of American politics, then and now, is so powerful as to compel awe.”
The New York Review of Books
“The best American historical novel I’ve read in recent years.”
—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.,
“[A] literary triumph. There is no handy and cheap psychoanalysis here, but rather a careful scrutiny of the actions that spring from the core of Lincoln himself.… We are left to figure out the man as if he were a real person in our lives.”
reaches for sublimity.… This novel will, I suspect, maintain a permanent place in American letters.”
The New Republic
“Vidal is the best all-round American man of letters since Edmund Wilson.… This is his most moving book.”
“It is remarkable how much good history Mr. Vidal has been able to work into his novel. And I find—astonishingly enough, since I have been over this material so many times—that Mr. Vidal has made of this familiar record a narrative that sustained my interest right up to the final page.”
—Professor David Donald, Harvard University
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.
NARRATIVES OF EMPIRE
The Golden Age
FIRST VINTAGE INTERNATIONAL EDITION, FEBRUARY
Copyright © 1984 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 1984.
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–
1. Lincoln, Abraham, 1809–1865–Fiction. I. Title.
PS3543.126L5 1984 813′.54 83-43185
LIHU B. WASHBURNE
opened his gold watch. The spidery hands showed five minutes to six.
“Wait here,” he said to the driver, who said, “How do I know you’re coming back, sir?”
At the best of times Congressman Washburne’s temper was a most unstable affair, and his sudden outbursts of rage—he could roar like a preacher anticipating hell—were much admired in his adopted state of Illinois, where constituents proudly claimed that he was the only militant teetotaller who behaved exactly like a normal person at five minutes to six, say, in the early morning of an icy winter day—of the twenty-third of February, 1861, to be exact.
“Why, you black—!” As the cry in Washburne’s throat began to go to its terrible maximum, caution, the politician’s ever-present angel, cut short the statesman’s breath. A puff of unresonated cold steam filled the space between the congressman and the Negro driver on his high seat.
Heart beating rapidly with unslaked fury, Washburne gave the driver some coins. “You are to stay here until I return, you hear me?”
“I hear you, sir.” White teeth were quickly bared and unbared in the black, cold-puckered face.
Washburne buttoned up his overcoat and stepped carefully onto the frozen mud that was supposed to be the pavement of a stately avenue leading to the squalid train depot of Washington City, capital of thirty-four United States that were now in the process of disuniting. He fluffed up his beard, hoping to better warm his face.
Washburne entered the depot as the cars from Baltimore were rattling
to a halt. Negro porters were slouched along the sidings. Huge carts stood ready to be filled with Northern merchandise to be exchanged for Southern tobacco, raw cotton, food. Currently, the Southerners were saying that Washington City was the natural capital of the South. But they did not say it, if they were wise, in Washburne’s irritable Western presence.