Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Breakfast at Tiffany's

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.

8 thoughts on “Breakfast at Tiffany’s

  1. I also read this novella, although I haven’t seen the film in a long time and wouldn’t have remembered the ending. Makes me want to see the film now. I love Truman Capote. He’s such a character himself.

  2. I am leaving a comment on your most recent blog but wish to write about a blog I discovered on your site from two years ago titled The Rocky LaPorte Show.
    I am British and live in the UK, but it seems that the marketing ploy and that show they call a sitcom has reached our shores.
    Yesterday I was approached in the street and asked if I would like to watch a pilot episode of a new TV program (and of course the £100 prize draw). Like you, I thought that would be pretty cool so I happily agreed only to find that the show was atrocious and of course the commercials appeared in the middle, this time for decongestant spray. And today the phone call. I was pretty annoyed to learn that watching half an hour of crap was all for market research and share your view.
    If we have to watch something can’t they at least find something that’s good? And using the same show two years later in a different country? I’d call that a teeny bit lazy. I’m just hoping they won’t call back.

  3. It’s hard to believe a person hasn’t seen this movie, but I haven’t. I didn’t even know it was based on a book. I enjoyed your review, as as most movies fall short of the books they are based on, I too tend to watch movies first, otherwise I’m too critical of them. 😉

  4. I love Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I didn’t know it was a novella either, I’m putting it on my TBR list.

  5. J, I enjoyed your contrast of the book with the movie, which I’ve seen a few times. Must read the book now. It’s amazing the disconnect we can have between a book author’s intent and the eventual film’s perception with the general public.

    I don’t know if you are a fan of the movie reviewer Mick LaSalle at all, or read his “Ask Mick” columns in the Chronicle, but in early March of ’08 he wrote a piece on contemporary criticism and later perception. Specifically, in ’61 a reviewer decried the low point films had reached and their decadence, citing Breakfast at Tiffany’s in particular. LaSalle commented on how mild the movie is by our standards, and how he had to watch it 12 times before realizing Holly is a call girl.

    This precipitated another reader to write in to him in mild horror at the assertion. It’s the last letter in this column (by Bert Woods, Brentwood), both touching, and amusing in its own niave way:

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/04/13/PK3OVT7G4.DTL

  6. Ben, thank you for sharing that letter with me! We get the paper, and once in awhile I read ‘ask mick’, but not often, so I missed this.

    At one point (I think in the film, but maybe the book), Holly says that she’s only slept with 11 men in her life (she’s supposed to be 20 in the book), which means she’s not the kind of call girl who stands on the street corner. But any girl who makes her money going to the bathroom at fancy restaurants ain’t on the up and up. And at one point in the movie, a suitor gets angry that she won’t let him come in for the night, and she tells him angrily that he should have given her more money for the washroom. So I don’t think it takes 12 viewings, as long as your understanding of call girls might be more sophisticated than Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Seems to me Holly is a ‘party girl’, and sleeps with a select group of wealthy men. But yes, for money.

  7. Emma, thanks for stopping by. I had forgotten that nightmare! I just went and re-read my post, and what a mess, huh? Sorry to hear they’re still using that crappy ploy to get feedback on commercials.

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