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Publicity photo from 1966
|Born||Mary Patricia Plangman
January 19, 1921
Fort Worth, Texas, U.S.
|Died||February 4, 1995
|Genre||Suspense, psychological thriller, crime fiction|
|Subjects||Murder; violence; obsession; insanity|
|Literary movement||Modernist literature|
|Notable works||Strangers on a Train; The Ripliad|
Patricia Highsmith (19 January 1921 – 4 February 1995) was an American novelist and short story writer, known for her psychological thrillers, which led to more than two dozen film adaptations. Her first novel, Strangers on a Train, has been adapted for stage and screen numerous times, notably by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951. In addition to her series with Tom Ripley as protagonist, she wrote many short stories. Michael Dirda observed, "Europeans honored her as a psychological novelist, part of an existentialist tradition represented by her own favorite writers, in particular Dostoyevsky, Conrad, Kafka, Gide, and Camus."
- 1 Early life
- 2 Writing
- 3 Comic books
- 4 Novels
- 5 Film and television adaptations
- 6 Personal life
- 7 Death
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 Awards
- 10 See also
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 Sources
- 14 External links
Highsmith was born Mary Patricia Plangman in Fort Worth, Texas. She was the only child of artists Jay Bernard Plangman (1889–1975), who was of German descent, and his wife, Mary Plangman née Coates (13 September 1895 – 12 March 1991). The couple divorced ten days before their daughter's birth. In 1927, Highsmith, her mother and her adoptive stepfather, artist Stanley Highsmith, whom her mother had married in 1924, moved to New York City. When she was 12 years old, Highsmith was sent to Fort Worth and lived with her grandmother for a year. She called this the "saddest year" of her life and felt "abandoned" by her mother. She returned to New York to continue living with her mother and stepfather, primarily in Manhattan, but also lived in Astoria, Queens.
According to Highsmith, her mother once told her that she had tried to abort her by drinking turpentine, although a biography of Highsmith indicates Jay Plangman tried to persuade his wife to have the abortion but she refused. Highsmith never resolved this love–hate relationship, which reportedly haunted her for the rest of her life, and which she fictionalized in her short story "The Terrapin", about a young boy who stabs his mother to death. Highsmith's mother predeceased her by four years, dying at the age of 95.
Highsmith's grandmother taught her to read at an early age, and Highsmith made good use of her grandmother's extensive library. At the age of nine, she found a resemblance to her own imaginative life in the case histories of The Human Mind by Karl Menninger, a popularizer of Freudian analysis.
Highsmith was a lifelong diarist. She left bebind eight thousand pages of handwritten notebooks and diaries. After graduating from college, she started applying for work in various magazines, such as Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, The New Yorker, Mademoiselle, Good Housekeeping and others, carrying "impressive" recommendations from "highly placed" professionals, and was getting rejected. Her short stories started appearing eventually in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, in the early 1950s.
Before her short stories started appearing in print, Highsmith wrote for comic book publishers from 1942 and 1948, while she lived in New York City and Mexico. Answering an ad for "reporter/rewrite", she landed a job working for comic book publisher Ned Pines in a "bullpen" with four artists and three other writers. Initially scripting two comic-book stories a day for $55-a-week paychecks, Highsmith soon realized she could make more money by freelance writing for comics, a situation which enabled her to find time to work on her own short stories and live for a period in Mexico. The comic book scriptwriter job was the only long-term job Highsmith ever held.
With Nedor/Standard/Pines (1942–43), Highsmith wrote Sgt. Bill King stories and contributed to Black Terror, Real Fact, Real Heroes, and True Comics. She additionally wrote comic book profiles of Einstein, Galileo, Barney Ross, Eddie Rickenbacker, Oliver Cromwell, Sir Isaac Newton, David Livingstone, and others. From 1943–45, she wrote for Fawcett Publications, scripting for such Fawcett Comics characters as the Golden Arrow, Spy Smasher, Captain Midnight, Crisco, and Jasper. Highsmith also wrote for Western Comics from 1945 to 1947. Under editor Leon Lazarus, she wrote romance comics for the Marvel Comics precursors Timely Comics and Atlas Comics.
