Tom Ripley

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Tom Ripley
First appearanceThe Talented Mr. Ripley
Last appearanceRipley Under Water
Created byPatricia Highsmith
Portrayed byAlain Delon
Dennis Hopper
Jonathan Kent
Matt Damon
John Malkovich
Barry Pepper
Ian Hart
Andrew Scott
In-universe information
Full nameThomas Phelps Ripley
AliasDickie Greenleaf
OccupationCon artist
SpouseHeloise Plisson (wife)

Tom Ripley is a fictional character in the Ripley series of crime novels by American novelist Patricia Highsmith, as well as several film adaptations. He is a career criminal, con artist, and serial killer. The five novels in which he appears—The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ripley Under Ground, Ripley's Game, The Boy Who Followed Ripley, and Ripley Under Water—were published between 1955 and 1991.

Ripley has been critically acclaimed for being "both a likable character and a cold-blooded killer".[1] Sam Jordison of The Guardian wrote, "It is near impossible, I would say, not to root for Tom Ripley. Not to like him. Not, on some level, to want him to win. Patricia Highsmith does a fine job of ensuring he wheedles his way into our sympathies."[2] Book magazine ranked Ripley at #60 on its list of the 100 Best Characters in Fiction since 1900.[3]

Fictional biography[edit]


Highsmith introduced Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), in which she provided him with a backstory. He was orphaned at age five when his parents drowned in Boston Harbor, and then raised by his aunt Dottie, a cold, stingy woman who mocked him as a "sissy.” As a teenager, he attempted unsuccessfully to run away from his aunt's home to New York City before finally moving there at age 20 to pursue an unsuccessful career as an actor. Ripley subsequently made a meager living as a con artist utilizing his skills in "forging signatures, telling lies, and impersonating practically anybody.”

The Talented Mr. Ripley[edit]

Ripley is paid to go to Italy by shipbuilding magnate Herbert Greenleaf to convince his son Dickie, a half-remembered acquaintance, to return to New York and take over the family business. Ripley befriends the younger Greenleaf and falls in love with the rich young man's indulgent, carefree lifestyle; he also becomes obsessed with Dickie himself. When Dickie grows bored with Ripley and spurns his friendship, Ripley kills him and assumes his identity, living off his trust fund.

Ripley enters a cat-and-mouse game with the Italian police that requires him to switch back and forth between Dickie's identity and his own to preserve the illusion that Dickie is still alive. This ruse gets him into trouble whenever he is confronted by the police and Dickie's friends, who know him as Tom Ripley, at the same time. One such friend, Freddie Miles, catches Ripley in the act of impersonating Dickie, so Ripley kills him, a crime for which the police suspect Dickie.

Ultimately, Ripley manages to keep himself safe by restoring his own identity and forging a suicide note in which "Dickie" confesses to killing Freddie. The story concludes with Ripley traveling to Greece, having discovered that the Greenleaf family has transferred Dickie's inheritance to Ripley – in accordance with a will forged by Ripley on Dickie's typewriter. Ripley exults in his newfound wealth, but he wonders if he will pay for it with a lifetime of paranoia, if he would "see police waiting for him at every pier he ever approached.”

Ripley Under Ground[edit]

In Ripley Under Ground, set six years later, Ripley has settled down into a life of leisure in France. He lives in a small country house called Belle Ombre ("Beautiful Shadow") in Villeperce, a fictional small town near Fontainebleau, about an hour’s drive from Paris. He has added to his fortunes by marrying Héloïse Plisson, an heiress who has suspicions about how he makes his money but prefers not to know. He occasionally assists small-time gangster Reeves Minot with lucrative forgery and smuggling jobs, but he avoids direct involvement in crime as much as possible to preserve his somewhat shady reputation.

Ripley is also a silent partner in a gallery that markets counterfeit works by the artist Derwatt, who, unbeknownst to the public, has been dead for years. When Thomas Murchison, an art collector, contacts Ripley with proof that his Derwatt paintings are fake, Ripley kills him by hitting him over the head with a bottle of wine, then dumps his body into a nearby river.

