The City and the Pillar
The City and the Pillar is the third published novel by American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 writer and essayist Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal is an American author, playwright, essayist, screenwriter, and political activist. His third novel, The City and the Pillar , outraged mainstream critics as one of the first major American novels to feature unambiguous homosexuality...

, written in 1946 and published on January 10, 1948. The story is about a young man who is coming of age
Coming of age
Coming of age is a young person's transition from childhood to adulthood. The age at which this transition takes place varies in society, as does the nature of the transition. It can be a simple legal convention or can be part of a ritual, as practiced by many societies...

 and discovers his own homosexuality
Homosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction or behavior between members of the same sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, homosexuality refers to "an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, or romantic attractions" primarily or exclusively to people of the same...


The City and the Pillar is significant because it is recognized as the first post-World War II
A post-war period or postwar period is the interval immediately following the ending of a war and enduring as long as war does not resume. A post-war period can become an interwar period or interbellum when a war between the same parties resumes at a later date...

 novel whose openly gay and well-adjusted protagonist is not killed off at the end of the story for defying social norms
Norm (sociology)
Social norms are the accepted behaviors within a society or group. This sociological and social psychological term has been defined as "the rules that a group uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. These rules may be explicit or implicit...

. It is also recognized as one of the "definitive war-influenced
War novel
A war novel is a novel in which the primary action takes place in a field of armed combat, or in a domestic setting where the characters are preoccupied with the preparations for, or recovery from, war...

 gay novels", being one of the few books of its period dealing directly with male homosexuality. In addition, it was among the few gay novel
Gay novel
A gay novel deals with homosexual love between men. Novels that deal with homosexual love between women are usually referred to as lesbian novels....

s reprinted in inexpensive paperback form as early as the 1950s.

In 1965, Vidal released an updated version of the novel titled The City and the Pillar Revised. Most modern printings contain the updated text; however, they retain the original title The City and the Pillar.

Plot summary

The plot centers on Jim Willard, a handsome youth in Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

 in the late 1930s, who is also a very good tennis
Tennis is a sport usually played between two players or between two teams of two players each . Each player uses a racket that is strung to strike a hollow rubber ball covered with felt over a net into the opponent's court. Tennis is an Olympic sport and is played at all levels of society at all...

 player. When his best friend Bob Ford, one year his senior, is about to leave high school, the two take a camping trip into the woods. Both are elated to be in each other's company and after some moaning from Bob how difficult it is to get the local girls to have sex with him, the two have sex
Homoeroticism refers to the erotic attraction between members of the same sex, either male–male or female–female , most especially as it is depicted or manifested in the visual arts and literature. It can also be found in performative forms; from theatre to the theatricality of uniformed movements...

, even though Bob thinks this is not a "normal" thing for two men to do.

Jim, who does not find girls so appealing, hopes Bob can stay and is crushed when Bob is insistent on joining the United States Merchant Marine
United States Merchant Marine
The United States Merchant Marine refers to the fleet of U.S. civilian-owned merchant vessels, operated by either the government or the private sector, that engage in commerce or transportation of goods and services in and out of the navigable waters of the United States. The Merchant Marine is...

. The next seven years of Jim's life will be an odyssey, at the end of which he hopes to be happily reunited with Bob.

Jim decides he wants to go to sea too and becomes a cabin boy on a cruise ship after going to New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 to look for work. Another seaman on his ship, Collins, goes out with him in Seattle, but is more interested in a double date with two girls than in sex with Jim. The date is a disaster for Jim, who must realize that he is unable to drink enough to overcome being repelled by the female body. When he finally storms out, Collins calls him a queer
Queer is an umbrella term for sexual minorities that are not heterosexual, heteronormative, or gender-binary. In the context of Western identity politics the term also acts as a label setting queer-identifying people apart from discourse, ideologies, and lifestyles that typify mainstream LGBT ...

, which causes him to think about this possibility.

