Truman Capote, probably best remembered for the literary classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s, arrived in New York during the golden age of glitz and glamour with a desperate need to be part of the IT crowd. He not only wanted to be seen with them, he wanted to infiltrate their group, become a confidant for all and be accepted as an equal.
“I told you: you can make yourself love anybody.” (Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s)
Truman Capote and The Swans of Fifth Avenue
Originally set in 1975, The Swans of Fifth Avenue, reflects on the life that Truman Capote created for himself during his writing heyday. It would seem that being a writer simply wasn’t enough for Capote, he wanted notoriety as well. He wanted people to admire him, to complement him and to applaud him for all that he achieved.
For him, the only way a homosexual artist would ever be accepted by the wealthy flock, the giants of New York City, he had to first be accepted by their wives. These wives soon became known as his Swans.
Often found at Le Pavillon, everyone wanted to part of this well-heeled gaggle of women.
Le Pavillon was “where the owner, Henri Soulé, displayed his society ladies like the objets of fine art that they were…” (pg. 20).
At the head of this group was Barbara ‘Babe’ Paley, Style Icon loved by Fashion Designers the world over, so much so that she was added into the International Best Dressed Hall of Fame in 1958. She would later become Capote’s closest ally and best friend. Alongside Babe, you would always find Slim Hayward, Gloria Guinness, Marella Agnelli and Pamela Churchill, all well-known for marrying the wealthiest men in the city.
Daughter of world renowned Surgeon, Dr. Harvey Cushing, Babe was born into this picture-perfect world of high society whilst others were less fortunate but worked hard in order to become part of this elite club. Therefore, when Truman Capote decided that he wanted to become part of this beautiful group there was little resistance.
The Swans of Fifth Avenue recalls the life of Truman Capote after joining this aristocratic circle. Not only do we read about the love he develops for Babe, we learn more about his relationship with her husband, William Paley. Whilst Babe becomes his adviser, William turns to Truman in an attempt exploit his female relations further: two friends, two very different relationships. At no point though, does it seem that Capote was prepared to sever his relationship with Bill in order to protect Babe.
Can this therefore, really be classed as friendship?
Before heading to New York, Truman Capote lived in Monroeville, Alabama and was friends with yet another well-known writer, Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird. In order, to win the compassion of others, he would often relive this time of his life, telling tales that would pull at the heart strings of those he wanted to impress the most. But what happened to Harper once he arrived in New York? Said to be one of his closest friends, we only ever hear about their past until he requires her help.
When Truman Capote wrote, what is believed to be one of the best books of all time, and is most certainly his most popular book, Harper Lee was the person he called upon for help. Sent to help research the Clutter family murders, Lee’s findings helped to create In Cold Blood.
Whilst he seemingly enjoyed living in a world of fiction, it would appear that non-fiction was his strength. So much so, that once the short stories and the book writing came to a standstill he turned on his wonderful swans and their high society, perfect lifestyle.
Discouraged with his latest novel, Answered Prayers, he reverts to what he does well, writing gossip stories for magazines. With the novel put on hold, much to the annoyance of his publishing house, he writes a story that will cause untold pain to those he supposedly loves the most.
Truman Capote had always been known as a bit of a gossip queen but never did his swans believe that he would turn on them. They had all loved his stories, had sometimes even instigated the gossip but at no point had they thought that they would become the subject of his tales especially Babe who had never enjoyed this side of his personality.
‘Mojave’ was published in Esquire in June 1975, and featured all of his so-called New York friends. Even his long-term friend and one time partner, Jack Dunphy, warned him about the consequences of publishing such a story. A story that would see one commit suicide and alienate him from everyone else. You have to ask whether it was worth it. For someone who craved love and attention, who wanted to be part of celebrity crowd, he was only succeeding in isolating himself.
Will he ever be able to rectify this mistake?
“Life was no fairy tale, no matter what her mother had told her. She had no prince to kiss her, to wake her up from this nightmare’. (pg. 255)
They did have a fairy tale life until the treacherous side of Truman Capote was uncovered. Will they ever be able to forgive him?
Our Thoughts on The Swans of fifth Avenue
Melanie Benjamin writes to reflect the era; the language used and the conversations that would have taken place all reflect that specific period in time. She helps to capture the essence that was the 50’s and 60’s, transporting you back in time to an age of glitz and glamour.
This is a story of desire: about one man’s craving to be wealthy and fortunate, to be part of high society. It goes far beyond a simple story of success however; it looks at the rise and fall of a successful literary genius who began to think he was infallible.
It is also a story of destruction; a personal account of over-indulgence and the spirally fall out that leads to depression and substance abuse of those in the spotlight.
Reading this will help you to understand not only the rise of Truman Capote but also his demise.
Travelling Book Junkie Rating: ***
Have you ever read one of Truman Capote’s books? Perhaps you have watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Let us know your thoughts on this literary mastermind.