The unnamed narrator of ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ is a writer, who has recently moved into a Manhattan Brownstone inhabited by a cast of characters, most prominently Holly Golightly, who lives below him. Holly nicknames him ‘Fred’, after her brother, who is away in the army. Fred is a writer who can’t publish what he writes. Holly is a lonely party girl, who makes her money by spending her time with wealthy men who give her $50 every time she has to go to the powder room in a fancy restaurant. As the story takes place in the 1940’s, $50 was a lot of money. The average employee in 1949 brought home about $55 a week. So Holly was doing pretty well for herself, though she lived in a small apartment with no furniture other than an elaborate bed, and couldn’t manage to save any money.
Fred and Holly become fast friends, though they have a falling out when she is less than impressed at his first publication (he isn’t being paid for his work. She thinks he should be.) In the book, the relationship between Fred and Holly is purely platonic, and it explores the friendship between a homosexual man and a heterosexual woman.
The film version is a lovely film, and not quite as light and devoid of meaning as I expected. Audrey Hepburn gives Holly a certain empty sadness that is disarming to behold. But the film is different from the book in a few important ways. In the book, ‘Fred’ is a writer with an unnamed source of income, and is most probably gay. In the film, he is a kept man, with a wealthy married woman paying for his apartment and his expenses. Though he’s still a writer, in the movie he’s suffering from a severe bout of writer’s block, as he hasn’t written anything in quite a long time. Being a kept man himself, he and Holly are kindred spirits, and he casts no judgments upon her for making her money by spending her time with wealthy older men. The other main difference between the film and the book is the end. In the book, Holly remains true to her character, she continues to value her freedom above all else. She disappears from New York, and the last Fred has heard of her, she’s been sighted in Africa, and was last seen riding off on horseback with not one, but two men. In the film, her restless spirit is given peace, nay, tamed, by Fred, who is in love with her. She doesn’t leave New York, but instead remains and they probably live happily ever after.
I saw the film a few days before I read the novella. I’m glad, because I really liked the film, liked the romantic twist, liked that they were birds of a feather who really understood each other. But if I had read the novella first, had understood what the characters might really be and become, I would have found the Hollywood ending too pat and predictable. I would recommend both, but for maximum enjoyment, watch the film first. Coming after the book, it might be a letdown.