Some of Gore Vidal’s family members are irritated that he willed his fortune (almost forty million dollars) to Harvard University. The New York Times interviews various confused friends, like the one in my headline…

It’s not just that Harvard already has close to forty billion dollars in endowment money; it’s that Vidal spent a lot of his life presenting himself as a man of the left who despised the gilded establishment and was mad for the radical redistribution of wealth. People at the very least expected him to set up a foundation in support of free speech and other rights; some expected him to establish his Italy house as a writers’ colony.

So there’s a lawsuit now, with family members making as ugly a spectacle of themselves as Vidal often did toward the end of his life. (“I have no wish to commit literary patricide, or to assassinate Vidal’s character — a character which appears, in any case, to have committed suicide,” wrote Christopher Hitchens in 2010.)

There’s a 2012 essay here, at Inside Higher Ed, about Vidal’s history with Harvard. It features a curious little clip of him portraying a pompous Harvard professor.

Of course for old UD the principle here is simple: He wrote and signed the will; he wasn’t in great shape, that’s true; but giving it to Harvard is a plausible thing for someone as complex in his motives to have wanted, and it should be respected.

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6 Responses to ““Why give it to an institution rolling in money?””

  1. charlie Says:

    Forty million is still forty million, even for Harvard. That kind of coin gets your name placed on something. Would you rather have it adorning something in Italy, or on a building adjoining The Yard? Not that hard to figure out…

  2. Van L. Hayhow Says:

    I never did that much estate work, but the position I have always taken is that it is the decedents money, not the heirs.

  3. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Van: Yup.

  4. Alan Allport Says:

    A clever man, but not wise.

  5. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Alan: I think that sums up a lot of it.

  6. WBH Says:

    He gave all his papers to Harvard in 2002. The Houghton Library houses the papers of some of the country’s greatest writers. He is now there among them with a monetary legacy to make sure hispapers, and he, receive attention.

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