When Highsmith wrote the psychological thriller novel The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), one of the title character's first victims is a comic-book artist named Reddington: "Tom had a hunch about Reddington. He was a comic-book artist. He probably didn't know whether he was coming or going."
Highsmith's first novel was Strangers on a Train, published in 1950, which contained "the violence that became her trademark." The book proved modestly successful when it was published in 1950. Alfred Hitchcock's 1951 film adaptation of the novel strengthened Highsmith's reputation.
Highsmith's second novel, The Price of Salt, was published under the nom de plume Claire Morgan. It garnered attention as a lesbian novel because of its rare happy ending. She did not publicly associate herself with this book until late in her life, probably because she had mined her personal life for the book's content.
Film and television adaptations
One of the best-known film adaptations of Highsmith's novels is Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. A television remake in 1996, entitled Once You Meet a Stranger, changed the gender of both lead characters from male to female.
The first of the five Ripley novels, The Talented Mr. Ripley, inspired two film adaptations; a French production in 1960 entitled Plein soleil ("Purple Noon" in English), directed by René Clément, with Alain Delon as Ripley, and in 1999 an American production, directed by Anthony Minghella, with Matt Damon as Ripley. The earlier French version was criticized by both Highsmith and film critic Roger Ebert for implying that Ripley will be captured by the police.
The third of the Ripley novels, Ripley's Game, was also filmed twice, first as the German 1977 film Der Amerikanische Freund with Dennis Hopper as Ripley and directed by Wim Wenders. The film incorporated elements of the second novel Ripley Under Ground. Highsmith initially disliked the film but later changed her mind.
Ripley's Game was filmed a second time as an English-language Italian production in 2002, with John Malkovich as Ripley and directed by Liliana Cavani. It was released in the US only on home video and not to theatres. Although not all critics were favorable, Roger Ebert regarded it as the best of all the Ripley films to date.
Although five films have been adapted from three of the Ripley novels, to this date no actor has played Ripley more than once.
All twelve episodes of the 1990 television series Mistress of Suspense are based on stories by Patricia Highsmith. The series aired first in France, then in the United Kingdom. It is available in the US under the title Chillers. Each episode is introduced by Anthony Perkins.
According to her biographer Andrew Wilson, Highsmith's personal life was a "troubled one;" she was an alcoholic who, allegedly, never had an intimate relationship that lasted for more than a few years, and she was seen by some of her contemporaries and acquaintances as misanthropic and cruel. She famously preferred the company of animals to that of people and once said, "My imagination functions much better when I don't have to speak to people."
Highsmith loved cats, and she bred about three hundred snails in her garden at home in Suffolk, England. Highsmith once attended a London cocktail party with a "gigantic handbag" that "contained a head of lettuce and a hundred snails" who she said were her "companions for the evening".
Other friends and acquaintances held different views of Highsmith. Gary Fisketjon, who published her later novels through Knopf, said that "she was rough, very difficult... but she was also plainspoken, dryly funny, and great fun to be around."
Highsmith loved woodworking tools and made several pieces of furniture. She worked without stopping. In later life, her stance became stooped, with an osteoporotic hump. Though her writing – 22 novels and 8 books of short stories – was highly acclaimed, especially outside of the United States, Highsmith preferred for her personal life to remain private.
Highsmith had sexual relationships with women and men. She never married nor had children.
In early September of 1951, she began an affair with sociologist Ellen Blumenthal Hill, traveling back and forth to Europe to meet with her. When Highsmith and Hill came to New York in early May 1953, their affair ostensibly "in a fragile state," Highsmith began an "impossible" affair with the German, homosexual photographer Rolf Tietgens, who had played a "sporadic, intense, and unconsummated role in her emotional life since 1943." She was reportedly attracted to Tietgens precisely on account of his homosexuality, confiding she felt with him "as if he is another girl, or a singularly innocent man." Tietgens shot several nude photographs of Highsmith, but only one has survived; it has been torn in half at the waist so that her genitalia and lower body are missing. She dedicated her 1964 book, Two Faces of January, to Tietgens.
