Vidal, Gore: Myra Breckinridge
(researched by Kathryn Jergovich)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Gore Vidal. Myra Breckinridge. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1968. Copyright 1968 by Gore Vidal. Published simultaneously in Canada (Toronto) by Little, Brown and Company. Also in 1968, a bowdlerized edition was published in London by Blond.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
First American edition published in trade cloth binding.
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
136 leaves, pp. [8][1-4]5[6]7[8-9]10-11[12]13-20[21]22-24 [25]26[27]28-30[31]32-36[37]38-41[42]43-45[46]47-52[53]54 [55]56[57]58-63[64-65]66-75[76]77-78[79]80-86[87]88-94[95] 96[97]98-101[102]103-110[111]112-113[114]115-118[119]120 [121]122-124[125]126-130[131]132-133[134]135-136[137]138 [139]140-149[150]151-152[153]154-155[156]157-185[186]187-191 [192]193-198[199-200]201-204[205]206-207[208]209-215[216] 217-221[222]223-226[227]228-241[242]243-247[248]249-251 [252]253-259[260-261]262-264
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
The first edition is neither edited nor introduced.
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
The first edition is not illustrated.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
Page measures 208mm X 135mm. Text measures 153mm X 93mm. The book is printed in two different typefaces which alternate throughout. The first, a serif type that measures 99R and fits 31 lines to a page, is well printed, of medium darkness, and comfortable to read. Spacing between lines is generous. The alternate typeface, which appears on pages 21-24, 53-54, 76-78, 95-96, 111-113, 125-130, 150-152, and 222-226, is also a serif type, but measures 85R and fits 36 lines to a page. This type has significantly less space between lines and is uncomfortable to read, causing a noticeable strain to the eyes.
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
Book is printed on a medium heavy wove paper with a rough texture, in good condition with no markings or tears. The paper is not noticeably discolored.
11 Description of binding(s)
Bound in black cloth with LB stamp on front cover; very good condition. Spine reads: GORE VIDAL|Myra Breckinridge [sideways]|LITTLE, BROWN. There is a glossy black dust jacket with gold lettering that reads: MYRA BRECKENRIDGE|A Novel by GORE VIDAL. In the center is a black and white illustration of a costumed woman dancing. Also in gold lettering, the spine of the dust jacket reads: Gore Vidal|MYRA BRECKENRIDGE [sideways]|Little, Brown|902500. The back cover of the dust jacket shows a photograph of a pair of sculpted male heads. Inside front flap reads: A new|and very different|novel|by the author of|JULIAN|and|WASHINGTON, D.C.|Photo courtesy of Hotel Sahara. Dust jacket shows considerable wear and tear, with a one-inch tear across the top of the spine. Endpapers are dark gray and blank.
12 Transcription of title page
Recto: Myra|Breckinridge|by GORE VIDAL|LITTLE, BROWN AND COMPANY*BOSTON*TORONTO Verso: COPYRIGHT 1968 BY GORE VIDAL|ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO PART OF THIS BOOK MAY BE REPRO-|DUCED IN ANY FORM OR BY ANY ELECTRONIC OR MECHANICAL|MEANS INCLUDING INFORMATION STORAGE AND RETRIEVAL SYS-|TEMS WITHOUT PERMISSION IN WRITING FROM THE PUBLISHER,|EXCEPT BY A REVIEWER WHO MAY QUOTE BRIEF PASSAGES IN A|REVIEW.|LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NO. 68-1475|FIRST EDITION|Published simultaneously in Canada|by Little, Brown & Company (Canada) Limited|PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
Unknown.
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
First leaf contains a pencil marking that is difficult to read but appears to say: 1st Edn__. On the back is the publisher's listing of other books by Gore Vidal. Second and fifth leaves read Myra|Breckinridge. The fourth leaf contains the author's dedication: For Christopher Isherwood.
