Something similar, I think, was at work in Newman’s snit over WFB’s use of the word “queer.” Not that WFB was proud of his outburst. I spoke to him about it a few times and it was clear that he deeply regretted it. He did not, by the way, regret the substance of his response. He always acknowledged that he regarded Gore Vidal as a repellent human being who eminently deserved being socked. But he regretted losing his temper. Anger, like other natural human emotions, has a rightful place in the economy of human life, but, as Aristotle pointed out, one should be angry at the proper things, in the proper degree, for the proper duration. A temper, that is to say, ought not to be lost but deployed. WFB, on that one occasion (it is the only one I know about), lost his, and he regretted it.
Well. This is a memorial notice about Gore Vidal and here I have said at least as much about WFB. That strikes me as about right. Gore Vidal was always a minor literary figure. As a figure in the annals of recent intellectual life, he does not register at all. He occupies a footnote in the library of pornography for period-piece S&M fantasies such as Myra Breckinridge. He wrote some good essays: on Montaigne, for example (I always found it curious that he admired Montaigne: a less Montaigne-like character than Gore Vidal is hard to imagine), and on the canny, if grim, 1950s novelist Dawn Powell. In the library of memorable catty lines, he also has a place. Among my favorites is his judgment that Leon Wieseltier, the longtime literary editor of The New Republic, is distinguished chiefly by having “important hair.” (I also like his observation that the three most dispiriting words in the English language are “Joyce Carol Oates.”)