Between 1959 and 1961, she fell in love with Marijane Meaker, who wrote under the pseudonyms of Vin Packer and Ann Aldrich but later wrote young adult fiction under the name M.E. Kerr. In the late 1980s, after 27 years of separation, Highsmith began sharing correspondence with Meaker again, and one day she showed up on her doorstep, slightly drunk and ranting bitterly. Meaker subsequently recalled the "horror" she felt upon noticing the changes in Highsmith's personality by that point.[note 1]
Religious and racial views
Highsmith was a "consummate atheist". She was never comfortable with black people, and she was outspokenly anti-semitic – so much so that when she was living in Switzerland in the 1980s, she invented nearly 40 aliases, identities she used in writings sent to various government bodies and newspapers deploring the state of Israel and the "influence" of the Jews. Nevertheless, some of her best friends were Jewish, such as authors Arthur Koestler and Saul Bellow. Her work was assessed as having a "misogynist streak,"  particularly after the publication of her short-stories collection Little Tales of Misogyny. [note 2]
Highsmith believed in American democratic ideals and in "the promise" of U.S. history, but she was also highly critical of the reality of the country's 20th-century culture and foreign policy. Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes, her 1987 anthology of short stories, was notoriously anti-American, and she often cast her homeland in a deeply unflattering light. Beginning in 1963, she resided exclusively in Europe.
Highsmith died of aplastic anemia and cancer in Locarno, Switzerland, aged 74. She retained her United States citizenship, despite the tax penalties, of which she complained bitterly, from living for many years in France and Switzerland. She was cremated at the cemetery in Bellinzona, and a memorial service was conducted at the Catholic Church in Tegna, Switzerland.
She left her estate, worth an estimated $3 million, to the Yaddo colony, which had provided her with support in the 1940s, support that allowed her to produce her first novel. Her last novel, Small g: a Summer Idyll, was published a month after her death. Patricia Highsmith's literary estate is archived in the Swiss Literary Archives in Bern.
- Strangers on a Train (1950)
- The Price of Salt (as Claire Morgan) (1952), also published as Carol
- The Blunderer (1954)
- The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)
- Deep Water (1957)
- A Game for the Living (1958)
- This Sweet Sickness (1960)
- The Cry of the Owl (1962)
- The Two Faces of January (1964)
- The Glass Cell (1964)
- A Suspension of Mercy (1965), also published as The Story-Teller
- Those Who Walk Away (1967)
- The Tremor of Forgery (1969)
- Ripley Under Ground (1970)
- A Dog's Ransom (1972)
- Ripley's Game (1974)
- Edith's Diary (1977)
- The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980)
- People Who Knock on the Door (1983)
- Found in the Street (1987)
- Ripley Under Water (1991)
- Small g: a Summer Idyll (1995)
- Eleven (1970; also known as The Snail-Watcher and Other Stories)
- Little Tales of Misogyny (1974)
- The Animal Lover's Book of Beastly Murder (1975)
- Slowly, Slowly in the Wind (1979)
- The Black House (1981)
- Mermaids on the Golf Course (1985)
- Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes (1987)
- Chillers (1990)
- Nothing That Meets the Eye: The Uncollected Stories (2002; posthumously published)
- Patricia Highsmith: Selected Novels and Short Stories (2010)
- Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction (1966)
- Miranda the Panda is on the Veranda (1958; children's book of verse and drawings, co-written with Doris Sanders)
- 1946 : O. Henry Award for best first story: for "The Heroine" in Harper's Bazaar
- 1951 : Edgar Award nominee: for best first novel, for Strangers on a Train
- 1956 : Edgar Award nominee for best novel: for The Talented Mr. Ripley
- 1957 : Grand Prix de Littérature Policière: for The Talented Mr. Ripley
- 1963 : Edgar Award nominee for best short story: for "The Terrapin"
- 1964 : Gold Dagger Award from the Crime Writers' Association of Great Britain, in the category of Best Foreign Novel: for The Two Faces of January
- 1975 : Grand Prix de l'Humour Noir: for L'Amateur d'escargot
- 1990 : Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French Ministry of Culture
- As Meaker recalled, "[Patricia] was a wonderful, giving, funny person when I [first] met her. I can always remember her smile and her laughter because that was so much a part of her. But when she came back she was despicable. I couldn't believe her hatred for blacks, for Jews in particular, but even for gay people. She hated everybody." de Bertodano (2003)
- The book was first published in 1975 in German, under the title Kleine Geschichte für Weiberfeinde, appearing in English two years later. The German title means, literally, Little Tales For Misogynists. (Lezard 2015) A critic noted, "This is not a book to teach the misogynists a lesson: it’s something you might give a misogynist on his birthday," but found the accusations of misogynism to be without foundation. (Lezard 2015)
- "Mary P Highsmith in the United States Social Security Death Index, 4 February 1995
- Dirda (2009)
- Castle (2003)
- Schenkar (2008)
- Cohen (2010)
- Schenkar (2011)
- Lazarus (2009)
- The Talented Mr. Ripley
- Dawson (2015)
- Ebert (1996)
- Wilson (May 2003)
- Peary (1988)
- Ebert (2006)
- "Berlinale 1978: Jury members".
