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The City and the Pillar

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  6,812 ratings  ·  469 reviews
A literary cause célèbre when first published more than fifty years ago, Gore Vidal's now-classic The City and the Pillar stands as a landmark novel of the gay experience.

Jim, a handsome, all-American athlete, has always been shy around girls. But when he and his best friend, Bob, partake in "awful kid stuff", the experience forms Jim's ideal of spiritual completion.
Paperback, 207 pages
Published December 2nd 2003 by Vintage (first published January 10th 1948)
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Zusi This is the only Vidal book I've read, so I have nothing to compare it too. My take on Jim was that he fell for Bob but lost him. He went looking, but…moreThis is the only Vidal book I've read, so I have nothing to compare it too. My take on Jim was that he fell for Bob but lost him. He went looking, but couldn't find him so settled for other lovers. As time went on, Jim was looking back at the relationship with Bob through rose tinted glasses, but he still couldn't settle with anyone. When he did find Bob again and tried to show physical affection, he was violently rejected. At this point, I think Jim's dreams were shattered. I think he responded violently out of anger. Not to sure who the anger was aimed at - himself for being so stupid and believing in this dream version of Bob which didn't allow him to move on in his life, or Bob for not being the same person he was at school or the person Jim had built him up to be.

The preface, written by Vidal, says that when it was first printed in the 40s, he had to change the end, and on a later edition he was able to re-instate it. It isn't easy to read, even though it's not as graphic as some works these days. While it is horrible, I feel that for Jim to have just walked away would have been wrong and out of character. Saying that, Jim needed to react, but violent rape felt out of character too.

For most of the twentieth century, homosexuality was illegal in the US, as it was in many other countries. Coming out meant moving to a larger, more crowded closet with other people. If you were caught then you face prosecution and prison. The original audience found this shocking. Vidal has stated that at that time, most literature portrayed homosexuals as effeminate and they usually died. No happy ever after for them. He wanted to write a different story. Jim and Bob were athletes, then soldiers and sailors - masculine men. Through Jim, we meet a whole spectrum on men and so Vidal challenges views.

What also struck me about the 1940s being a different world was the use of negro and nigger. While these words were still used on TV when I was a child, they were never words I used or heard used at home growing up. I still feel a little shocked when I hear them.

Just my thoughts.(less)
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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Apr 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
An interesting capsule of its time, The City and the Pillar examines the nuances of queer identity at the height of the closet. Set against the backdrop of the Depression and WWII, the story follows all-American Jim Willard as he wanders about the country searching for his tough-minded high school crush Bob Ford, who left the pairs small Virginian town after graduating a year before Jim. Jim and Bob hooked up on the eve of the latters departure, and the formers desperate to reunite and build a ...more
MJ Nicholls
Apr 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels, merkins
So few of my GR friends have read this and other Gore Vidal classics, I have to pose the question: where does Vidal stand in the American pantheon? Do his historical novels about the Republic turn readers off for their political content and supposedly dry writing? Does his late career as polemicist and hired mouthpiece present him as a dusty old eminence, far too close to the rich and famous to have any worth as an artist of substance? Can someone born into a wealthy political family, close to ...more
Nov 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: the dream was over
Recommended to Mariel by: MJ Nicholls
Time had stopped.

Head down to the visitor's attractions of earth open wishes. What were you dreaming when it hit. Asteroid eyes rove the green eyed monsters monumentally frozen into mountainsides. You get what you paid and sold. The secret smile cried into cold dead hands. Hold the palm shut to make stick in after life. Jim in the dark wonders that everyone doesn't know. What the bulges in trousers must have invited. They dance by tables in whirls of what to wear or does it always look that
Jan 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5, rounded up.

I'm pretty sure I read this a long, long time ago, but the memory is rather vague. As the first in a planned year-long look back at some of the seminal works of gay literature, this was de rigueur for a revisit. First off, it is fairly amazing that a book so upfront and forthright about its subject ever got published in 1948. It's not particularly shocking now, but 70 years ago, especially as the work of someone barely 20, the shock waves were deserved.

But that's part of the
Carol Storm
Nov 10, 2013 rated it did not like it
Be warned: Goodreads will "recommend" this book to you automatically if you've read OTHER VOICES, OTHER ROOMS by Truman Capote.

Gore Vidal and Truman Capote were both gay men, and both Southerners. Both became literary sensations right after World War II by writing about homosexuality with frankness at a time when it was still absolutely forbidden to discuss the subject in public.

Granting all that, however, the two of them really have nothing in common. Not in terms of temperment, talent,
"Nothing is 'right.' Only denial of instinct is wrong."

