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Myra Breckinridge is a 1968 satirical novel by Gore Vidal written in the form of a diary. It was made into a movie in 1970. Described by the critic Dennis Altman as "part of a major cultural assault on the assumed norms of gender and sexuality which swept the western world in the late 1960s and early 1970s," the book's major themes are feminism, transsexuality, American expressions of machismo and patriarchy, and deviant sexual practices, as filtered through an aggressively camp sensibility. Set in Hollywood in the 1960s, the novel also contains candid and irreverent glimpses into the machinations within the film industry.
The book was dismissed by some of the era's more conservative critics as pornographic at the time of its first publication in February 1968, but nevertheless immediately became a worldwide bestseller and has since come to be considered a classic in some circles. "It is tempting to argue that Vidal said more to subvert the dominant rules of sex and gender in Myra than is contained in a shelf of queer theory treatises," wrote Dennis Altman. Critic Harold Bloom cites Myra Breckinridge as a canonical work in his book The Western Canon. In 1974 Vidal published a sequel, Myron. These books are out of print in America as of 2014.
Myra Breckinridge is an attractive young woman with a mission. She is a film buff with a special interest in the Golden Age of Hollywood—in particular the 1940s—and the writings of real-life film critic Parker Tyler. She comes to the Academy for Aspiring Young Actors and Actresses, owned by her deceased husband Myron's uncle, Buck Loner. Myra gets a job teaching, not just her regular classes (Posture and Empathy), but also, as part of the hidden curriculum, female dominance. Myra selects as her first victim one of the "studs" at the Academy, a straight young man called Rusty Godowsky, and sets out to alienate him from his beautiful girlfriend Mary-Ann Pringle. She lures Rusty to the school infirmary, where she verbally abuses him, ties him to an exam table and anally rapes him with a strap-on dildo. Later, after she is injured in a car crash, it is learned that Myra is Myron, still in the process of sexual reassignment surgery; unable to obtain hormones, Myra reverts to Myron, and, as a result of the injuries she has sustained, is forced to have her breast implants removed. Now a male eunuch, Myron decides to settle down with Mary-Ann.
The subplot of Myra Breckinridge revolves around the character of Letitia Van Allen, an aging, sexually voracious talent scout whom Myra meets and befriends at the academy, whose office boasts a four-poster bed and whose kinky sexual practices ("Those small attentions a girl like me cherishes… a lighted cigarette stubbed out on my derrière, a complete beating with his great thick heavy leather belt…") landed her in hospital, "half paralyzed", at the same time Myra finds herself there towards the end of the novel.
The spirit of the times is also well reflected when Myra attends an orgy arranged by one of the students. She goes, intending only to be an observer, but suffers a "rude intrusion" by a member of the band The Four Skins, from which she derives a perverse, masochistic enjoyment. At an earlier regular party, after "mixing gin and marijuana", she eventually gets "stoned out of her head" and has a fit, then passes out in a bathroom.
- Altman, Dennis. Gore Vidal's America. Cambridge UK: Polity Press, 2005. P. 132.
- Altman, Dennis. Gore Vidal's America. Cambridge UK: Polity Press, 2005. P. 148.
- Bloom, Harold. The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1994. P. 534.
- Vidal, Gore (1996). Palimpsest : a memoir. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Penguin. p. 108. ISBN 0140260897.