This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
Maurice Dolbier mentions that three visitors from the USSR are in attendance. He then introduces Gore Vidal, author most recently of "Julian," a work of historical fiction written primarily in the first person dealing with the life of the Roman emperor Flavius Claudius Julianus. He describes the process of writing a book set in the 4th century. Vidal speaks about his own interest in history. He notes that Rome fell for many reasons, among them they never determined a satisfying method of succession. He compares them to the Soviets. He goes on to talk about the discrimination against people by Christians.
Next, Dolbier introduces Louis Auchincloss, author of "The Rector of Justin." He discusses novelists of the Victorian era. He describes these novels as romances between different classes. He speaks at length about the depiction of class in novels. He goes on to discuss the major themes in the modern novel, such as World War II, antisemitism.
Finally, Dolbier introduces David Lilienthal, former director of the Tennessee Valley Authority. He discusses the journals he wrote in shorthand, which were the basis for his book, "Change, Hope and the Bomb." He discusses President Truman's decision that atomic weapons should remain in the hands of the President rather than in the hands of the military. He also mentions J. Edgar Hoover, and other figures from the day.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 71405
Municipal archives id: RT299
This is a machine-generated transcript. Text is unformatted and may contain errors.
Before. Introducing the regulars because today I would like to use three special and welcome guests from the U.S. as our. First is the novelist elects at the check ups gave. Me a good point about Russia and ski. And find out they have a cultural affairs officer of the Soviet Embassy in Washington to make dream arrive. Regrettably I cannot introduce at this time Representative go of it up. Mr The doll was a Democratic candidate in one hundred sixty eight in upstate New York congressional district heavily populated by Republicans. And although he ran up a surprising total of votes not surprisingly he did not win. Quite apart from the issues it would have been pleasant to have had the congressional record in life and with his wit. Now we must continue to make do with the examples of unconscious humor that peppered its pages. However with a few notable exceptions Congress men don't have much free time to devote to other than political affairs and whatever most of it all may think of the Republicans of the twenty ninth congressional district of the plague us filmgoers and readers of the nation have cause to be grateful to them for allowing him more free time to use writing public service after all does not stop at the edge of the Potomac. And most of it also plays film scripts novels and critical essays while they cannot be said to have ensured domestic tranquility have provided for the common defense against doctors and complacency. And have promoted the general welfare by upholding civilized values against the zealots and barbarians in both politics and the arts his recent works include the screen adaptation of his play the best man and his historical novel Julian a triumph of scholarly research and narrative power. His works in progress include a movie about a little extremism in a congressional campaign called Don't rock the boat. A place which Alexander Cohen will produce early next year called a drawing room comedy and a long novel about Washington D.C. It is my pleasure to present Mr Gorbachev. Thank you very much and recenter duction. And I couldn't be more pleased to be here today on a program with you today really and thought my old friend and colleague really often last whose latest novel is sometimes referred to as the rector of Julian. And I am the author of Justin. I was also struck by the find advertisement of this event in the midst of Whitney's Herald Tribune and the three of us you saw that there were full page looks like some huge monster with a single body with three heads sprouting out like a medieval conception of the Trinity. I want to talk about I've been I've been told that Mr Van Doren was your home tayo you could go on over fifteen minutes I can talk for an hour without notes but for fifteen minutes I have to read it. But I shall look up occasionally to give an air of spontaneity. I think I'll just answer some questions I get asked most of the moment and one of them is Mr Darwin to first become interested in the opera Julian and I said Oh that would began with the reading of Gibbon didn't was a great hero to given and the idea but the idea of writing about George in the pasta it occurred to me as long ago as one nine hundred fifty two and recently I prepared a new edition of an old book of mine called Messiah and I was startled to find that one of the characters in the book had contemplated writing a biography of doing the plastic but he gave it up because the human attractive point of view and I'm quoting now was undone for me by those bleak areas indeed in judgement which depressed me even though they derive most light. Likely from the man in his time that fatal wedding which finally was off figures of earlier ages from the present heaving them strange Despite the most intense and imaginative recreating they are not we we are not day and I refuse to resort to the low trick of fashioning Jordan and my own image of