Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

It seems unusual that I should not have seen such an iconic film as Breakfast at Tiffany’s but the title suggested to me a frivolous theme akin to an early sex and the city. The book is short, a few bus rides long, but tells the complete, poignant, irritating story of Miss Holiday Golightly, traveling.

I was going to try to write a review through a purely academic lens, addressing my thoughts about Miss Golightly without too much coloration from my perspective as a provider of erotic and companionable services, but I found myself constantly irritated at her usurpation of my profession (though of course it’s not the same and she came first). I found her conduct to be unethical and unbecoming, her treatment of her friends to be childish, and her fixation on money over affection demoralizing.

First, though, the writing is gorgeous. Evocative, descriptive, poignant, sometimes surprising, I felt every moment like I was watching a film or even living life along with Holly and her friends. I’ve never read anything by Truman Capote but I. am now convinced. He has an unusual way of working with sex workers as a narrative component as demonstrated in the short story ‘House of Flowers’ and also the pastimes of miss Golightly. It may be a side effect of him exploring alternative relationship styles but in any case it’s fair, in that dramatic writers make use equally of whichever interesting characters fall in their way. He writes gossip but in such a way as to make you sympathetic towards all sides. We are both protective and irritated by Holly’s antics and in either case, we find nuance in her relationships. I enjoyed the book and would suggest it for a quick twice-over. I plan on reading it again sometime over the next year.

The narrator, never identified, tells the story of his acquaintance with Holly as a flashback prompted by reminiscences with an old friend. Joe Bell, owner/operator of the bar around the corner from where our narrator and Holly occupied neighboring apartments, calls our narrator to come see something. The two convene in Joe’s bar to view a photo. One of Holly’s other neighbor’s had been a photographer and on a trip across Africa he snapped a shot of a carving. Despite the ten years since they last saw her and despite it being slightly stylized, all of Holly’s acquaintances recognize it as her spitting image. This first impression evokes adventuresses like Jane Goodall and Emilia Earhart but our second glimpse, the beginning of the flashback, brings us a very different image.

Audrey Hepburn was the perfect cast for the role of Holly Golightly. Described as slender and chic, young, with a wide mouth and perfectly arranged accessories, Holly is a young (very young: just shy of 19) woman well aware of her feminine power. It’s hard to tell whether she possesses an unusually precocious self awareness or is compensating for crippling self doubt but either way she powers through suitors and gets what she wants. We first meet her as she turns her evening’s escort down for sex. Her mastery of the situation is obvious; Holly is a master of the art of leading on. Over the course of the evening, she realized that this suitor was not worth her time. Instead of ditching him and finding her way home alone and possibly in danger, she kept her wits about her, prepared herself well, and cut him off at the last moment once she was safely behind her own door. Within moments of meeting her we know that she is what we now call a ‘sugar baby’. She spends time with older, wealthy men, sometimes having sex with them, usually not, but always getting money out of them. Capote himself said of her that she was like a modern American Geisha: entertaining gentlemen for an evening, dining and drinking on their dime, and taking their money home with her whether she chose to sleep with them or not.

In some ways I admire her. She is making the best use of her particularly compelling personality and physique in a man’s world and doing it with surety and charm. She makes friends easily but keeps herself guarded and, had she a bit more discipline, could have accomplished her goals easily. Her adventurousness and vitality inspires those she meets but her constant wanderlust prevents her from forming strong bonds, even with the family she had in the Midwest. Her brother Fred is the only lasting bond she has and his death severs what ties she had.

In other ways, she irritates me. She acts childishly, shunning the genuine care of others, spitefully spreading gossip when thwarted, petulantly manipulating herself into the fond affections of others, and lashing out with words when afraid. She makes money from leading men on, never being true to herself, and she disdains the men she lives off of. Her impulsive behavior finally creates such a tangled situation that she simply flies away, never communicating again with those who grew to love and care for her.

And in many ways, I identify with her. She is young, but old enough to prioritize. She is bright and committed when she puts her mind to something but social enough to maintain relationships all over the city. She is perceptive in many ways, naïve in some, and she fills her life with a wide variety of men. I firmly believe mine are far superior but that’s my hubris talking, haha.

This book stirred some interesting thoughts in me, many of which are still forming, though I read the book several months ago. I noticed as I wrote about Miss Golightly that I had a hard time feeling for her as a character because I kept getting angry at her as a sex worker, then upset with myself at my inability to set my work aside long enough to appreciate the story. My Twitter feed has widened and I’ve gotten to personally know some of those I follow a bit better but at the time I was writing this review, my feed was awash with angry sex workers fighting for their rights and the idea of this little strumpet getting everything (mostly) she wanted without behaving like a professional irritated me. My worldview has softened a bit and gotten more hopeful as the links and posts and little quotes are more sexwork positive, more media outlets are working with us not ‘on our behalf’ without us and as my own feelings towards the outside world improve I remember that we are all humans as much as we are sex workers. Miss Golightly has the right to conduct herself however she chooses, regardless of how I personally feel about it. The same applies to all my brothers, sisters, and Trans colleagues out there conducting themselves differently than me. However they choose to manage themselves is up to them, all you and I can do is react, the same as Holly’s friends and patrons reacted to her. Some were angry, some were sad, some were hopeful, and some were inspired. I will always strive to inspire and give hope but I cannot always be all I wish to be and in the meantime, I only hope no one judges me as harshly as I first judged Miss Holiday Golightly, Traveling.