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Lot #283
Breakfast at Tiffany's Hand-Corrected Manuscript by Truman Capote

Breathtaking final working draft of Breakfast at Tiffany’s in which Capote makes his most important revision—changing his heroine’s name to Holly Golightly over 150 times

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Breathtaking final working draft of Breakfast at Tiffany’s in which Capote makes his most important revision—changing his heroine’s name to Holly Golightly over 150 times

Awe-inspiring, never-before-offered original Breakfast at Tiffany’s final working draft manuscript for its 1958 Random House publication, 8.5 x 11, consisting of its entire 84 pages, mainly on high-quality goldenrod yellow paper, and copiously annotated throughout by author Truman Capote. Completing the package are the original, hand stenciled title page design, “About the Author” page, colophon, dedication, “other works by,” content, and half-title pages—topped off by the original Random House mailing label addressed to Capote’s Brooklyn residence. The reverse of the contents page is officially stamped “June 27, 1958, The Haddon Craftsmen” [original manufacturers of the book], and the heavily-notated copyright page is likewise stamped but with a slightly different date of “August 5, 1958,” lastly the title page is stamped on the reverse “August 20, 1958.”

There are notations by the author on every single page, with most pages containing at least a dozen, and many pages having closer to 30 corrections; often times there are not just single words but entire phrases rewritten, and several superfluous paragraphs cut. So much more than mere grammatical correcting, Capote has taken expert care in fine tuning his masterpiece for Random House publication. Even in his choosing of seemingly simple single words you can see his understated mastery of the English language: from “mad” to “vexed,” from “keep” to “prevent,” from “simpler” to “scrupulous,” and from “touch” to “stroke,” each tiny change shaping the final picture.

This breathtaking manuscript presents a rare chance to step inside the mind of a literary master, whose most influential, last second modification to the manuscript was to change his heroine’s name from the dreary Connie Gustafson the now iconic Holly Golightly. In addition to this brilliant fix, which is hand-notated by Capote over 150 times throughout the text, there are hundreds of important annotations and revisions, many quite lengthy. On the first page of the manuscript, Capote hand titles the novella “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” makes several witty one word revisions, and rewrites an entire sentence, fittingly adding “everything I needed, so I felt to become the writer I wanted to be.”

According to close friend George Plimpton, Capote began conceptualizing his iconic novella on a European excursion in 1949, but he did not officially complete it until Spring, 1958. He had promised it to Harper’s Bazaar for a summer issue, where it got as far as layout but in late May, due to a change of face in the editorial department, the story was pulled at the last second. Though the reason on record was the raunchy language and Holly’s unconventional lifestyle, many close to the project say it was in an effort to avoid offending Tiffany’s, a major advertiser at the time. The author never quite forgave the formerly supportive magazine, who had published one of his first successful short stories over a decade earlier, fuming, “Publish with them again? Why, I wouldn’t spit on their street.”

On May 28, 1958, shortly after hearing the disappointing news, Capote and his life-partner Jack Dunphy (to whom Breakfast at Tiffany’s is dedicated) left for a four month trip to Greece. Judging by the July and August stamp dates on this manuscript, it was likely on this very trip where Capote went through his work for the final time, in preparation for its October Random House release.

Capote detailed his writing habits, as quoted in colleague George Plimpton’s book, “Essentially I think of myself as a stylist, and stylists can become notoriously obsessed with the placing of a comma, the weight of a semicolon. Obsessions of this sort, and the time I take over them, irritate me beyond endurance. Then I type a third draft on yellow paper, a very special certain kind of yellow paper...When the yellow draft is finished, I put the manuscript away for awhile, a week, a month, sometimes longer. When I take it out again I read it as coldly as possible, then read it aloud to a friend or two, and decide what changes I want to make and whether or not I want to publish. I’ve thrown away rather a few short stories, an entire novel, and half of another. But if all goes well, I type the final version on white paper and that’s that.”

Upon their return to NYC in late October, shortly after Capote’s 34th birthday, they found Breakfast at Tiffany’s on the bookshelves. Esquire would serialize the novella the following month, cashing in on the book’s success. The magazine’s editor Clay Felker said, “The sales did something that I had never seen in a magazine since,” instead of spiking when it first came out, sales came back up once the favorable reviews of the complete novella came rolling in. In comparing the here-offered manuscript with the final printed Random House version, the mirrored detail is absolutely astounding—every single comma, every hyphen, every colon—every piece of italicized text matches exactly. This truly was Capote’s final working draft before it went to the printers, on his “very special certain kind of yellow paper.” Capote’s painstaking attention to detail inspired Norman Mailer to profess he “would not have changed two words in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Having the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the private, methodical thought process of this literary genius, leaves no question as to why. To pinpoint the importance of this manuscript in literary, film, and pop culture is near impossible, one word that comes to mind: monumental. RR Auction COA.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Hollywood & Horror Auction
  • Dates: #407 - Ended April 25, 2013