him I respect his integrity in time and deplore the division of centuries unquote Now I nearly imitated my own creation and abandon the project but for different reasons and one nine hundred fifty four I began to write plays for television films the theater I also became active in politics. We all know that a serious and important writer in America is one who seriously and importantly to live the same ground here after year until weather permitting there is a splendid harvest which nourishes us all from William Faulkner to gloss this is a most respectable way of being a writer but there are other ways of getting the thing done he said pensively some of us are driven to use many means to attain ends quite as obsessive and singular as those achieved by the writers who stayed home and wrote as they're used to say of him self quoting Horace or writer like Louis as an hereditary farmer I am more a Johnny Appleseed moving restlessly about the world planting trees wherever I think they are needed and I think that exhausts this bucolic metaphor. Another question while you were busy as a dramatist did you continue to think about Julian Yes indeed I did I made notes for many years there's a good deal of source material about Julian three volumes of his own writing exist and there are half a dozen contemporary accounts of his life in the course of a decades reading I became more and more at home in the fourth century and to do a man's life it is necessary to know the time perhaps better than the man because the character you finally create will be a work of your own imagination and that is why paradoxically one must never be free with facts by remaining absolutely accurate in detail one can invent a good deal in spirit. And I nine hundred fifty nine I thought I was ready to write the book I composed the first two chapters and I got the idea for a play called The Best Man and that gave me the idea of running for Congress. And otherwise contributing to the merriment of nations so once more the novel was postponed although one a visit to Athens in one nine hundred sixty one I did write the Athenian chapter as part of my delighted first response to Greece finally suspecting that I might never finish the book I moved to Rome in one nine hundred sixty two and the book was written why did you want to write an historical novel now I've noticed that that question usually means why write about the past since most people dislike reading about the past because we are the most self regarding of generations we lust to read about ourselves and our neighbors and what happened last summer and Johnno O'Hara outsells Robert Graves a thousand to one so why bore readers with the unfamiliar and the old the obvious answer is that one writes novels largely to please oneself also in my case I'm interested in history for its own sake though it is usual to pretend that in reading history we will find lessons from which we can profit today. For instance my conservative friends firmly believe that Rome fell because of a decline in moral values such as can be observed right now at the L.B.J. ranch. And that of Elizabeth Taylor gets married just one more time the Red Chinese will invade and conquer us. History is not all that easy. Rome fell for a variety of reasons the best and most cogent was and it's relevant to the book simply a flaw in their political system they were never able to devise a means of succession whenever an emperor died there was apt to be a struggle for his place by the time Julian became Augustus the Roman Empire had been dangerously weakened by a series of wars of succession the barbarians took advantage of the state of affairs and slowly and gulp civilization and incidentally we should never forget that we are the descendants of the barbarians not the civilized today there's a similar situation in the soviet that we cannot say that will work itself out in precisely the same matter but it is true that the Soviet has not yet achieved an orderly means of succession and it is possible that that could bring trouble but in reading history fictionalized or not there's a certain value in seeing a period of time at a great distance as a story that is entirely told and familiar after all the desire for power is the same at any time and so are human passions and Ray morrow once remarked that of Napoleon Bonaparte and releases the second two were to meet in limbo though they were separated in time by several thousand years they would have more to say to one another than either would have to say to a contemporary who kept a shop as emperors able to discuss the police agriculture bureaucracy and their points of view would be much the same Julian himself would feel quite at home in the White House or the Kremlin though I'm not so sure that the present occupants would feel very easy with him after all Julian was a reformer and reformers don't often become chiefs of state. As for the age of Jordan it is fascinating in fact without some understanding of what happened then it is impossible to have a clear idea of what Christianity is and how it came into being and if we did not understand Christianity then we cannot make much sense of the world we live in because our society morally and intellectually for good and ill is the result of that great force at a series of ecumenical councils during Julian's lifetime the Trinity was invented as well as the doctrine of the Holy Ghost the beginnings of the cult of marriage all these things were hammered out in