Like most people, I think, I saw the film version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s before I read the book. The film itself is so famous, so remembered for the iconic images of Audrey Hepburn with her pearls, and her sunglasses, and her cigarette in its holder, that I think sometimes the details of the story are overlooked. Yet if you sit and study the film, (most of) those details are there – the loneliness and hidden darkness of Holly and Paul’s lives, the strangeness of her story, and her desperation for a better life. The story goes that Capote thought Marilyn Monroe would have been a better fit to play Holly, which does not come as a surprise when you know how much he adored her – but also when you read the novella and you see the complexities of Holly’s character. She is beautiful and perfect, and yet utterly tragic and desperate underneath, much like Monroe. Hepburn is wonderful in the role, but a little too safe. When I read the book, I try to picture someone more like Marilyn.
Once you compare the film and the book it makes sense that Paul is our narrator in the latter. The story is all about Holly, but even in the film we don’t really see things as she sees them; we rarely get to hear how she’s actually feeling. She is made up of glamour and facade, eyelashes, and a cigarette – but underneath there is a real person, one that is sometimes hard to understand. Capote has her enter Paul’s life before they have even met. He hears about her from his barman, as if she is a myth, a legend, something that has to be seen to be believed. And though Capote succeeds beautifully in constructing Holly as a three-dimensional character, she is in many ways his ‘beautiful tragic girl’, the archetype of all his New York stories (Summer Crossing included). But for me she is the One, the best one, the ultimate one, of all these girls.
The relationship between Paul and Holly is one of the most enjoyable elements of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. As in the film they have natural chemistry. The weeks before Holly plans to elope with her Brazilian millionaire are “blurred in memory” for Paul:
perhaps because our understanding of each other had reached that sweet depth where two people communicate more often in silence than in words: an affectionate quietness replaces the tensions, the unrelaxed chatter and chasing about that produce a friendship’s more showy, more, in the surface sense, dramatic moments.
They are really, truly, friends, and this is crucial to Holly’s happiness and her ability to leave him and go and live in Brazil (which she does, unlike the film). In Paul she finds the kindness and appreciation that she needs and craves – but for Holly, it is not that simple. She cannot just have a nice friend and live a nice life – she needs more than that. She needs the glamour, the dream, the impossible happiness. Her postcard at the end of the novella sums this up perfectly:
Brazil was beastly but Buenos Aires best. Not Tiffany’s, but almost. Am joined at the hip with duhvine $enor. Love? Think so. Anyhoo am looking for somewhere to live ($enor has wife, 7 brats) and will let you know address when I know it myself. Mille tendresse.
But, as Paul says, the address was never sent. He wants to write and tell her about his life – and that he saw her lost cat sitting in a window “of a warm looking room”, evidently his new home. “He’d arrived somewhere he belonged. African hut or whatever, I hope Holly has, too.”
You can see Kirsty’s review here.
Originally published in 1958 by Random House. My edition is part of A Capote Reader, published in 2002 by Penguin Modern Classics.