Bernard Tufts, the artist who forges the Derwatt paintings, considers exposing the fraud; when Ripley tries to talk him out of it, Bernard attacks him and buries him alive. Ripley survives, however, and preserves the fraud by attending an exhibition of Derwatt's paintings disguised as Derwatt himself. Upon seeing Ripley in disguise, Bernard has a nervous breakdown, believing that Derwatt has come back from the dead to punish him, and commits suicide, thus eliminating any chance of Ripley being accused of fraud.

Ripley's Game[edit]

In Ripley's Game, Ripley turns down Minot's offer to kill two rival gangsters in two separate hits. Soon afterward, he is insulted at a party by Jonathan Trevanny, a poor picture framer who has leukaemia. To get back at him, Ripley tells Minot that Jonathan is an assassin who can kill his two rivals; he then spreads a rumor that Jonathan has only a few months to live, even bribing a doctor to show Jonathan false results.

Minot then approaches Jonathan offering to hire him as a freelance assassin, an offer Jonathan reluctantly accepts in order to support his wife and son after his death. Ripley, meanwhile, is so fascinated by the situation that he intervenes in the second hit, which Jonathan has botched, and helps him kill several members of a Sicilian mafia syndicate.

Fearing reprisal from the Mafia, Ripley sends Heloise and their housekeeper, Mme. Annette, away on holiday to keep them safe and warns Jonathan that they are both in grave danger. They hole up at Belle Ombre and defend it against mafiosi who come after them, but Jonathan is mortally wounded while pushing Ripley out of the way of gunfire. Touched, but puzzled, by Jonathan's selflessness, Ripley leaves Jonathan's wife with the money he had earned as an assassin.

The Boy Who Followed Ripley[edit]

In The Boy Who Followed Ripley, Ripley befriends Frank Pierson, a teenage boy from a wealthy family who has run away from home. After Frank confesses to Ripley that he killed his own father by pushing him off a cliff, Ripley lets the boy live with him and Heloise at Belle Ombre, seeing in him a kindred spirit. He also commissions, through Minot, a fake passport for Frank so Ripley can take him to West Berlin to help him forget his troubles.

In Berlin, however, Frank is kidnapped by German gangsters who hold him for ransom. Ripley contacts the Pierson family to tell them what happened, and they wire him the ransom money. When Ripley meets with one of the kidnappers to exchange the money for Frank, the man simply takes it and runs off without returning Frank, prompting Ripley to beat him to death. He arranges a rendezvous with the kidnappers and manages to follow them to their hideout, where he finds and rescues Frank.

Ripley takes Frank back to his family's home in Kennebunkport and encourages him to put his father's murder behind him and move on with his life. Later that day, however, a guilt-ridden Frank commits suicide by throwing himself over the same cliff from which he pushed his father. Ripley returns to France after securing a former possession of Frank's as a memento, and finds, much to his own surprise, that he is devastated by the boy's death.

Ripley Under Water[edit]

In Ripley Under Water, Ripley's new neighbors, David and Janice Pritchard, hear of his shady reputation and begin prying into his private life, simply because they dislike him. When they discover that he murdered Murchison and threaten to expose him, Ripley pursues them with the aid of Ed Bradbury, one of his business partners in the Derwatt forgery scam.

They get into a fatal confrontation with the Pritchards that result in the couple falling into a lake; Ripley allows them to drown over Bradbury's halfhearted protestations. Ripley then goes back to his life, as though nothing had happened.



Highsmith characterizes Ripley as a "suave, agreeable and utterly amoral" con artist and serial killer who always evades justice. Ripley is epicurean and sophisticated, living a life of leisure in rural France. He spends most of his time gardening, painting, or studying languages. This is financed by a stolen inheritance, a small income from the Buckmaster Gallery, and his wife's allowance from her wealthy father. He is polite, friendly, and cultured, and dislikes people who lack such qualities; when the Pritchards appear in Ripley Under Water, their poor taste and manners immediately offend him. Ripley has typically been regarded as "cultivated", a "dapper sociopath", and an "agreeable and urbane psychopath."[4]