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
N/A
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
There were at least three printings of the first edition by Little, Brown. According to the February 26, 1968 issue of Publisher's Weekly, the book had gone into its third printing, with a total of 85,000 copies in print, before the actual date of publication (February 29).
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge. New York: Bantam Books, 1968. Paperback edition. Myra Breckinridge. London: Blond, 1968. Bowdlerized edition. Myra Breckinridge. St Albans: Panther, 1968. Myra Breckinridge. London: Panther Books, 1968. Myra Breckinridge. London: Panther Books, 1969. Myra Breckinridge. St Albans: Panther, 1976. Myra Breckinridge; Myron. New York: Random House, 1986. Myra Breckinridge; Myron. New York: Vintage Books, 1986. Myra Breckinridge & Myron. London: Abacus, 1986. Myra Breckinridge & Myron. Grafton, 1986. Myra Breckinridge; Myron. New York: Vintage Books, 1987. Vintage contemporaries series. Myra Breckinridge & Myron. Grafton, 1989. Myra Breckinridge; Myron; Kalki; Duluth. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1992. Myra Breckinridge & Myron. London: Abacus, 1993. Myra Breckinridge; Myron. New York: Penguin Books, 1997. Penguin twentieth-century classics series.
6 Last date in print?
Currently in print as of February, 2000.
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
According to Hackett's 80 Years of Best Sellers, there were 2,180,000 copies sold as of 1977.
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
Unknown
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
According to the Publisher's Weekly dated February 26, 1968, there was no consumer advertising for the book previous to its publication on February 29, 1968. On July 29, 1968, a full-page ad from Bantam appeared in Publisher's weekly, including the following excerpts: "Everything you've heard about MYRA BRECKINRIDGE is true! -A number one national bestseller and still a leader after 22 consecutive weeks. -The book that has become the year's number one topic of conversation. .... -The eyebrow-raising story that Newsweek called, "a dazzling, humorous, horrifying creation...shocking some, tickling others, outraging many." ... -To be followed by Bantam's razzle-dazzle nation-wide promotion and publicity centering around the famous MYRA BRECKINRIDGE statue. -A Bantam Super Release in September. $1.25"
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
As alluded to in Bantam's ad in the July 29 issue of Publisher's Weekly, and subsequently announced in the PW tips section on September 16, 1968, a 16'2" statue of the cowgirl pictured on the book's cover undertook a two-week tour of major U.S. cities in the fall as promotion for the book. The statue was sculpted by Rudy Vargas, weighed 500 pounds, and stood on a float with the words "Here comes Myra Breckinridge." The tour was coordinated as part of the Bantam-Twentieth Century Fox publicity campaign for the book.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
Myra Breckinridge was made into a movie of the same name in 1970, directed by Michael Sarne and starring Raquel Welch, Rex Reed and Mae West. The movie was originally X-rated and was poorly received across the board. The screenplay, by Michael Sarne and David Giler, was published in 1969 by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. in Hollywood, California. In 1970, Little, Brown published The Myra Breckinridge Cookbook, by Howard Austen and Beverly Pepper. It was intended as a spinoff of the movie adaptation, was heavily illustrated and offered recipes arranged according to cinematic themes.
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
Myra Breckinridge. Paris: R. Laffont, 1970. 280p; 20cm. [French] Myra Breckinridge. Hamburg: Rowalt, 1970. 155p; 19cm. [German] Maira Brekinritz. Athaena: Ekdoseis "Nea Synora", 1986. 209p; 21cm. [Greek] Myra Breckinridge. Poznaan: Obserwator, 1992. 226p; 20cm. Myra Breckinridge. Barcelona: Grijalbo, 1968. 266p. [Spanish] Myra Breckinridge. Barcelona: Grijalbo, 1978. 266p; 20cm. [Spanish] Myra Breckinridge. Barcelona: Grijalbo, 1986. 266p; 18cm. [Spanish] Myra Breckinridge. Milano: Garzanti, 1973. 261p; 18cm. [Italian] Myra Breckinridge. Berlin: Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1969. 318p; 21cm. [German]
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
N/A
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
Myron. New York: Random House, 1974.