There is a great and epic, operatically tragic story of gay desire in The City and the Pillar and it is this:
Jim Willard is uncertain and confused in his adolescent sexuality. One perfect summer night by the moonlight, he and his best friend Bob Ford, are romping about in the nude by the lake, splashing and shouting and reveling in their youthfulness. They begin to wrestle and suddenly the urge takes hold and they make out and make love.
Sep 12, 2015 rated it liked it
Update: I just read this author's "The Messiah". No matter what one might think about this author's writing ability, one has to admit he was not afraid to take on any subject, which did indeed end all of his political aspirations.
This title shouts to us: "I'm meaningful and important! Read me with respect!" I was ready to dislike this book. I found the opening chapters ridiculously childlike. And then the characters grow up, the writing gets better. Then tough decisions have to be made.
Aug 04, 2009 rated it liked it
Vidal's tragic gay love story was no doubt brave and groundbreaking for it's time, but imitators have diminished the story and contemporary readers will likely find the themes cliche. Like so many of his literary contemporaries, the character of Jim struggles to reconcile his physical desires with his yearning to live a "normal" heterosexual life, but Vidal doesn't belabor the point. Instead, he ensconces Jim within the pre-liberation bar scene without defining him by it. Vidal made a concerted ...more
May 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa
This is a great book, a good read. Gore Vidal explores relationships, particularly homosexual relationships, tastefully, delicately, and above all elegantly.

This short book has a cleverly constructed story line. It follows the development of young Jim Willard who develops a serious crush on his school friend Bob Ford just before both of them set off from their home towns to begin their lives in the wider world. Jim encounters a series of colourful characters including a flamboyant gay Hollwood
Jan 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is Gore Vidal's second novel. The content, coming of age as a homosexual male, had him blacklisted for 6 years. Undaunted he published under a pseudonym. Six years later, he published again under his own name, The Judgment of Paris, a different narrative with with the same coming of age content as "City" showing Vidal as remarkable and daring from the start.

This novel is better than "Judgment" which is more narrative and less interior. "City" gives the reader a glimpse into the emotional
Joseph Sciuto
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It took great courage on the part of Mr. Vidal to publish, in 1948, "The City and the Pillar." It could easily have ended his career, but thankfully it launched one of the great literary careers of the 20th century. The subject of homosexuality is dealt with head on. Mr. Vidal's style is hard, terse, and demanding. It follows the life of Jim Willard, a young, good-looking athlete, from a small town in Virginia, where he falls in love with his best friend Bob, who just graduated high school and ...more
Jan 11, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Does everyone realize how much Gore Vidal rocks?

Unbelievable that this book was written -- and that Vidal got it published -- in the 1940s. It enlightened me about the partial freedom available to certain classes of gay men in the 30s and 40s. The coming-out/coming-of-age story seems a little ordinary now, but nobody had done it in America before Vidal, as far as I can tell. His perceptiveness makes it feel fresh. The problems of identity that Jim faces are still common today, and maybe will
David Corvine
Jul 16, 2013 rated it liked it
The faults of this work are fairly self evident ... however its significance stems from its subject matter and publication date. As such it deserves a place on the shelf along with other early examples such The Hustler by John Henry Mackay.
Jul 31, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: glbtqetc
Ughhh...I see why this was important for its time, but you know what? Go check out James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room which came out in the same time period but was unpublishable in the US because publishers didn't believe that readers would accept a black author writing about homosexuality. I mean, unless you haven't read enough stories about gay men being ashamed of who they are. In that case maybe Vidal's your cup of tea. Masculine tea, certainly, because femininity is just gross here. Or, uh, ...more
David Bjelland
Mar 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels, queer
... Oooooof.

This one's gonna leave a bruise.

I don't usually go for the kind of spare, direct style, but this just cuts so close to home that no ornamentation of philosophizing is really needed.

Jim's wishful delusions about sexuality - early on, that he's not quite so queer, and later on that everyone else isn't quite so straight - are painfully evocative of a couple-year period in my own life. So too was the weird noble-feeling but ultimately self-denying ideal of the Twin/Brother-Lover, with
Gregory Baird
May 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
"When the eyes are shut, the true world begins."

Jim Willard and Bob Ford are high school friends in the 1930s. Bob is a year older and graduating from high school when the two young men go on a camping trip that turns into an illicit night of passion. Jim is hopeful that they will be together forever, but Bob joins the Merchant Marines and splits town. Undaunted, Jim goes to sea himself, beginning a seven-year odyssey to reunite with Bob.

Along the way, Jim accepts that he just isn't attracted to
Feb 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
A revolutionary and courageous book, considering the fact that it was written in 1946, and for sure one that influenced many readers living in the closet in that difficult reality, especially in small towns and small communities.
It is a beautifully outdated novel in modern societies where people can be exactly who they are, but it is also sadly contemporary in societies where people are still in the closet, suffering from all kinds of oppression.
Unfortunately, I found it exaggerated at times
Ari Landa
Jul 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Minimalistic, but still with stylish and potent prose, Vidal tells the story of the difficulties homosexuals face in an intolerant culture, and the externalization of the self, which led to the a brutal final act so our hero may finally understand, and commit, to who he is. The characters are known to us passively, by what they do, and by what they think of others and by the absence of what they know about themselves. In developing the characters, Vidal showed incredible restraint, and he should ...more
Oct 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fans of Gay Literature
Recommended to Tyler by: Book's Reputation
Shelves: early-gay-lit
The story in this book, published in 1948, transcends its time and gives readers a plot of immediate relevance and a protagonist who never apologizes. Especially satisfying is the ending Vidal restored in 1964. It fits the flow of the narrative and deprives the earlier ending of its mandatory homophobia, until recently the price paid for any literary or cinematic treatment of the subject.

