Capote, Truman (Vol. 13)
Capote, Truman 1924–1984
An American novelist, short story writer, playwright, and essayist, Capote achieved literary fame as a young man, and has remained a literary celebrity ever since. His early writings focus on the Deep South, where he was born, but his later works have varied tremendously in locale and style. His best known work, In Cold Blood, contributed to the formation of a new genre, the nonfiction novel. Capote is currently at work on Answered Prayers. The volume contains thinly veiled portraits of many of Capote's friends, and several have appeared as excerpts in periodicals, creating a minor sensation in literary and social circles and making the book notorious even before its publication. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)
Other Voices, Other Rooms is a very good novel, with an extremely simple scheme and plot which the author slowly loads with baroque and decorative details, yet without complicating it. (p. 478)
Mention has been made of Poe in connection with this book of Capote's. It seems to me, however, that the points of resemblance are purely casual and are due to a similarity of subject matter rather than to conscious derivation. In certain of Poe's tales, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Gold-Bug and others, set in the American provinces, in decaying houses full of memories, it is easy to discern the forebears of the country house in Truman Capote. But there is a difference between Poe's and Capote's approach to reality. Poe, even at his most fantastic and unreal, is always extremely literal, accurate, and realistic in his aims and intentions…. [Poe] really believed in the existence of a reality outside of himself. And it matters little whether this reality was moral and psychological or … erotic and sexual.
For Truman Capote, instead, this process worked in reverse. The motive which encouraged Capote to accumulate details which build up a fantastic atmosphere, page after page, in a rich and crowded design, was instead a longing to evade reality by means of an impressionistic and imprecise transcription of actions, suspicions, tastes and feelings which are purely subjective. Capote, in particular, has a...
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William L. Nance
It is one of my intentions in this study to show that the changes in Capote's career have not been casual but are the result of a strong and highly conscious effort at growth. From the start he wrote stories which were among the best of their narrow kind, but even then he was trying to make his fiction both a source and an expression of deeper understanding, broader sympathy, greater fidelity to the reality outside his private childhood world. So far has he moved in twenty-three years of publishing that one is tempted to identify at least two distinct Truman Capotes. There is, of course, only one: In Cold Blood retains deep traces of the earliest stories, and the intellectual toughness so evident in the nonfiction novel was really there all the time. (p. 11)
Some knowledge of Capote's early life is essential to an understanding of his work, for that work, even through In Cold Blood, bears the clear marks of his childhood. It was, Capote has said, "the most insecure childhood I know of," and his early stories are psychological records of it. (pp. 11-12)
The early fiction of Truman Capote is dominated by fear. It descends into a subconscious ruled by the darker archetypes, a childhood haunted by bogeymen, a world of blurred realities whose inhabitants are trapped in unendurable isolation. The stories set in this dark world include "A Tree of Night" (1943), "Miriam" (1944), "The Headless Hawk" (1946), "Shut...
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Called "daylight gothic" by Mark Shorer [in his introduction to Capote's Selected Writings, "Children on Their Birthdays"] contains none of the dark gothic paraphernalia of such stories as "The Headless Hawk" or "Shut a Final Door."… Shorer describes the mood of the story as "buoyant summer rain shot through with sun," but quotes out of context: "Since Monday it has been raining buoyant summer rain shot through with sun, but dark at night and full of sound, full of dripping leaves, watery chimneys, sleepless scuttlings."… The mood of the story is a balance between sun and darkness, buoyant summer rain and sleepless scuttlings. It is gothic in the sense that Lolita is gothic; both have that delicate balance of nostalgia and terror, accuracy and imagination that Leslie Fiedler considers so important in Huckleberry Finn. What Lolita and "Children" share is a moving, affectionate comedy that is also brutal and shattering, a brilliant use of black humor that allows us to delight in that which should spin us into despair. Thus Capote places the wall that is art between man and the horror of life…. (p. 343)
"Children" is less subjective than Capote's adolescent novel Other Voices, Other Rooms; the narrator includes himself "at least to some degree" among "the grownup persons of the house," hinting that he will be a reliable narrator who needs little initiating. Common to the adolescent novel (and...
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