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Eugene Luther Vidal was born October 3, 1925, at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. His father, Eugene Vidal, was an aviation expert who later served as director of air commerce under Franklin D. Roosevelt. His mother, Nina Gore Vidal, was the Washington socialite daughter of Thomas Pryor Gore, the first senator from Oklahoma. It was during the first ten years of Vidal's life, when he and his parents resided in his grandfather's Washington mansion, that he grew accustomed to mingling with famous names like Eleanor Roosevelt, Huey Long and Amelia Earhart. Although his parents later divorced, Vidal continued living a privileged life surrounded by prominent members of Washington society when not attending a string of boarding schools. It was, however, his grandfather Senator Gore, a populist, who would most influence his political ideology and his writings (Dictionary of Literary Biography 235-6). During his time as a student at the elite boys' school St. Albans, Vidal met Jimmie Trimble, who he spends much of his memoir remembering as the one great love of his life, "the half of me that never lived to grow up" (419). They were "schoolboy lovers" until Jimmie's death at age twenty in World War II; soon after Vidal met Howard Austen, with whom he has lived for nearly fifty years as of 1999. Much has been made of Vidal's ideas about sexuality as well as his own bisexuality, as can be seen in such books as Sexually Speaking: Collected Sex Writings and Views from a Window: Conversations with Gore Vidal. After graduating in 1943 from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, Eugene Luther changed his name to Gore and enlisted in the army, where he wrote his first novel. When Vidal was twenty-one years old, Williwaw was published by E. P. Dutton, a firm that was employing him as an editor after his medical discharge from the Army. The book was well received by the critics, and provided Vidal with the confidence he needed to resign his position and "chance full-time in New York City the life of a literary wunderkind" (DLB 236). Seven novels later, he found himself in need of a financial boost, and formulated a "five-year plan" which involved moving to Hollywood to take a chance at writing television and film screenplays, in the hope of earning lifelong financial stability (Gale 1999). He was prolific in this endeavor as in his fiction writing: he was involved in the writing and adaptation of between twenty and thirty teleplays as well as a dozen Hollywood screenplays including The Catered Affair (1956), I Accuse (1958), Suddenly Last Summer (1959) and Is Paris Burning? (1966). Over his fifty-year career he has also published numerous collections of essays, stage plays, short stories, a trilogy of mysteries under the pseudonym Edgar Box, and some twenty-three novels including his critically-acclaimed American Chronicle series of historical novels. Politics have played a seminal role in much of Vidal's work, and he has attempted during various periods in his life to become directly involved, running as a Democrat in Congressional elections in 1960 and 1982, and founding the ephemeral New Party at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. He is widely known as a political commentator and "critic of the American establishment" (DLB 238), appearing frequently on television talk shows and infusing much of his writing with his own "correctionist" ideals (Gale 1999). This is evident in his twin novels Myra Breckinridge and Myron, which, while mostly known for their near-pornographic, campy humor, "contain serious diagnoses of the relationship between power and sex and between politics and cinema-diagnoses that link the two novels to major themes of the American Chronicle and of the essays" (DLB 240). Written, according to Vidal, over a period of one month, Myra Breckinridge may have been informed in part by Vidal's friendship with the famous diarist Anais Nin during the forties (108). As of 1999, Gore Vidal resides in Ravello, Italy. He is represented by the William Morris Agency, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY, 10019. The bulk of his papers are held by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin at Madison. He also has manuscripts at the libraries of the University of Florida, Yale University, Boston University, Syracuse University, and the University of Texas. Sources: Kiernan, Robert F. Gore Vidal. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1982. Stanton, Robert J. and Gore Vidal, eds. Views from a Window: Conversations with Gore Vidal. Secaucus, N.J.: Lyle Stuart Inc., 1980. Vidal, Gore. Palimpsest: A Memoir. New York: Random House, 1995. "Gore Vidal" Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 152: American Novelists since World War II. Gale, 1995. Contemporary Authors Online. The Gale Group, 1999. www.galenet.com