He quits his job, fearing another confrontation with Collins, and becomes a tennis instructor at a hotel in Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles , with a population at the 2010 United States Census of 3,792,621, is the most populous city in California, USA and the second most populous in the United States, after New York City. It has an area of , and is located in Southern California...

. One of the bellboys, Leaper, whose advances he has spurned previously, introduces him to the circle around the mid-thirties Hollywood actor Ronald Shaw, who immediately takes interest in Jim. Eventually, Jim moves in with Ronald, even though he is not really in love with him.

Their affair is ended when Jim meets the writer Paul Sullivan, who is in his late twenties, at a party. Jim is drawn to Paul because he seems so different from the other, more stereotypical homosexuals he meets at Hollywood parties, even having married once (although that marriage was later annulled).

When Shaw learns of their relationship, Jim is quite happy to move with Paul to New Orleans. Again, he is not in love with Paul but with his boyhood pal, but he considers Paul adequate for the time being. Paul however, needing some pain in his relationships for artistic inspiration, introduces Jim to Maria Verlaine, who seems to specialize in seducing homosexuals, hoping his relationship will end in a suitably tragic way. Together, the three go to Yucatán
Yucatán officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Yucatán is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 106 municipalities and its capital city is Mérida....

, where Maria has made an inheritance. Jim does feel vaguely attracted to Maria, but he is unable to perform sexually. All the same, for Paul even an imagined affair of his boyfriend with a woman is as painful as he had hoped and warrants a breakup.

In the meantime, World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 has started in Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 and Paul and Jim are determined to go to New York to enlist in the Army
An army An army An army (from Latin arma "arms, weapons" via Old French armée, "armed" (feminine), in the broadest sense, is the land-based military of a nation or state. It may also include other branches of the military such as the air force via means of aviation corps...

. This of course also means their separation. Jim gets transferred to a Colorado
Colorado is a U.S. state that encompasses much of the Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains...

 Air Force
United States Air Force
The United States Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the American uniformed services. Initially part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947 under the National Security Act of...

 base, where his sergeant is clearly sexually interested in him. But Jim has set his sights on a young corporal. Unfortunately, the corporal does not seem to like him in "that" way, even though the sergeant later seems to succeed with the corporal.

Due to the cold Colorado weather, Jim contracts rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, systemic inflammatory disorder that may affect many tissues and organs, but principally attacks synovial joints. The process produces an inflammatory response of the synovium secondary to hyperplasia of synovial cells, excess synovial fluid, and the development...

 and is eventually discharged from service. He goes back to New York, where he meets Maria and Ronald again. Ronald has been forced to marry a lesbian by studio executives to uphold his public image and tries unsuccessfully to become a stage actor. He also introduces Jim to his local friends like an effeminate millionaire. Jim begins frequenting gay bars to find sexual relief. Later, he meets Paul at a party and the two start an open relationship, not because of passion, but out of loneliness.

When Jim finally goes home for Christmas
Christmas or Christmas Day is an annual holiday generally celebrated on December 25 by billions of people around the world. It is a Christian feast that commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, liturgically closing the Advent season and initiating the season of Christmastide, which lasts twelve days...

, he learns that his father is dead and (more alarming to him) that Bob has married. Hoping their affair can resume despite this, Jim is anxious to see him again.

The resolution of their relationship comes again in New York, where they end up on the bed in Bob's hotel room. But when Jim finally thinks he has attained what he wants and moves closer, grabbing his "sex", Bob panics, is outraged to be thought of as gay, and even punches Jim in the face. The two struggle and Jim wins because he is stronger. In the original version, Jim is infuriated enough to murder Bob while in the revision he rapes Bob and then leaves the room.

Major themes

One major theme is the portrayal of the homosexual man as both normal and masculine
Masculinity is possessing qualities or characteristics considered typical of or appropriate to a man. The term can be used to describe any human, animal or object that has the quality of being masculine...

