It’s easy to imagine yourself treading in the footprints of a famous writer, we’re encouraged to do so all the time – those blue plaques, those National Trust signs – but it’s altogether a different experience when you find yourself, as I did one evening on the corner of Lexington Avenue in New York, having a shivery goosebump moment, not with a well-known author, but with his fictional character: Holly Golightly.
One of those brownstones, I thought, with a fire escape at the back, that modest bar where she would have gone to make telephone calls and pick up her messages, that yellow cab . . . then there she was, swishing elegantly past in a little black dress, matching elbow-length gloves, and a string of pearls round her neck. Only, of course, I realized a moment later that this wasn’t the ‘real’ Holly Golightly that Truman Capote had so magnificently created in his 1958 novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but a twenty-first-century girl wearing a fashionably retro dress and off to a party or a date. A discombobulating moment, though a peculiarly appropriate one as the ‘real’ Holly is continually re-making her image and social identity.
She belongs, however, in the 1940s, when America was still at war and opportunities for women to pursue careers or gain financial independence were limited. ‘Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever,’ my father used to instruct me, even in the ‘liberated’ 1960s. Holly is neither good nor sweet, but she is clever, and charming, part rôle model, part anti-heroine, her character firmly underpinned by Capote’s deep understanding of the psychology of aspiration and desire.
He began life as Truman Streckfus Persons. His parents divorced when he was 4 and left him in the care of his mother’s hard-up relatives in Monroeville, Alabama. Four years later he was reunited with his mother, Lillie Mae Faulk, who had acquired a second husband, a New York textile broker, Joseph Capote.
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