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Since the time of its publication, reviewers of Myra Breckinridge have been split more or less into two camps: those who denounce the book as shallow, over-indulgent pornography and those who look beyond the novel's graphic and frequently vulgar descriptions of unconventional sex to rank it as one of Vidal's greatest novels ever. A Choice reviewer in April 1968 called Myra "sordid but important," saying that it was "unpleasant reading but the black humor (mature and not absurd) and the basic point carry the book." Most favorable contemporary reviews, in fact, appear to have taken a similar position, recognizing the meaningfulness of the novel while recoiling at the 'kinky' nature of both plot and language. In a review for the New York Times Book Review, James McBride wrote: "[Myra is] a shocker as artfully mechanized as a Keystone Kops chase sequence. Plus, of course, standard gamey bits: the ambidextrous orgy-scene; the sadistic daydreams of the protagonist?And yet, the author's cheerful nihilism is suited to his outrageous theme." In that issue, dated February 18, McBride successfully predicted the book's jump to bestseller status only eight days later: "Once the word gets round, it will sell like popcorn at a double feature." Even the worst of the reviews of Myra allowed a moment to congratulate Vidal on his wit, considered by many critics to be the solitary redeeming quality of the story. Eric Moon, writing for Library Journal, conceded that "there are some wonderful, memorable, funny lines here and there," but went on to conclude that "the novel as a whole adds up to only a rather damp fizzle. Gore Vidal has written some good novels, but this isn't one of them." P.D. Zimmerman for Newsweek was of a similar opinion, acknowledging the book as "witty, imaginative, [and] full of élan Vidal," but was otherwise brutal in his criticism: "[Vidal] chops the narrative in short chapters tailored to the shrinking attention of the McLuhanized mind. He tells his tale in the first person for immediacy and seasons it with easily digestible vest-pocket essays. His book is short on traditional character development, long on sex of all kinds and cinematic in method?[It concerns the] cool, bleak world of inversion and onanistic fantasy, told with a passion for anatomical detail that Vidal's audience, conventional or cathode, is, in the main, unlikely to share?The book is a put-on, a sexual game, but one in which Vidal too often succumbs to the erotic fantasies he has created." Summing up the early critical reception in a 1974 article for The New Republic, James Boatright wrote: "Myra Breckinridge burst onto the scene, and many thought Vidal had taken leave of his senses. It seemed to them neither serious nor responsible, a smutty joke at best, more alarmingly and more likely, evidence of some kind of kinky aberration." All in all, it seems that few reviewers immediately after Myra's publication were able to fully choose a side, opting to both admire Vidal's comic capabilities and turn up their noses at the filthy nature of the joke. The difference between favorable and disgusted reviews boiled down to the side of the fence each critic chose to lean toward. Once a few years had passed, however, some critics became bolder in their appreciation for the novel. In early 1972, Gerald Clarke declared in The Atlantic Monthly that "In Myra Breckinridge?Vidal created a comic masterpiece, and what were faults in the earlier novels-a coldness and passionless analysis of love and sex-became major virtues?In Myra, Vidal at last had found his voice as a novelist." Sources: Boatright, James in The New Republic, 7 December 1974: 20-21. Choice, April 1968: 5. Clarke, Gerald. "Petronius Americanus: The Ways of Gore Vidal," in The Atlantic Monthly, March 1972: 44-51. McBride, James in New York Times Book Review, 18 February 1968: 44. Moon, Eric in Library Journal, 15 March 1968: 93. Zimmerman, P.D. in Newsweek, 26 February 1968: 71.
