Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Let's Get Literary - Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's

Hello Kittens!

Since my LBD posting, I've been experiencing a mini Breakfast at Tiffany's obsession.  I started thinking, though I haven't seen the movie in a while, I have seen it a few times...but I've never actually read Truman Capote's 1958 novella.  Because there aren't enough titles on my Book Club list, I decided to remedy that and give it a read.

First edition cover. Pick up a copy here

The novella is a story told in retrospect, set on the Upper East Side of New York in the autumn of 1943.  It is completely told from the viewpoint of an unnamed man who we know only as Fred - a name given to him by his eccentric neighbor, Holly Golightly.  Holly is referred to as a Café Society Girl, one who does not have a job, but lives on the generosity of wealthy men and the benefits of running in the right circles.  One of the misconceptions is that she is a prostitute, but Capote had gone on the record to say that while she was a party girl and was paid by men to hang on their arm, she was NOT, in fact, a hooker.  Holly herself addresses the issue - "Not that I've warmed the multitudes some people say: I don't blame the bastards for saying it, I've always thrown out such a jazzy line."

Holly is unconventional.  Her driving force is her quest to find herself, find a place where she truly belongs.  I get the feeling that she feels that as she hasn't attained that sense of belonging, her actions have no consequence.  To her, everything is temporary, because everything has always been so.  It can be seen in her attitude toward her cat.  "Poor slob...poor slob without a name.  It's a little inconvenient, his not having a name.  But I haven't any right to give him one: he'll just have to wait until he belongs to somebody.  We just sort of took up by the river one day, we don't belong to each other: he's an independent, and so am I.  I don't want to own anything until I know I've found the place when me and my things belong together...It's like Tiffany's...not that I give a hoot about jewelry.  Diamonds, yes.  But it's tacky to wear diamonds before you're forty; and even that's risky.  They only look right on really old girls...wrinkles and bones, white hair and diamonds: I can't wait.  But that's not why I'm mad about Tiffany's...You know those days when you've got the mean reds?"  "Same as the blues?"  "No, the blues are because you're getting fat or maybe it's been raining too long.  You're sad, that's all.  But the mean reds are horrible.  You're afraid and you sweat like hell, but you don't know what you're afraid of.  Except something bad is going to happen, only you don't know what it is...what I've found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany's.  It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing bad could happen to you there, not with those men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets.  If I could find a real-life place that made me feel like Tiffany's, then I'd buy some furniture and give the cat a name."

Despite her lack of convention, you cannot help but fall in love with Holly.  When you see the world through her eyes, there is something magical, something captivating.  She represents a freedom, living for the moment without regard for much of anything aside from having a good time and embracing who you are.  She is described as "a crazy.  A phony.  But a real phony." because she truly believes in what she says.  She embraces the fact that she is 'a lopsided romantic.'  As she sees it, she's simply being true to herself - "Good things only happen to you if you're good.  Good?  Honest is more what I mean.  Not law-type honest - I'd rob a grave, I'd steal two bits off a dead man's eyes if I thought it would contribute to the day's enjoyment - but unto thyself-type honest.  Be anything, but a coward, a pretender, an emotional crook, a whore: I'd rather have cancer than a dishonest heart."  Holly loves passionately and freely, accepting people as they are and is very much ahead of her time with her views on love and equal rights "I'd settle for Garbo any day.  Why not?  A person ought to be able to marry men or women...love should be allowed.  I'm all for it."

Holly has a very laissez-faire attitude about most things, but there is a sadness to it all, to her.  She doesn't allow you to glimpse it often, but when she does, it's heartbreaking.  "Never love a wild thing...you can't give your heart to a wild thing: the more you do, the stronger they get.  Until they're strong enough to run into the woods.  Or fly into a tree.  Then a taller tree.  Then the sky.  That's how you'll end up...if you let yourself love a wild thing.  You'll end up looking at the sky."  I get the feeling Holly wants to be all things to all people, genuinely wanting to make them happy, but doesn't quite know how to do that while making herself happy.  "I do feel guilty, I guess it's because I let him go on dreaming when I wasn't dreaming a bit.  I was just vamping for a time to make a few self-improvements.  I knew damn well I'd never be a movie star.  It's too hard and if you're intelligent, it's too embarrassing...I don't mean I'd mind being rich and famous.  That's very much on my schedule, and someday I'll try to get around to it; but if it happens, I'd like to have my ego tagging along.  I want to still be me when I wake up one fine morning and have breakfast at Tiffany's." 

For those that have both read the novella and seen the movie adaptation, I think it's easy to forget the sadness of the novella once we see the movie and see Holly flitting around.  The feeling we are left with from the movie is the ease with which she moves...the aesthetic that we've come to associate with the film and the character.  'One could see that Holly had a laundry problem, the room was strewn, like a girls' gymnasium...she was on her knees poking under the bed.  After she found what she was looking for, a pair of lizard shoes, she had to search for a blouse, a belt, and it was a subject to ponder, how from such wreckage, she evolved the eventual effect: pampered, calmly immaculate, as though she'd been attended by Cleopatra's maids.'  What stays with me is the sadness of the character.  Someone who is so desperate to love herself and find a place to belong, that everything essentially becomes collateral damage.  I've tried to keep the plot out of this posting, so I won't tell you how this ends, but I can tell you, it ends differently from the movie.  And since I'm a little like Holly, a lopsided romantic, I have to say that I missed the Hollywood ending with this one.  Good thing we have the film.

Her quest to find her own personal Tiffany's is one that is universal.  I'm still looking for that brand of magic.  Have any of you found it?  If you have, what is it?  And if not...bonne chance, chatons!

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