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Over the last several years, a great deal of attention has been paid to the late author Truman Capote and the process by which he produced his classic of American literature In Cold Blood. The release in 2005 of the film Capote and of Infamous the following year, which similarly explored the author’s relationships to his subjects and to the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, served to resurrect interest in this eccentric writer and his most well-known work. The most important development relevant to the matter at hand, however, was the discovery in 2013 of old records from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the agency that investigated the murders that formed the basis of Capote’s book, that strongly suggested Capote had been less than truthful both in his reporting and his comments regarding the process by which he wrote In Cold Blood.
All of this may or not be pertinent to a discussion of Capote’s relationship to convicted and executed murderer Perry Smith. In all likelihood, though, it is highly relevant, as Capote’s questionable journalistic tactics in developing a relationship with Smith both undermined his credibility with contemporary scholars and readers and injected into discussions the author’s sexual orientation and whether his homosexuality played a role in how he approached and manipulated the less-educated, less-refined criminal. Unfortunately, Capote, perhaps aware of his intention to write a “nonfiction novel,” was primarily interested in the broad outlines of the murder investigation and the events and lives surrounding it, and kept few useful notes, including interview transcripts, which he claimed were not needed given his exceptional memory. The result, then, is a dearth of factual information save for the volumes of correspondence Capote exchanged with both Perry and Dick Hickock, the second murderer. In any event, the relationship Capote cultivated with Smith allows for considerable speculation, including whether the author was forthright with the killer or was merely exploiting the relationship for his aggrandizement.
Writing an essay on the relationship between author and murderer would have been very difficult ten years ago. Today, however, it is a little easier given the revelations regarding the extent to which Capote embellished and fabricated for narrative purposes. The sources the links to which are provided below are a good start, and a student focusing on this subject would benefit from viewing the aforementioned 2005 film, as it provides a credible, if fictitious, depiction of that relationship. Additionally, the 2013 article in The New Yorker, “Capote’s Co-Conspirators” by Patrick Radden Keefe [http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/capotes-co-conspirators] provides useful insights into the credibility issues surrounding In Cold Blood. The question about Capote’s sexual orientation and whether there was a physical attraction to Perry is a valid one. One informative essay notes:
“Did Capote love Perry Smith, or did he despise and exploit him? This is not just a paradox for literary historians; it positively leaps off the pages of In Cold Blood as the author's scrupulous and seemingly disinterested accumulation of factual information runs headlong into the arrestingly evident sympathy and attraction he feels for Perry.” [“Capote: Written in Blood,” The Independent (UK) http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/capote-written-in-blood-525499.html]
In short, the relationship between author and murderer involved a number of facets that tested Capote’s skills as a journalist as well as his personal and professional integrity. He probably was attracted to Smith, who was handsome and a little manipulative himself, and he certainly exploited the relationship for personal gain. In Cold Blood not only put Capote on the map, it kept him there until his death decades later. Preparing an essay on this topic, then, should begin with perusal of the sources provided here, and should not shy away from speculative analyses that Capote invited by virtue of his journalistic shortcomings.
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