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Since the time of its publication, reviewers of Myra Breckinridge have been split more or less into two camps: those who denounce the book as shallow, over-indulgent pornography and those who look beyond the novel's graphic and frequently vulgar descriptions of unconventional sex to rank it as one of Vidal's greatest novels ever. A Choice reviewer in April 1968 called Myra "sordid but important," saying that it was "unpleasant reading but the black humor (mature and not absurd) and the basic point carry the book." Most favorable contemporary reviews, in fact, appear to have taken a similar position, recognizing the meaningfulness of the novel while recoiling at the 'kinky' nature of both plot and language. In a review for the New York Times Book Review, James McBride wrote: "[Myra is] a shocker as artfully mechanized as a Keystone Kops chase sequence. Plus, of course, standard gamey bits: the ambidextrous orgy-scene; the sadistic daydreams of the protagonist?And yet, the author's cheerful nihilism is suited to his outrageous theme." In that issue, dated February 18, McBride successfully predicted the book's jump to bestseller status only eight days later: "Once the word gets round, it will sell like popcorn at a double feature." Even the worst of the reviews of Myra allowed a moment to congratulate Vidal on his wit, considered by many critics to be the solitary redeeming quality of the story. Eric Moon, writing for Library Journal, conceded that "there are some wonderful, memorable, funny lines here and there," but went on to conclude that "the novel as a whole adds up to only a rather damp fizzle. Gore Vidal has written some good novels, but this isn't one of them." P.D. Zimmerman for Newsweek was of a similar opinion, acknowledging the book as "witty, imaginative, [and] full of élan Vidal," but was otherwise brutal in his criticism: "[Vidal] chops the narrative in short chapters tailored to the shrinking attention of the McLuhanized mind. He tells his tale in the first person for immediacy and seasons it with easily digestible vest-pocket essays. His book is short on traditional character development, long on sex of all kinds and cinematic in method?[It concerns the] cool, bleak world of inversion and onanistic fantasy, told with a passion for anatomical detail that Vidal's audience, conventional or cathode, is, in the main, unlikely to share?The book is a put-on, a sexual game, but one in which Vidal too often succumbs to the erotic fantasies he has created." Summing up the early critical reception in a 1974 article for The New Republic, James Boatright wrote: "Myra Breckinridge burst onto the scene, and many thought Vidal had taken leave of his senses. It seemed to them neither serious nor responsible, a smutty joke at best, more alarmingly and more likely, evidence of some kind of kinky aberration." All in all, it seems that few reviewers immediately after Myra's publication were able to fully choose a side, opting to both admire Vidal's comic capabilities and turn up their noses at the filthy nature of the joke. The difference between favorable and disgusted reviews boiled down to the side of the fence each critic chose to lean toward. Once a few years had passed, however, some critics became bolder in their appreciation for the novel. In early 1972, Gerald Clarke declared in The Atlantic Monthly that "In Myra Breckinridge?Vidal created a comic masterpiece, and what were faults in the earlier novels-a coldness and passionless analysis of love and sex-became major virtues?In Myra, Vidal at last had found his voice as a novelist." Sources: Boatright, James in The New Republic, 7 December 1974: 20-21. Choice, April 1968: 5. Clarke, Gerald. "Petronius Americanus: The Ways of Gore Vidal," in The Atlantic Monthly, March 1972: 44-51. McBride, James in New York Times Book Review, 18 February 1968: 44. Moon, Eric in Library Journal, 15 March 1968: 93. Zimmerman, P.D. in Newsweek, 26 February 1968: 71.
