I read In Cold Blood for the first time earlier this year – and even then, it was under duress because it was a requirement for university. It’s not that I didn’t want to – in fact, the book had sat on my bookshelf for some years, just because it wasn’t a priority. Reader, let me tell you, I regret my delay. In Cold Blood is seminal, and obviously many before me have said so. It led me down the whirlpool of reading about Capote, fascinated by his own obsession with Perry Smith and the small town of Holcomb, Kansas.
With In Cold Blood, Capote set out to redefine writing. He sought to complete a nonfiction novel and wished to see awards lining his surrounds. The awards didn’t come, but in the long term Capote’s book is renowned as an American classic. In the background, Capote struggled with the executions of the murderers Perry and Smith, and found himself unable to complete another novel. Try as he might to finish Answered Prayers, Capote never managed it before his death, once commenting of it that “either I’m going to kill it or it’s going to kill me.”
Capote was known for schmoozing with the top brass of his day – Babe Paley, Jackie Kennedy and her sister Lee, and Gloria Guinness and Marella Agnelli among them. Greenberg-Jephcott’s book seeks to tell the tales of these women as their confidante spears them in public, releasing sections of Answered Prayers to magazines, shocked when they sever ties with him and he experiences social suicide.
Though Capote remains an American icon, committed to film and reproduced times over, the stories of the women he took advantage of are less well known in the 21st century, their starlight lost to the passing of time in a way the creator of the Black and White Ball could never be.
Though C.Z. Guest never wrote about her social life as part of the jet set, she did write First Garden, a book about her adoration of plants and gardening. Capote wrote the introduction to the book, which is full of charm and beautiful illustrations, but doesn’t shine much light on Guest herself.
The same can be said of Lee, a somewhat guarded photographic autobiography by Lee Radziwill, loaded with images of her family and friends, notes scattered throughout to help the coffee table book lover into the annals of the Kennedys and Bouviers. Radziwill also wrote Happy Times, which I haven’t managed to get my hands on yet. A friend has told me that it seems Radziwill was determined to leave behind bad memories in favour of recalling the beautiful moments she lived through – whether that’s an accurate assessment or not might be for another Rioter to say.
Last we come to Marella Agnelli, an Italian-born noblewoman who passed away earlier in 2019 in Turin. Agnelli was renowned for her elegance and opulence, and was known to Capote as The Last Swan, the youngest of the coterie of women he socialised with. In her book The Last Swan, Agnelli wrote that she tried to discourage Capote from his work on Answered Prayers, explaining that she had confided in him often but noting that he waited ‘like a falcon’. Her book is part autobiography, part photo essay, resplendent with images of her fashion, interior and stylistic life.
Of course, if you want to read Capote’s spin on these women’s lives, you can pick up a copy of Truman’s Answered Prayers, which was published after his death in the late 1980s. I haven’t read it yet; the voices of the Swans are the only ones I want to know, for now.