Worth All the Hype: Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s
"Breakfast at Tiffany’s" is one of those iconic movies that people are fiercely devoted to, largely due to Audrey Hepburn's wide-eyed charm and impossibly chic air. I must admit, though I love Hepburn's style and manner, I never quite understood the frenzy around "Breakfast at Tiffany’s." To me, the movie always felt just a little flat and superficial, as did Hepburn's Holly Golightly. And whatever depth her character and the plot did have vanished with the trite, fairytale, romantic ending (which I won't spoil for those who have, somehow, never seen the film). These longings for a more constructed story drew me to the original Breakfast at Tiffany's, Truman Capote's novella, and I was richly rewarded with a Holly Golightly -- and a Breakfast at Tiffany's -- worth all the hype.
On the surface, Capote's Holly Golightly has the same lighthearted carelessness of Hepburn's Golightly. Capote, however, takes time to flesh out his Holly, both through other's observations as well as through her own. The movie did a disservice to this charming story when it created a romantic lead out of the narrator, and gave him a name and backstory. The book's narrator, Holly's upstairs neighbor, remains anonymous, and tells us only outlines of his own story, so that the focus remains on his impressions of Holly. Though he does love her, it's with a tender fascination and wariness not necessarily conducive to a sexual romance. This allows for a more critical and complete portrait of Holly, as well as a much more fitting end to the novel.
Holly's own observations come through with startling clarity amid her general stream of vagueness, and also add some depth to her laissez-faire persona. Some of her most honest observations are on sex, which were, not shockingly, erased in the Hollywood version. Not only does Holly make explicit reference to her multiple sexual partners and her status as a high-class call girl, she also presents some bold statements on sexuality that are way ahead of their time, though obviously influenced by Capote's homosexuality.
Could you ever imagine Hepburn's Holly Golightly stating: "Of course people couldn't help but think I must be a bit of a dyke myself. And of course I am. Everyone is: a bit"; or "A person ought to be able to marry men or women … Love should be allowed"? These sort of open, honest statements pepper the novella, and give credence to the line, often quoted from both the book and movie, that Holly is "a phony, but a real phony." In the movie, I saw the phony but wished for more of the real. The book delivers with a complex, fragile, obtuse, yet sharp Holly Golightly.