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
Myra Breckinridge was Gore Vidal's tenth novel and, by nearly all accounts, his wildest. It may also be one of the most difficult American bestsellers to classify. At the time of its publication, and continuing through the end of the twentieth century, critics were sharply divided in their opinions of the book; they either loved it or hated it. Certainly it has never been a book to inspire ambivalence. The back cover of the Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics edition describes the novel thus: "No one remains untouched by the luscious Myra Breckinridge's quest for Hollywood fame. Her job teaching Empathy and Posture at the Academy of Drama and Modeling gives her the perfect opportunity to vamp, scheme, and seduce her way into the undiscovered lives and passions of others-while trying to keep a few secrets of her own." Yet this blurb hardly begins to give the browser a real sense of the novel. Many critics have considered Myra Breckinridge the quintessential example of Gore Vidal's famously biting wit; it is also a clear reflection of the author's own, often radical, political views. The setting is a fictional version of Hollywood, and the story's centerpiece is Myra's recent male-to-female sex change operation. Myra herself is a purveyor of constant criticism, of the government, of the younger generation of the sixties, of the arbitrariness of traditional gender roles, and of the state of the world in general. She is a woman with a mission, which she states as follows: "the destruction of the last vestigial traces of traditional manhood in the race in order to realign the sexes, thus reducing population while increasing human happiness and preparing humanity for its next stage" (36). Myra's strategy for accomplishing her mission involves befriending the most handsome male student in her class, Rusty, and raping him with a prosthetic penis in hopes of turning him away from his traditional heterosexuality forever, then seducing his girlfriend, Mary-Ann. Clearly Myra Breckinridge is a novel with a highly radical politics behind it, not to mention some very unconventional and graphic sex scenes. While it may seem difficult to pinpoint how the book ever got to the top of the Publisher's Weekly bestseller list in the first place, it is possible to place it firmly within a few categories and therefore relate it to twentieth-century bestsellers in general. These categories include, but are certainly not limited to, the Zeitgeist novel, voyeuristic novels about sexual oddities, and the broader group of books dealing with sex in general. In early 1968, the time Myra Breckinridge was published, the United States was firmly ensconced in the sexual revolution. The sixties had introduced the concept of free love into the average American's vocabulary, and the seventies' boom in feminism was not far on the horizon. Myra Breckinridge is one of the great feminists of the time, having made herself, quite literally, into exactly the woman she wants to be, refusing to be restrained by any man from achieving her goals. She is also a great proponent of free love, although she spends much of her narration fiercely denouncing the drug use and other stupidity of the countercultural youth of the sixties. In this sense Vidal wrote a timely novel; it seems safe to say that the same book would not have made it onto the bookstore racks had it been submitted for publication even fifteen years earlier. Leafing through old issues of Publisher's Weekly for the years of at least 1967 on, the proliferation of ads for books whose main focus is sex becomes increasingly and startlingly noticeable. Not just novels but non-fiction enquiries into sexuality become very popular both in publishing-world advertising and on the bestseller lists as the sixties yield to the seventies. This can be attributed at least in part to the growth of liberal attitudes towards sexuality and women's increased freedoms characteristic of American society in the late 1960s. Myra Breckinridge can be placed in this Zeitgeist category with certain other bestsellers which have proved to be particularly timely. In fact, many books in this category would surely never have been published in another time. A prime example of this type of book is the 1994 book titled Politically Correct Bedtime Stories. The early nineties marked the introduction of the concept of political correctness into middle-class American speech, and in fact was a time of near-hyperactive enforcement of this new set of protocol rules. 