. Gore set out to break the mold of novels that up until The City and the Pillar depicted homosexuals as transvestites
Transvestism is the practice of cross-dressing, which is wearing clothing traditionally associated with the opposite sex. Transvestite refers to a person who cross-dresses; however, the word often has additional connotations. -History:Although the word transvestism was coined as late as the 1910s,...

, lonely bookish boys, or feminine
Femininity is a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles generally associated with girls and women. Though socially constructed, femininity is made up of both socially defined and biologically created factors...

. Gore purposefully makes his protagonist a strong athlete to challenge superstition
Superstition is a belief in supernatural causality: that one event leads to the cause of another without any process in the physical world linking the two events....

s, stereotype
A stereotype is a popular belief about specific social groups or types of individuals. The concepts of "stereotype" and "prejudice" are often confused with many other different meanings...

s, and prejudice
Prejudice is making a judgment or assumption about someone or something before having enough knowledge to be able to do so with guaranteed accuracy, or "judging a book by its cover"...

s about sex in the United States. To further this theme Vidal wrote the novel in plain, objective prose in order to convey and document reality.

Two additional themes identified by Dennis Bolin are the foolishness and destructiveness of wishing for something that can never be and to waste one's life dwelling on the past, the second of which is reinforced by the novel's epigraph
Epigraph (literature)
In literature, an epigraph is a phrase, quotation, or poem that is set at the beginning of a document or component. The epigraph may serve as a preface, as a summary, as a counter-example, or to link the work to a wider literary canon, either to invite comparison or to enlist a conventional...

 from the Book of Genesis 19:26 "But his wife looked back from behind him and she became a pillar of salt."

Reception and critical analysis

The City and the Pillar sparked a public scandal, including notoriety and criticism, not only since it was released at a time when homosexuality
Homosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction or behavior between members of the same sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, homosexuality refers to "an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, or romantic attractions" primarily or exclusively to people of the same...

 was commonly considered immoral, but also because it was the first book by an accepted American author to portray overt homosexuality as a natural behavior. The controversial reception began before the novel hit bookshelves. Prior to its even being published, an editor at EP Dutton said to Vidal, "You will never be forgiven for this book. Twenty years from now you will still be attacked for it." Looking back in retrospect from 2009, it is considered by Ian Young to be "perhaps the most notorious of the gay novels of the 1940s and 1950s."

Vidal himself said "shock was the most pleasant emotion aroused in the press." Upon its release the New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

would not advertise the novel. Vidal was blacklist
A blacklist is a list or register of entities who, for one reason or another, are being denied a particular privilege, service, mobility, access or recognition. As a verb, to blacklist can mean to deny someone work in a particular field, or to ostracize a person from a certain social circle...

ed after releasing The City and the Pillar to the extent that no major newspaper or magazine would review any of his novels for six years. This forced Vidal to write several subsequent books under pseudonym
A pseudonym is a name that a person assumes for a particular purpose and that differs from his or her original orthonym...

s. Subsequently he reestablished a popular reputation and resumed using his true name.

At the time, Christopher Isherwood
Christopher Isherwood
Christopher William Bradshaw Isherwood was an English-American novelist.-Early life and work:Born at Wyberslegh Hall, High Lane, Cheshire in North West England, Isherwood spent his childhood in various towns where his father, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the British Army, was stationed...

 privately responded to the novel enthusiastically, whereas Thomas Mann
Thomas Mann
Thomas Mann was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and 1929 Nobel Prize laureate, known for his series of highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and novellas, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intellectual...

, another contemporary writer, privately responded with short politeness. Stephen Spender
Stephen Spender
Sir Stephen Harold Spender CBE was an English poet, novelist and essayist who concentrated on themes of social injustice and the class struggle in his work...

 expressed the notion that the novel was plainly autobiographical and a sexual confession on Vidal's part; this has been denied by Vidal.

Modern scholars note the importance of the novel to the visibility of gay literature. Michael Bronski points out that "gay-male-themed books received greater critical attention than lesbian ones" and that "writers such as Gore Vidal were accepted as important American writers, even when they received attacks from homophobic critics." Bronski also suggests the mantle of "literary quality" conferred some level of protection from censorship upon the works. Ian Young notes that social disruptions of World War II changed public morals and enumerates The City and the Pillar among a spate of war novels that use the military as backdrop for overt homosexual behavior.

