Classics Club #8: Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany‘s is the first book on my Classics Club list that has disappointed me. I can’t even say it’s bad because this short novel is too trivial and meaningless to rise to the level of badness. I have absolutely no idea what possessed the author to explore one of the most tired old plots in the history of humanity as late as 1958. Novels narrated by males who are puzzled and attracted / repulsed by a prostitute abound. What is the point of writing yet another one if you can;t contribute anything new to the subject?

I understand, of course, that nobody is likely to invent a new plot these days. But you have got to bring something new even to the most exploited old theme. Capote doesn’t manage to do that, however. He rewrites Abbé Prévost, Kuprin, Zola et al. but his incapacity to rise to their level either artistically or ideologically makes Breakfast at Tiffany‘s nothing but a sad, pale parody.

The book I purchased also contained three short stories, so I decided to read them in order to give Capote a chance to redeem himself in my eyes. And what do you think? The very first story yet again discussed female prostitution in the same saccharine, cloying way as the short novel. I don’t know what made Capote, a gay man, so obsessed with female prostitution but this fixation definitely detracts from the quality of his writing.

If you read the novel and liked it, do share what it is that you enjoyed about it.

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14 comments on “Classics Club #8: Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s

    • I totally should have put In Cold Blood on my Classics List instead of this. That was my mistake. But I never could have hoped to have only winners on this quite long list. Every book I read before it was good, so it was time for a dud. :-)

  1. I haven’t read this book, but I started watching the movie adaptation from the 1960s, and I couldn’t finish it. The movie was vaguely nauseating – a mix of different elements that didn’t go well together (especially a cringeworthy performance by Mickey Rooney as a Japanese neighbor).

    I read In Cold Blood in high school and enjoyed it but I don’t remember much beyond that.

  2. I’ve never actually been tempted to read this book, but it was my impression that Holly wasn’t technically a prostitute. She was on the sex for compensation spectrum but didn’t engage in the simple sex for cash transactions that define ‘true’ prostitutes (for me).

    “I don’t know what made Capote, a gay man, so obsessed with female prostitution”

    My best guess: A combination of jealousy (combined with an over estimation of the quality of men that frequent prostitutes) and curiosity about the mechanics of the straight sexual dynamic – especially the sex for resources trade that underlines so much of it.

    • “She was on the sex for compensation spectrum but didn’t engage in the simple sex for cash transactions that define ‘true’ prostitutes (for me).”

      - Sex for compensation is prostitution. :-)Prostitution is the business or practice of providing sexual services to another person in return for payment.”

      “My best guess: A combination of jealousy (combined with an over estimation of the quality of men that frequent prostitutes) ”

      - That’s what I think, too. The author is fantasizing about how great it is to have sex with many men.

      “the mechanics of the straight sexual dynamic – especially the sex for resources trade that underlines so much of it.”

      - This sounds like you are saying that only gay people have sex for pleasure. :-) :-)

  3. “Sex for compensation is prostitution”

    I don’t think it’s quite that simple. By that definition you could say that a stay at home housewife who can’t have children is a prostitute (since sex is definitely part of the reason she’s being supported).

    I think it’s a spectrum – at one end is the straightforward open transaction (X amount for a half and half X+ amount for a round the world etc) at another extreme there is the classic courtesan where money does change hands but never in a direct sex act for cash way. At the fringes of that you relationships between a much richer partner and a poorer one where the poorer one has access to a higher lifestyle as long as the sexual relationship lasts.

    “This sounds like you are saying that only gay people have sex for pleasure”

    That would be like saying only straight people directly pay for sex. The existence of one element (pleasure) doesn’t preclude the existence of another (commerce, whether open and acknowledged or not).

    That said it occurs to me that I’ve never heard of one kind of prostituion.
    Men paying for sex with women or men is widely known and women paying for sex with men happens too. But I’ve never heard of lesbian prostitution. Does it happen or is it a market niche waiting for a savy entrepreneur? (not me, I hasten to add)

    • “By that definition you could say that a stay at home housewife who can’t have children is a prostitute (since sex is definitely part of the reason she’s being supported).”

      - Exactly.

      “I think it’s a spectrum – at one end is the straightforward open transaction (X amount for a half and half X+ amount for a round the world etc) at another extreme there is the classic courtesan where money does change hands but never in a direct sex act for cash way. At the fringes of that you relationships between a much richer partner and a poorer one where the poorer one has access to a higher lifestyle as long as the sexual relationship lasts.”

      = We all know that I’m judgmental. :-) To me, this is all prostitution. I see absolutely no difference in any of these acts. The only difference is that honest prostitution is something I can respect. But when people sell sex for money yet pretend it isn’t prostitution and they are somehow better than people who offer sex at truck stops, that I cannot respect.

  4. “But I’ve never heard of lesbian prostitution.”
    Just check out Fetlife some time. There’s a huge number of older women, some single, some in miserable hetero marriages, who seek out younger ladies with whom to explore their sexuality, usually for money, dinners, or some other form of compensation. Or lesbian couples who seek out a younger companion to add to their love nest. I’ve been offered many times to join such arrangements, but never took it up.

    And yeah, Clarissa, I’ve never read the book, but the movie is downright nauseating. I also loved In Cold Blood, so add me to that choir telling you that that would have been a better choice.

  5. Pingback: Classics Club | Clarissa's Blog

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