In his review of Purple Noon, René Clément's 1960 adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, film critic Roger Ebert described Ripley as "a committed hedonist, devoted to great comfort, understated taste, and civilized interests. He has wonderful relationships with women, who never fully understand who or what he is. He has friendships – real ones – with many of his victims. His crimes are like moves in a chess game; he understands that as much as he may like and respect his opponents, he must end with a 'checkmate'."[5]


While Highsmith never explicitly portrays Ripley as gay or bisexual, certain passages in the Ripley novels imply that he harbors some unacknowledged attraction towards men. In The Talented Mr. Ripley, he is obsessed with Greenleaf and is jealous of his girlfriend to the point that he fantasizes about Greenleaf rejecting and hitting her. Afraid that others will think he is gay, he jokes that he wants to give up both men and women because he cannot decide which he likes more.[6] In Ripley Under Ground, he recalls "turning green" during his wedding, then going impotent with laughter while having sex with Heloise during their honeymoon.

In The Boy Who Followed Ripley, he reflects that he and Heloise rarely have sex and that frequent sexual demands on her part "really would have turned him off, maybe at once and permanently.”[7] The Boy Who Followed Ripley, meanwhile, has been cited as portraying a homoerotic subtext between Ripley and the novel's supporting protagonist, Frank Pierson. For example, Frank sleeps in Ripley's bed without changing the sheets and speaks of his happiness at being at Belle Ombre with "the words of a lover.”[7] Highsmith herself was ambivalent about the subject of Ripley's sexuality. "I don't think Ripley is gay,” she said in a 1988 interview with Sight & Sound. "He appreciates good looks in other men, that's true. But he's married in later books. I'm not saying he's very strong in the sex department. But he makes it in bed with his wife."[8]


Ripley is portrayed as devoid of conscience. In The Boy Who Followed Ripley, he admits that he has never been seriously troubled by guilt. Though he sometimes feels "regret" about his earliest murders – he considers the murder of Dickie Greenleaf "a youthful, dreadful mistake" and that of Freddie Miles "stupid" and "unnecessary" – he cannot remember the number of his victims.[7] In his 2001 book Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited, Sam Vaknin writes that Ripley (as portrayed in the 1999 film The Talented Mr. Ripley) meets five of the seven criteria for antisocial personality disorder and also displays narcissistic traits.[9]

Ripley is not without redeeming qualities, however. He feels genuine affection (if not love) for several characters throughout the series and has his own code of ethics; in Ripley's Game, Ripley reflects that he detests murder unless it is "absolutely necessary.”[10] In his review of Purple Noon, Roger Ebert wrote: "Ripley is a criminal of intelligence and cunning who gets away with murder. He's charming and literate, and a monster. It's insidious, the way Highsmith seduces us into identifying with him and sharing his selfishness; Ripley believes that getting his own way is worth whatever price anyone else might have to pay. We all have a little of that in us."[5]


Alain Delon is, in Purple Noon, the first cinematic incarnation of the character, here with Marie Laforêt (as Marge) during the shooting of a scene in Italy in August 1959.

Highsmith's first three Ripley novels have been adapted into films. The Talented Mr. Ripley was filmed as Purple Noon (French: Plein Soleil) in 1960, starring Alain Delon as Ripley, and under its original title in 1999, starring Matt Damon. Ripley Under Ground was adapted into a 2005 film, starring Barry Pepper. Ripley's Game was filmed in 1977 as The American Friend, starring Dennis Hopper, and under its original title in 2002, starring John Malkovich.

The Ripley novels have also been adapted for television and radio. The Talented Mr. Ripley was adapted for a January 1956 episode of the anthology television series Studio One,[11] and Jonathan Kent played Ripley in a 1982 episode of The South Bank Show titled "Patricia Highsmith: A Gift for Murder", dramatizing segments of Ripley Under Ground.[12] In 2009, BBC Radio 4 adapted all five Ripley novels with Ian Hart as Ripley.[13] In 2015, The Hollywood Reporter announced that a group of production companies were planning a television series based on the novels.[14] The following year, Deadline Hollywood announced that the series would be written by Neil Cross, having been in development at Endemol Shine Studios for over a year.[15] In 2019, the show was ordered to series at Showtime, with actor Andrew Scott playing the lead role and writer-director Steven Zaillian replacing Cross.[16] In 2023, the series had moved to Netflix. The series premiered in April 2024, with Scott receiving critical praise for his performance as Ripley.[17]