The novelty of the book was once its characterization of a gay male who doesn't fit the image. The
Sep 03, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2008, fiction
This book ruined Vidals carefully prepared political career, it brought him defamation and some tough words from the critics and the American readers because it is considered to be the first American novel to discuss openly the homosexuality. After its release, New York Times refused for many years to review any of his novels. I found the book ok, maybe I expected too much from it, but it was an interesting first meet anyway.

i-a ruinat minutios-pregatita cariera politica, i-a adus defaimare
Oct 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
"When the eyes are shut, the true world begins."

A haunting book. Written in straight forward prose (though I have added quotations that exemplify some lovely flourishes), this is the tale of a pre-Stonewall gay.

Jim discovers his love for a boy in high school which puts his life on a different path than everyone else he knows. He travels, meets some other people, and holds on to his early love. Not much more to say without giving away the plot.

Published in 1948, this is an incredible text. A
Rtc but I was going to rate this three stars but then that completely unnecessary rape scene happened so nooooooope.

Okay, here's the actual review. This book wasn't the best portrayal of homosexuality ever - it was sexist and awful in a way, lesbians apparently only existed as gross stereotypes - but it's an important book nevertheless. It was written in the 40's and I don't feel that this book has aged badly or that it's dated; rather it shows what life was like, used to be like. And again I
Aug 03, 2011 added it
Shelves: super-douper
I finished the book this morning, and I have really been hit hard by it. It is really elegantly written. Very clear, straightforward, giving us the idea on how the gay world and community was in the 40's in the States. The main character appears (to me) at the beginning as quite dull and serious, without emotions, but little by little you really get to love him, and in a way, totally understand him in one of these situations where you have a tunnel vision where others see things so clear. The ...more
Simon Hollway
Apr 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
The revised 1965 ending is....sensational. Totally unexpected and left me conflicted. I felt it to be symbolic and, as such, perversely, frighteningly invigorating which is a freakishly peculiar reaction in view of what happens. I think Gore meant to do that. I hope it's not just me...
Jim Coughenour
Jul 17, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: darkandfunny
A gothic period piece that's still a bit shocking. Next to Julian it's my favorite novel by Vidal and in certain moods, my favorite. ...more
James Hartley
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating, interesting book - Vidals third novel, published in 1946, which was once infamous and brought notoriety and opprobium upon the author. Why? Because he dared to tell a story about homosexuality in plain, open terms. In an endpiece Vidal says he wrote the book in deliberately simple prose to not try to obscure or obfuscate the themes which he said he knew a little about, but not as much as he pretended. His theme was how we romantise the past and how that romantic image often has no ...more
Mar 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yes, I'm sort of reviewing this backward, but the largest part of the book was the title story and thus deserves a bit more attention.

The seven early stories were unique & entirely worthwhile. I'd expected more of the same upon having finished the novel portion, but Vidal clearly had a gift for exploring nuances in a variety of circumstances. I had to abandon expectations, and that's always a plus.

The City and the Pillar was dark, unvarnished, and 'Come on, man, you really think that nothi
Ste Kitching
Mar 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2011
The City and the Pillar - Gore Vidal

Ive always been fascinated by Gore Vidal as a man over any of his writings. Born in 1925 into privilege and a well regarded Democratic family, with his possession of an enviable intellect and military background he could have, one might say should have, been Governor of an interesting state, or followed his maternal Grandfather into the Senate.

However, although an outspoken political animal all of his life, the young Gore chose to be a writer. His first book
Mar 29, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-15, queer
I'm not sure what to say about this one.

The first mainstream American novel in favor of gay rights takes a surprisingly dim view of gay people. There may be an inclination to dismiss that as a symptom of The Bad Old Days, but I think it's just Vidal's misanthropy.

On the other hand, it seems to me that there are a few things The City and the Pillar does well - it's smart (if cynical) about relationships, and it depicts the emerging gay culture of the early 50's in a way that seems quite honest.
Ballsy, groundbreaking, and oh-so-wonderfully gay, there were parts I adored and parts that completely missed the mark. When Vidal was honest, when he really put forth Jim's experience and stayed true to him, letting the narrative unfold naturally, the book was wonderful. But when the author went off on some of the more over-the-top adventures (such as the love affair with the famous Hollywood actor), things just started to feel like fantastic wish fulfillment. The writing style itself irked me ...more
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Eugene Luther Gore Vidal was an American writer known for his essays, novels, screenplays, and Broadway plays. He was also known for his patrician manner, Transatlantic accent, and witty aphorisms. Vidal came from a distinguished political lineage; his grandfather was the senator Thomas Gore, and he later became a relation (through marriage) to Jacqueline Kennedy.

Vidal ran for political office

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