1994 was a year when the idea of political correctness had been circulating in the common language for long enough to be joked about, yet was still enough of a hot topic to concern many people as a serious issue. Myra Breckinridge is a comparable example for the sixties, the decade of the sexual revolution, during which "the idea of the 'new morality' flew in the face of convention, especially the traditional moral standard of confining sexual relations to monogamous married couples" (Olson 410). Perhaps most significantly, Myra Breckinridge is a voyeur's novel. Myra is a sexually uninhibited woman, at least in her mind and in her writing. Throughout her narration, she is continually making observations about her own past sexual experiences as a man named Myron as well as about the sexuality of those around her. When introducing two of her colleagues at the Academy, Myra describes both in terms of their sexuality and appearance: "One of them is a Negro queen named Irving Amadeus?Fortunately Miss Cluff, the other teacher, has no interest in love, at least of the caritas sort. She is lean and profoundly Lesbian, forever proposing that we go to drive-in movies together in her secondhand Oldsmobile" (69-70). Most telling, though, is Chapter 29, the longest chapter in the novel at twenty-three pages, in which Myra records in her journal the experience of anally raping her student, Rusty, having thus finally "achieved in life every dream" (128). She describes the act in vivid detail, recreating every word, every facial expression, every drop of sweat issued during Rusty's visit to Myra's 'office' late one night at the Academy. While the goings-on in this particular chapter are not of the traditional sort of titillations, they are graphically sexual and in fact not unlikely to provoke a mixed reaction. Myra herself, in fact, is somewhat ambivalent in her desires for Rusty, as evidenced in the following passage: "For one thing I had half feared to find him not clean-unlike so many anal erotics I am not at all attracted by fecal matter, quite the reverse in fact. Yet had he not been tidy, his humiliation would have been total. So I was torn between conflicting desires" (135-6). This is not the sort of sexual encounter most readers would have felt able to relate closely to; in fact many reviewers admitted to being disgusted by Myra's attitude toward and treatment of Rusty. The chapter continues in this often awkward vein as Myra accomplishes her goal of penetrating Rusty with an enormous dildo: "He cried out again, begged me to stop, but now I was like a woman possessed, riding, riding, riding my sweating stallion into forbidden country, shouting with joy as I experienced my own sort of orgasm, oblivious to his staccato shrieks as I delved that innocent flesh?I was the eternal feminine made flesh, the source of life and its destroyer, dealing with man as incidental toy, whose blood as well as semen is needed to make me whole!" (150). Myra Breckinridge is not the typical titillating fare; rather, many readers witness such scenes as the rape of Rusty with a half-horrified fascination, torn between reading on and tossing the book to the floor in disgust. In this aspect, Myra Breckinridge is comparable to Philip Roth's 1969 bestseller, Portnoy's Complaint. Roth's novel represents another entry in a category that could be labeled something like Sexual Oddities for Voyeurs. It is significant that the two novels came out within a year of one another at the end of the 1960s. Another novel whose main focus is the sexuality of its narrator and protagonist, Portnoy's Complaint was also disdained by many readers as pornography when it came out. Yet it too made it to the bestseller lists. There are several identifiable reasons for the popularity of Roth's novel, one major one of which is its portrayal of Jewish childhood and adolescence in America. However, the combination of titillation and over-the-top, sometimes nauseating sexual perversity seems in both Myra Breckinridge and Portnoy's Complaint to have been a recipe for literary success. This is largely attributable to the fact that in the sixties, as Olson observes, "sex became an obsessive preoccupation of the decade" (411). Myra Breckinridge can also be located within the broader category of sex-oriented books, both fiction and non-fiction, published in steadily growing numbers throughout the 1960s and 70s. Books like Helen Gurley Brown's 1962 women's liberation manifesto Sex and the Single Girl, Jacqueline Susann's 1966 melodrama Valley of the Dolls, and John Updike's 1968 novel Couples, all contributed to the national cultural atmosphere of sexual inquiry and openness. This observation is merely an extension of the understanding that the sixties were an age of revolution in cultural and societal norms, and especially in ways of thinking about these things. Myra Breckinridge is a remarkable illustration of just how important it is for a book to come into the market at the right time, and how much of an impact proper timing can make on the success of a book in terms of the publishing industry. Sources: Baker, Susan and Curtis S. Gibson, eds. Gore Vidal: A Critical Companion. London: Greenwood Press, 1997. Olson, James S., ed. Historical Dictionary of the 1960s. London: Greenwood Press, 1999. Vidal, Gore. Myra Breckinridge / Myron. New York: Penguin Books, 1997.
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