Sunday, 7 December 2008

Bibliotherapy: What to read when you don’t want to go shopping.



Now that shopping is being prescribed as national duty – buy now, to save the nation from economic ruin! – I’m feeling mulishly reluctant to obey government orders. Instead, I’ve been re-reading ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, which is always a pleasure, but also serves as a reminder that shopping is not an end in itself.

If you’ve only ever seen the film adaptation starring the adorable Audrey Hepburn, then you might not realise quite how dark Truman Capote’s original novella is. There is no Hollywood happy ending, no romantic scenes at Tiffany’s, and though Miss Golightly is gloriously chic in “a slim cool black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker”, she does not find solace in buying new clothes or jewels. In fact, her pleasure in Tiffany’s has nothing to do with shopping there – she doesn’t ‘give a hoot about jewellery’ – but as an antidote for what she describes as ‘the mean reds’. This is a form of anxiety as familiar now, to those of us who fear the abyss of an uncertain future, as it was when Capote published the novella, exactly 50 years ago: “You’re afraid and you sweat like hell, but you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Except something bad is going to happen…”

Tiffany’s, says Holly, ‘calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it’, but she doesn’t actually buy anything there, but goes shoplifting at Woolworth’s instead for Halloween masks and balloons to put on her Christmas tree. I don’t recommend theft as a remedy for the mean reds, but given Holly’s iconic status, it’s worth remembering that she is unencumbered by material assets; indeed, when something really bad does happen, the death of her beloved brother, she destroys all her possessions, smashing her dark glasses and bottles of perfume.

Thus ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ is a manifesto for anti-shopping therapy, for travelling light and being free as a bird. Speaking of which, Holly does buy an birdcage for the narrator of the novella, who has fallen in love with her, but with one proviso: “Promise me you’ll never put a living thing in it.” Soon afterwards, she flies the roost, disappearing with very little luggage and no shopping bags at all.

6 comments:

kairu said...

Sounds like just the thing to curl up with tonight.

Part of me wants to shop and eat out, to support my local stores and restaurants, which are appealing to the public with coupons and massive sales and happy hour specials, and part of me wants to squirrel away every penny for my own uncertain future.

There is a certain department store I head to for comfort as Holly Golightly heads to Tiffany's. Although I do shop there, most often I go to gossip with the salespeople (who seem happy to see me whether I buy anything or not), to caress soft cashmeres and leathers priced higher than my food budget for the month, to gaze upon exquisite shoes poised on gleaming lucite pedestals. These little things lift my spirits, even if I walk home afterwards empty-handed.

Justine Picardie said...

Kairu, I think that's very much in the spirit of Holly Golightly. After all, she has a take-away breakfast, looking through the windows of Tiffany's (in the film version, anyway; in the book, she never gets to have breakfast at all!).

Gondal-girl said...

interesting the reference to Capote and cages, in Corvus, which I recently enjoyed, Esther Woolfson tells the wonderful moving and eloquent tale of Capote's pet raven...perhaps he had this in mind when he wrote that part in Breakfast at Tiffany's....

Blue Floppy Hat said...

There's one thing nearly all the articles forget to mention: even the Breakfast at Tiffany's movie doesn't feature all that many costume changes, and the most iconic dress of all doesn't get any airtime beyond the first five minutes of the film. And I think there's a shot of her cupboard in which all the dresses she wore through the film were visible- and those dresses were all that were in the cupboard. So it isn't as if she had piles and piles of things to begin with, either..

I understand the 'shop now!' slogans going around- the economy does need money going into it, after all. But telling people to do it when they don't have the money to spare is daft- I thought indebtedness was what caused this mess...and I'm far too scared of debt/impoverishment (is that even a word?)- the idea of another person having their hooks into me for money isn;t an enjoyable one.

Justine Picardie said...

Gondal Girl -- thanks for the comment about Capote and cages. The book you mention -- is that a biography of him? Or a short story about Capote? I'd really like to read it. Can you give me more details?
Blue Floppy Hat -- completely agree with you on all counts. There are so many differences between the novella of 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' and the film -- and I prefer the less romantic ending of the original story, rather than the Hollywood happy ever after.

Primrose said...

In Australia we are being urged to spend, spend, spend to support the economy. The Prime Minister is even giving money away to people to go out and spend. I don't understand it at all - I thought the reason we got into this mess originally is that people were over-consuming for their means and getting themselves into debt. A confession here - I've never seen the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's as I seem to be the only woman in the world not an Audrey Hepburn fan!