a series of stormy conventions and there was much violence in fact the murderous instincts of Christian absolutism first emerged in the fourth century and I do not think it an exaggeration to say that over the centuries Christianity has been responsible for more bloodshed than any other force in Western life it was a fourth century man who remarked with a certain aura that not even the wild beasts of the field are savage to one another as the Christians. What is the point in revealing all this now because of one does not understand how Christian absoluteness behaved with the Incas Aztecs and Meyer's for instance in this hemisphere with the Jews everywhere with Africans and Asians as both Congress and missionaries then one will find mystifying the fact that we are so much hated in so many parts of the world why the Jews America tend to be politically liberal why past the twelve years being examined so suspiciously by so many observers to understand what is happening now one must recall that for centuries Christianity maintained that it was the only true religion and that those who resisted it must be converted or destroyed Julian an eager young intellectual was among the first to counter-attack and though he died at thirty three his arguments against the church are a permanent contribution to a dialogue which still continues he opposed the Christians because they refused to tolerate the religious views of others but he did them no violence for which he was denounced it will not even allow us to become martyrs shouted one angry Bishop I find Julian unengaging of a good man his own religious views were very peculiar to say the least he loved magic believed in omens try to organize every superstition and write into one grand Hellenic church and of course he failed but had he lived there is no doubt that Christianity would have been but one of several religions in the West and this diversity might have saved the world considerable anguish one must again make the point that until the Christians appeared no one was ever persecuted because of his religious beliefs were never wrong conquered a new territory the Roman emperors immediately paid homage to the local gods and set up temples to them at Rome it never occurred to anyone that because a man chose to worship a bull or a star of The Sun that he was wrong and must immediately be converted to something else even if he had to be killed in the process. And I was the number of Julian received mysteriously a number of scholars among them so Stephen runs them and the editor of The Cambridge medieval history found the book to be accurate and said so at some length unfortunately a little brown did not get these affidavits to the American reviewers who could not believe that the facts were right to kill in my account of the religious controversy. By the time the book was published in England the scholarship had been attested to a good thing since the British masters of cutting one down to size. Of British reviewers would be something like Mr Smith's biography of William the Conqueror as a lively book marred by occasional odd lapses such as his dating of the Battle of Hastings as ten sixty eight. And his confusion of Ed with the Confessor with Harold by the time the sort of general notice does finish Mr Smith is in shreds. Happily the worst I could say about doing with too much history though I did meet my comeuppance on the B.B.C. with the classics Don who is considered England's foremost four centuries specialist there are he said several grave errors in your book and my heart sank I could see thousands of baby list of listeners deciding not to read the book. What I asked was the worst. He said Your reference to the petulant as a legion they were not a legion but an auxiliary to the Palatine Legion. Everyone knows that she said severely. So I promise to make a change. Is it inhibiting to write a novel about having to bear in mind a thousand facts yes but you get used to it Christopher Isherwood old friend of mine when I read the book he said Good heavens go how would you write anything without wondering if it's true I mean there you would be describing a bird in a garden something that be that awful question your mind did they have birds in the fourth century. But after ten years of reading I found myself reasonably at home in that strange period and of course there were birds in those gardens the trick was to see them play into the footnotes as the writing of the book finally came to an end I must say I felt not the usual relief of having completed a difficult task but a certain melancholy that the thing was done in a part of one's own life that ended at the result was there and I could echo the words of a renaissance historian from somebody asked him why he bothered to write about all things and he said to make the past live again and that is to my mind a congenial occupation. At various times in the life of our second guest today Law I am like those who have taken terms in tipping the scales against each other but they now seem to have achieved an evenhanded balance when he went to Yale New York and Los planned to be a writer in a softer more here he wrote a novel which I knew your publisher turned down he turned his ambitions them to long. Transferred from here to the University of Virginia Law School took a degree and it is a New York law firm. When the war came he enlisted in the Navy spent three years of active sea duty with a previous forces in the Atlantic and Pacific