Daily Mail

Jousts of the literary giants


QUESTION Why did U.S. authors Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal hate each other?

These big beasts in the literary world of post-war America started out writing military novels — Vidal with Williwaw in 1946 and Mailer with The Naked And The Dead in 1948 — but then took different literary paths.

Their characters were poles apart: Mailer was a drinker and brawler; Vidal was cool and urbane, with a unique ability to get under Mailer’s skin.

Though the pair had met — and disliked each other — in the 1950s, the real trouble started in the early 1970s when Vidal reviewed Mailer’s The Prisoner Of sex, a critique of the feminist movement.

Vidal dismissed the work and went as far as to compare Mailer with serial killer Charles Manson. he combined three macho men, henry Miller, Manson and Mailer, into the character of an aggressive chauvinist pig he dubbed ‘M3’. Vidal said they ‘represente­d a continuum in the brutal and violent treatment of women’.

The authors had little in common: Vidal was openly bisexual during a repressive time when this took great courage, while Mailer was a six-times married, harddrinki­ng, bar-room brawler.

In 1960, he was admitted to a psychiatri­c hospital after he stabbed and almost killed his second wife, Adele Morales.

Yet, according to the journalist Gay Talese, a friend of both men: ‘Norman was soft. But he put on this aggressive mask. Vidal had another kind of mask: cool, suave, worldly wise.’

Matters came to a head when the pair were invited to appear on the Dick Cavett TV chat show in 1971. In the green room, the pair had a physical altercatio­n.

It spilled out on to the TV set. Mailer challenged Vidal to apologise for comparing him to Manson. Vidal coolly responded: ‘I’d apologise if — if it hurts your feelings, of course I would.’

Mailer replied: ‘No, it hurts my sense of intellectu­al pollution.’

Vidal smiled serenely: ‘Well, I must say that as an expert, you should know about such things.’

The conversati­on grew ever more hostile with Cavett joining in against Mailer. Obviously drunk, Mailer came off as a bully while Vidal never lost control.

The audience turned on Mailer. When he stated Vidal’s writing was ‘no more interestin­g than the contents of the stomach of an intellectu­al cow’, they booed.

Therafter, the pair avoided each other until a New York party in 1977 when another altercatio­n took place. howard Austen, Vidal’s partner, described the scene: ‘[Mailer] saw Gore surrounded by friends, everyone talking and laughing. Gore was in a good mood as Mailer moved right up to him, got in his face and everybody around them fell pretty silent. It looked like trouble.

‘Norman insulted Gore, threw his drink right in his eyes, then hit him in the mouth. Gore was stunned and stepped back. he wiped a dribble of blood from his mouth with a handkerchi­ef. Gore said: “Norman, once again words have failed you.” ’

In 1984, Mailer called a truce, inviting Vidal to participat­e with him in a fundraisin­g event in New York. ‘Our feud . . . has become a luxury,’ he said.

Vidal responded: ‘I never actually disliked Norman, not really.’

The feud was officially over, but he couldn’t resist one last barb: ‘This was fine with me, as long as I didn’t have to read another of his books.’

Alice Curtis, Jedburgh, Borders.

QUESTION Is there a shoelacing technique superior to the common bow?

shOelACe knots are tied in two stages: a starting knot followed by the finishing bow. It is the knot rather than the bow that determines the success of the lacing.

The direction in which each of those stages is tied determines the balance of the finished knot.

A granny knot is the most common mistake, leading to an unstable shoelace. The granny knot is a reef knot with the ends crossed the wrong way and liable to slip, hence the Boy scout motto:

‘Right over left, left over right, Makes a knot both tidy and tight.’

The correct way to tie a shoelace is the reef knot with drawstring­s, which is technicall­y a slipped reef knot. There are more secure and stylish techniques.

The most popular safe method, used by climbers and hikers, is the surgeon’s shoelace knot or sherpa knot. First make a standard reef knot, but before pulling tight, run the loop around and through the middle for a second time.

A more elegant knot is the Berluti knot or double shoestring knot, created by fashion designer Olga Berluti in the 1970s. Begin as a standard reef and finish by feeding the opposite loop through the middle before tightening. Berluti based it on the Windsor knot for ties.

Joshua Kimm, York.

QUESTION Who was the first person to divide a year into 365 days?

The 365 days of the year have been known since Ancient egyptian times.

Plotting the position of the morning sun as it rose above the horizon, it was noticed that on a daily basis, this spot creeps along the horizon. It eventually comes to a halt at a point we call the solstice — which means sun stand still.

Then it starts to move back along the horizon to where it started. The egyptians calculated the whole journey took 365 days — actually, it takes 365¼ days.

They also realised in those 365 days there were 12 new moons, each 30 days apart, so from one new moon to the next was a ‘moonth’, hence our word month.

With this calendar, the egyptians could start recording events. The year 4236 BC became the first date in recorded history.

Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar after discussion­s with egyptian astronomer­s. A modified version, the Gregorian calendar, replaced it in 1582 to deal more accurately with leap years.

Malcolm Astley, Wolverhamp­ton, W. Mids.

IS THERE a question to which you want to know the answer? Or do you know the answer to a question here? Write to: Charles Legge, Answers To Correspond­ents,

Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT; or email charles.legge@dailymail.co.uk. A selection is published, but we’re unable to enter into individual correspond­ence.

 ?? ??
 ?? ?? Feud: Norman Mailer, above, and Gore Vidal
Feud: Norman Mailer, above, and Gore Vidal

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom