The first edition
|Media type||Print (hardcover & paperback)|
|Preceded by||Washington D.C.|
Myra Breckinridge is a 1968 satirical novel by Gore Vidal written in the form of a diary. 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. The controversial book is also "the first instance of a novel in which the main character undergoes a clinical sex-change." Set in Hollywood in the 1960s, the novel also contains candid and irreverent glimpses into the machinations within the film industry.
Myra Breckinridge 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 the novel as a canonical work in his book The Western Canon. Vidal called Myra his favorite of his books, and published a sequel, Myron, in 1974. Both 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.
Myra Breckinridge explores the mutability of gender-role and sexual-orientation as being social constructs established by social mores. The first novel whose main character undergoes a clinical sex-change, Edmund Miller praised the concept as "a brilliantly chosen image for satire of contemporary mores." Arnie Kantrowitz called the titular character a "comic surrogate [who] looks at life from both sides" and "wields a wicked dildo in her war against gender roles," and Joseph Cady wrote that the novel "skewers conventional American sexuality".
- Altman, Dennis. Gore Vidal's America. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2005. p. 132.
- Miller, Edmund. "Vidal, Gore (1925-2012)". glbtq.com. Retrieved February 4, 2015.
- Altman. Gore Vidal's America. 2005. p. 148.
- Bloom, Harold. The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1994. P. 534.
- Summers, Claude J. (August 1, 2012). "In Memoriam: Gore Vidal (1925-2012)". glbtq.com. Retrieved February 6, 2015.
- Hadleigh, Boze (2001). The Lavender Screen: The Gay and Lesbian Films : Their Stars, Makers, Characters, and Critics. Citadel Press. p. 108. ISBN 0-8065-2199-6.
- "Cinema: Some Sort of Nadir". TIME. July 6, 1970. Retrieved February 6, 2015.
- Kelly, Herb (August 29, 1970). "Breckinridge Worst Ever". The Miami News.
- Hoberman, J.; Rosenbaum, Jonathan (1991). Midnight Movies. Da Capo Press. p. 268. ISBN 0-306-80433-6.
- Conner, Floyd (2002). Hollywood's Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Lucky Breaks, Prima Donnas, Box Office Bombs, and Other Oddities. Brassey's. p. 65. ISBN 1-57488-480-8.
- Vidal, Gore (1996). Palimpsest : a memoir. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Penguin. p. 108. ISBN 0140260897.
- Kiernan, Robert F. (1982). Gore Vidal. Frederick Ungar Publishing, Inc. pp. 94–100.
- Kantrowitz, Arnie. "Humor: Use of a Surrogate and Connecting Openly Gay and Lesbian Characters to a Larger Society". glbtq.com. Retrieved February 4, 2015.
- Cady, Joseph. "American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969". glbtq.com. p. 9. Retrieved February 5, 2015.