Thursday, July 18, 2013

Steinem, Capote, Holly Golightly, a stray cat

To paraphrase the subject of this biography, this is what 60 looks like.
Visiting Simone de Beauvoir in France in the '70s. Heilbrun wrote of the French woman: "When it transpired that she had served Sartre and remained in some way dependent on him, her claim to our regard was declared compromised."
With a cat named Crazy Alice
Delfin Tolentino Jr. of UP Baguio introduced me in the 1990s to feminist scholar Carolyn Heilbrun through her detective novels written under the pseudonym of Amanda Cross. The titles were beguiling (Death in a Tenured Position, The James Joyce Murder, Poetic Justice) and reflected an author who was certainly steeped in literature. 

Thanks to Del, I read the bulk of those novels first before he introduced me to the real Prof. Heilbrun behind Writing a Woman's Life and later, The Last Gift of Time. Del wrote in a note that the latter may be the last we'd read by her because by then, she had died by her own hand.

So many gifts of reading from Del that I can say my Baguio years have been constantly deepened by diving into his collection.

This summer he handed me Heilbrun's biography of Gloria Steinem, she of the aviator eyeglasses, streaked hair, the empowerment of women ("God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the questions. Once we begin to ask them, there is no turning back"). I'm supposed to do another handover of the book, this time to Del's former professor, Edna Z. Manlapaz. I haven't planned a trip yet to the Ateneo Library of Women's Writings to complete the change of hands. This gave me enough time to savor the book.

Meanwhile, I'm running these excerpts by way of bookmarking the convergence of Steinem, Capote (a writer I also admire), the fictional character of Holly Golightly and the appeal of New York City to the girl from Toledo, Ohio (Steinem):

"And then there was Truman Capote. Steinem interviewed and wrote him up twice, in 1966 for Glamour and in 1967 for McCall's and did not speak with him outside of those interviews, but his writing had influenced her long before that. In 1961 she saw the movie--she had already read the story--Breakfast at Tiffany's, and Holly Golightly would seem to speak for her in many ways. When she decided to add blond streaks to her dark brown hair, it was to imitate of the rebelliousness of Holly. (From then on she would streak her hair.) But more important than the way Holly Golightly looked was how she left home. As Doc describes it, "Reading dreams. That's what started her walking down the road. Every day she'd walk a little further; a mile, and come home. One day she just kept on." For some reason, that way of leaving home spoke to Steinem. (It was, of course, also the way she left men--Steinem and Holly Golightly shared an unwillingness to commit.)...

"As one reads the story today, other touches from Breakfast at Tiffany's resonate: Holly saying, "I want to still be me when I wake up one fine morning and have breakfast at Tiffany's." She has cards that read "Holly Golightly, Travelling." She answers, when asked about it: "After all, how do I know where I'll be living tomorrow?" Holly Golightly has a cat with no name. "'Poor slob,' she said, tickling his head, 'poor slob without a name. But I haven't any right to give him one: he'll have to wait until he belongs to somebody.'" In fact, in the 1970s there arrived at Steinem's apartment a stray cat named Crazy Alice, which, although named, came for only a few years.

"Steinem, like Holly, travelled too much. Holly's room, like Steinem's, had a "camping-out atmosphere; crates and suitcases." Steinem's did not look as though everything was "packed and ready to go," but certainly, with its boxes of papers and piles of books, it could not be called "decorated," or substantial, or done up. Gerald Clarke, Capote's biographer, thought that Holly Golightly was based not so much on any woman that Capote had known as on Capote himself. This seems likely, and illuminates the ready understanding between Steinem and Capote."
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