Vintage is celebrating Holly Golightly’s 50th birthday by issuing a special anniversary edition of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Vintage, $12.95). I hate to quibble, but she was actually two months shy of 19 when the novel came out in 1958—so by that count she’s pushing 70. Or if you want to get persnickety about it, when we first meet her, it’s the summer of 1943 (“There’s a war on”), so the bad news is that by now she’s 84 if she’s a day.
Either way, let’s raise a glass to Holly Golightly, who’ll always be “anywhere between sixteen and thirty.” It should be a martini glass, of course, and in it should be a White Angel (“one-half vodka, one-half gin, no vermouth”). We should be sitting in a quiet Lexington Avenue bar, around the corner from the brownstone in the 70s where she occupied, fleetingly, Apt. 2, entertained a curious mix of gentleman callers and successfully courted scandal. As we drink we can daydream about Holly (or her granddaughter) tripping through the door:
“[T]he ragbag colors of her boy’s hair, tawny streaks, strands of albino-blonde and yellow, caught the hall light. It was a warm evening, nearly summer, and she wore a slim cool black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker. For all her chic thinness, she had an almost breakfast-cereal air of health, a soap and lemon cleanliness, a rough pink darkening the cheeks. Her mouth was large, her nose upturned. A pair of dark glasses blotted out her eyes. It was a face beyond childhood, yet this side of belonging to a woman.”
Conjure Audrey Hepburn, if you like, but my Holly Golightly has less polish, more sizzle. (Truman Capote thought Hepburn was wrong for the part; he wanted Marilyn Monroe, which is maybe too much sizzle, if there can be such a thing.) Yes, she’s beautiful, but what makes her irresistible is the wild jumble of words that comes pouring out of her mouth:
“I’d never be a movie star. It’s too hard; and if you’re intelligent, it’s too embarrassing. My complexes aren’t inferior enough: being a movie star and having a big fat ego are supposed to go hand-in-hand; actually it’s essential not to have any ego at all. I don’t mean I’d mind being rich and famous. That’s very much on my schedule, and some day I’ll try to get around to it; but if it happens, I’d like to have my ego tagging along. I want to still be me when I wake up one fine morning and have breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
Or this glorious, obscure declaration, issued on the Brooklyn Bridge:
“I love New York, even though it isn’t mine, the way something has to be, a tree or a street or a house, something, anyway, that belongs to me because I belong to it.”
Wherever Holly is, Brazil or Africa or the Upper East Side (her calling card, remember, read Miss Holly Golightly, Traveling), she belongs to New York like Tiffany’s belongs to New York. Norman Mailer judged that Capote’s novel was “slight”—but he also pointed out that “if you want to capture a period in New York, no other book has done it so well.”