The book sold well, enjoying several paperback reprint editions; the 1950 Signet edition features a cover painting by the notable artist James Avati
James Avati
James Avati was an American illustrator and paperback cover artist. His father was a professional photographer in New York City. His mother died shortly after Jim's birth. He was raised by his aunt and eventually, his father married her...

. The City and the Pillar is considered by Anthony Slide
Anthony Slide
Anthony Slide is a writer who has produced more than seventy books and edited a further 150 on the history of popular entertainment. He wrote a "letter from Hollywood" for the British Film Review from 1979 to 1994, and he wrote a monthly book review column for Classic Images from 1989 to 2001...

 to be one of only four familiar gay novels of the first half of the twentieth century. The other three novels are Djuna Barnes
Djuna Barnes
Djuna Barnes was an American writer who played an important part in the development of 20th century English language modernist writing and was one of the key figures in 1920s and '30s bohemian Paris after filling a similar role in the Greenwich Village of the teens...

' Nightwood
Nightwood is a 1936 novel by Djuna Barnes first published in London by Faber and Faber. An edition published in the United States in 1937 by Harcourt, Brace included an introduction by T. S. Eliot.....

, Carson McCullers
Carson McCullers
Carson McCullers was an American writer. She wrote novels, short stories, and two plays, as well as essays and some poetry. Her first novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter explores the spiritual isolation of misfits and outcasts of the South...

' Reflections in a Golden Eye
Reflections in a Golden Eye (novel)
Reflections in a Golden Eye is a 1941 novel by American author Carson McCullers.It first appeared in Harper's Bazaar in 1940, serialized in the October–November issues. The book was published by Houghton Mifflin on February 14, 1941, to mostly poor reviews...

, and Truman Capote
Truman Capote
Truman Streckfus Persons , known as Truman Capote , was an American author, many of whose short stories, novels, plays, and nonfiction are recognized literary classics, including the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's and the true crime novel In Cold Blood , which he labeled a "nonfiction novel." At...

's Other Voices, Other Rooms
Other Voices, Other Rooms (novel)
Other Voices, Other Rooms is a novel written by Truman Capote published in January 1948. Other Voices, Other Rooms is written in the Southern Gothic style and is notable for its atmosphere of isolation and decadence....

. The City and the Pillar was ranked number 17 on a list of the best 100 gay and lesbian novels compiled by The Publishing Triangle in 1999.

The City and the Pillar Revised

In 1965, E.P. Dutton published Vidal's updated version of The City and the Pillar, titled The City and the Pillar Revised.

In this version, Vidal removed melodramatic narrative, passages of introspection, and politically offensive language and strove to clarify the intended theme of the work. The original edition was divided into two sections "The City" and "The Pillar"; in the revised edition the narrative is continuous. Vidal also significantly changed the storyline in the coda so that Jim rapes Bob instead of murdering him. It is commonly believed that the publishers of The City and the Pillar (in its original form) coerced Gore to give the original a cautionary ending, but Gore specifically denies this.

Derivative works

It was said by Vidal in a 2006 NPR
NPR, formerly National Public Radio, is a privately and publicly funded non-profit membership media organization that serves as a national syndicator to a network of 900 public radio stations in the United States. NPR was created in 1970, following congressional passage of the Public Broadcasting...

 interview that parts of the dynamic of The City and the Pillar were softened for the public and applied to the script for Ben-Hur
Ben-Hur (1959 film)
Ben-Hur is a 1959 American epic film directed by William Wyler and starring Charlton Heston in the title role, the third film adaptation of Lew Wallace's 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. The screenplay was written by Karl Tunberg, Gore Vidal, and Christopher Fry. The score was composed by...

which Vidal and others were called in to re-work.
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