- Guinard (1991)
- Currey (2013) p.12
- Fierman (2000)
- Wilson (July 2003)
- de Bertodano (2003)
- Meaker (2003)
- Winterson (2009)
- Walter (2003)
- Swiss National Library, 2007
- Castle, Terry (10 November 2003). "The Ick Factor". The New Republic. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
- Cohen, Patricia (10 December 2009). "The Haunts of Miss Highsmith". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
- Currey, Mason (23 April 2013). Daily Rituals: How Artists Work (1st ed.). London: Knopf. ISBN 978-0307273604.
- Dirda, Michael (2 July 2009). "This Woman Is Dangerous". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
- Dawson, Jill (13 May 2015). "Carol: the women behind Patricia Highsmith's lesbian novel". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
- de Bertodano, Helena (16 June 2003). "A passion that turned to poison". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
- Ebert, Roger (3 July 1996). "Purple Noon review". The Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
- Ebert, Roger (9 April 2006). "Great movies: Ripley's Game". The Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
- Fierman, Daniel (14 January 2000). "Mystery Girl : Deceased mistress of suspense Patricia Highsmith is finding new fans with The Talented Mr. Ripley". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
- Guinard, Mavis (17 August 1991). "Patricia Highsmith : Alone With Ripley". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
- Lazarus, Leon and Marjorie (December 2009). "Patricia Highsmith & The Golden Age of American Comics: interview of Joan Schenkar". Alter Ego (90): 35–40.
- Lezard, Nicholas (20 January 2015). "Little Tales of Misogyny by Patricia Highsmith review – a mischievous look at the suburban American dream". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
- Meaker, Marijane (April 2003). Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950's (1st ed.). New Jersey: Cleis Press. ISBN 978-1573441711.
- Peary, Gerald (Spring 1988). "Patricia Highsmith interview". Sight & Sound 75 (2): 104–105. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
- Schenkar, Joan (8 December 2008). The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith (1st ed.). New York: St. Martin's.
- Schenkar, Joan (29 September 2011). "After Patricia". The Paris Review. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
- Theroux, Alexander (7 December 2009). "The Misfit and Her Muses". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
- Walter, Natasha (12 July 2003). "A lover, not a liker". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
- Wilson, Andrew (24 May 2003). "Ripley's enduring allure". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
- Wilson, Andrew (July 2003). Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith (1st ed.). London: Bloomsbury.
- Winterson, Jeanette (16 December 2009). "Patricia Highsmith, Hiding in Plain Sight". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
- Works by or about Patricia Highsmith in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Patricia Highsmith at the Internet Movie Database
- Patricia Highsmith Papers at the Swiss Literary Archives
- Patricia Highsmith. Exhibition of the Swiss National Library, March – September 2006
- Taped interview of Patricia Highsmith by mystery author Michael Dibdin, September 1991
- Interview of Patricia Highsmith by Naim Attallah, 1993