Today, Tuesday, January 19, 2021, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of great American novelist Patricia Highsmith, best known for her classic psychological thrillers Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Born in Fort Worth, Texas on January 19, 1921, Highsmith had a troubled relationship with her mother and was sent to live with her grandmother at an early age. She graduated from Barnard College in 1942 where she studied English composition and, despite many endorsements, applied without success for a job at publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Mademoiselle, Good Housekeeping, Time, Fortune, and The New Yorker. In 1948, with a recommendation from Truman Capote, she attended the Yaddo artist’s retreat where she would begin work on her first novel, Strangers on a Train.
Strangers on a Train proved relatively successful upon publication in 1950 and its adaptation as a film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951 brought Highsmith recognition as a writer. The plot of the thriller follows two strangers who meet on a train, an amateur tennis player, Guy Haines, who wants to leave his promiscuous wife for the daughter of a U.S. Senator, and a charming psychopath, Bruno Antony, who devises a plan for the two to “swap murders”; Antony offers to kill Haines’ wife in exchange for the murder of Antony’s deeply hated father.
Haines agrees to Antony’s proposal, but after Antony kills his wife, police suspect Haines and have him followed, making it difficult for him to fulfill his end of the bargain and causing Antony to stalk and attempt to frame him, which ultimately ends in Antony’s violent death. The novel was adapted again for the screen in 1969 by Rob Sparr and for both the theatre and radio by Craig Warner in 1995.
Following the success of her first novel, Highsmith devoted herself entirely to writing fiction and in 1955 wrote her best-known novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, a thriller following the demise of another charming criminal, Tom Ripley, who devises a plan to befriend, murder and steal the identity of handsome young aristocrat, Dickie Greenleaf. Highsmith’s most famous character, Tom Ripley has been repeatedly praised for being “both a likable character and a cold-blooded killer” (The Guardian).
The book was adapted into five films, including the 1960 crime thriller film Purple Noon directed by René Clément and the psychological thriller film of the same name in 1999 directed by Anthony Minghella and starring Matt Damon as Tom Ripley, Jude Law as Dickie Greenleaf, Gwyneth Paltrow as Marge Sherwood, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Freddie Miles.
Due to the great success of its title character, Highsmith published four subsequent novels which now compose the so-called “Ripliad”: Ripley Under Ground (1970), Ripley’s Game (1974), The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980), and Ripley Under Water (1991). The fourth novel in the “Ripliad” and one of Highsmith’s darkest novels, The Boy Who Followed Ripley offers a glimpse into a more compassionate side of Tom Ripley when he meets a young American boy with a secret that he is desperate to hide.
Highsmith published 22 novels and several short story collections throughout the course of her career, she was also the recipient of 8 major literary awards including the Edgar Allan Poe Scroll in 1956 and the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière in 1957 both for The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Browse all of the titles by Patricia Highsmith currently in our collection here.