Of the Ripley portrayals that Highsmith saw, she praised Delon's performance in Purple Noon as "excellent"[8] and described Jonathan Kent as "perfect".[12] She initially disliked Hopper's Ripley in The American Friend, but changed her mind after seeing the film a second time, feeling that he had captured the essence of the character.[18][19] In Joanna Murray Smith's 2014 play, Switzerland, Tom Ripley comes to life and visits Highsmith planning to kill her. In the 2014 Sydney Theatre Company premiere production, he was portrayed by Eamon Farren.[20]


  1. ^ Jordison, Sam (June 9, 2015). "Mr. Ripley's great talent? Making us like a killer and his crimes". The Guardian. London, England. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  2. ^ Jordison, Sam (June 2, 2015). "Tom Ripley, the likable psychopath". The Guardian. London, UK. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  3. ^ Paik, Christine (March 2002). "100 Best fictional characters since 1900". Book. New York, NY: West Egg Communications. Retrieved December 30, 2010 – via
  4. ^ Silet, Charles L.P. "Patricia Highsmith's Thomas Ripley". MysteryNet. Archived from the original on January 8, 2011. Retrieved December 30, 2010.
  5. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (July 3, 1996). "Purple Noon". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved December 30, 2020 – via
  6. ^ Highsmith, Patricia (1955). The Talented Mr. Ripley. New York City: Norton, W&W & Company. p. 81.
  7. ^ a b c Dirda, Michael (July 2, 2009). "This Woman is Dangerous". New York Review of Books. Vol. 56, no. 11. New York City: New York Review Books. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
  8. ^ a b Peary, Gerald (Spring 1988). "Interview: Patricia Highsmith". Sight & Sound. Vol. 75, no. 2. London: British Film Institute. pp. 104–105. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved February 1, 2010 – via
  9. ^ Vaknin, Sam (2003). Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited. Rheinbeck, New York: Narcissus Publishing. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
  10. ^ Highsmith, Patricia (1974). Ripley's Game. New York City: Norton, W&W & Company. p. 12.
  11. ^ "The Talented Mr. Ripley". Studio One. Season 8. Episode 17. January 9, 1956. CBS.
  12. ^ a b Wilson, Andrew (May 24, 2003). "Ripley's enduring allure". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on October 7, 2015. Retrieved December 30, 2010.
  13. ^ "The Complete Ripley". BBC Radio 4. February 28, 2009. Archived from the original on September 10, 2010. Retrieved December 30, 2010.
  14. ^ Goldberg, Lesley (May 27, 2015). "Patricia Highsmith's 'Ripley' Book Series Headed to TV (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on January 20, 2021. Retrieved May 6, 2018.
  15. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (March 24, 2016). "'Luther' Creator Neil Cross To Write TV Series Adaptation Of Tom Ripley Books". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on November 20, 2020. Retrieved July 14, 2016.
  16. ^ Thorne, Will (September 25, 2019). "'Fleabag' Star Andrew Scott Cast as Lead in Showtime Patricia Highsmith Series". Variety. Archived from the original on September 25, 2019. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
  17. ^ Walsh, Savannah (December 12, 2023). "First Look: Andrew Scott Is a Crazy-Sexy Scammer in Ripley". Vanity Fair. Condé Nast. Archived from the original on December 12, 2023. Retrieved December 12, 2023.
  18. ^ Schenkar, Joan (2009). The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith. New York City: St. Martin's Press. pp. 485–6.
  19. ^ Wim Wenders (director), Dennis Hopper (actor) (2003) [1977]. The American Friend (DVD). Beverly Hills, California: Starz/Anchor Bay.
  20. ^ Woodhead, Cameron (September 22, 2016). "Switzerland review: Murray-Smith psychological thriller is her best yet". Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on August 2, 2021. Retrieved May 6, 2018.