Patricia Highsmith Biography & Facts
Patricia Highsmith (January 19, 1921 – February 4, 1995) was an American novelist and short story writer widely known for her psychological thrillers, including her series of five novels featuring the character Tom Ripley.
She wrote 22 novels and numerous short stories throughout her career spanning nearly five decades, and her work has led to more than two dozen film adaptations. Her writing derived influence from existentialist literature, and questioned notions of identity and popular morality. She was dubbed "the poet of apprehension" by novelist Graham Greene.Her first novel, Strangers on a Train, has been adapted for stage and screen, the best known being the Alfred Hitchcock film released in 1951. Her 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley has been adapted for film. Writing under the pseudonym Claire Morgan, Highsmith published the first lesbian novel with a happy ending, The Price of Salt, in 1952, republished 38 years later as Carol under her own name and later adapted into a 2015 film.
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 Mary Plangman (née Coates; September 13, 1895 – March 12, 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 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 "The Terrapin," her short story about a young boy who stabs his mother to death. Highsmith's mother predeceased her by only four years, dying at the age of 95.Highsmith's grandmother taught her to read at an early age, and she 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.Many of Highsmith's 22 novels were set in Greenwich Village, where she lived at 48 Grove Street from 1940 to 1942, before moving to 345 E. 57th Street. In 1942, Highsmith graduated from Barnard College, where she studied English composition, playwriting, and short story prose. After graduating from college, and despite endorsements from "highly placed professionals," she applied without success for a job at publications such as Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, Mademoiselle, Good Housekeeping, Time, Fortune, and The New Yorker.Based on the recommendation from Truman Capote, Highsmith was accepted by the Yaddo artist's retreat during the summer of 1948, where she worked on her first novel, Strangers on a Train.
Highsmith endured cycles of depression, some of them deep, throughout her life. Despite literary success, she wrote in her diary of January 1970: "[I] am now cynical, fairly rich ... lonely, depressed, and totally pessimistic." Over the years, Highsmith suffered from female hormone deficiency, anorexia nervosa, chronic anemia, Buerger's disease, and lung cancer.
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 hostile. Her chronic alcoholism intensified as she grew older.She famously preferred the company of animals to that of people and stated in a 1991 interview, "I choose to live alone because my imagination functions better when I don't have to speak with people."Otto Penzler, her U.S. publisher through his Penzler Books imprint, had met Highsmith in 1983, and four years later witnessed some of her theatrics intended to create havoc at dinner tables and shipwreck an evening. He said after her death that "[Highsmith] was a mean, cruel, hard, unlovable, unloving human being ... I could never penetrate how any human being could be that relentlessly ugly. ... But her books? Brilliant."Other friends, publishers, and acquaintances held different views of Highsmith. Editor Gary Fisketjon, who published her later novels through Knopf, said that "She was very rough, very difficult ... But she was also plainspoken, dryly funny, and great fun to be around." Composer David Diamond met Highsmith in 1943 and described her as being "quite a depressed person—and I think people explain her by pulling out traits like cold and reserved, when in fact it all came from depression." J. G. Ballard said of Highsmith, "The author of Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley was every bit as deviant and quirky as her mischievous heroes, and didn't seem to mind if everyone knew it." Screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, who adapted The Price of Salt into the 2015 film Carol, met Highsmith in 1987 and the two remained friends for the rest of Highsmith's life. Nagy said that Highsmith was "very sweet" and "encouraging" to her as a young writer, as well as "wonderfully funny."She was considered by some as "a lesbian with a misogynist streak."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" which she said were her "companions for the evening."She loved woodworking tools and made several pieces of furniture. Highsmith worked without stopping. In later life, she became stooped, with an osteoporotic hump. Though the 22 novels and 8 books of short stories she wrote were highly acclaimed, especially outside of the United States, Highsmith preferred her personal life to remain private.A lifelong diarist, Highsmith left behind eight thousand pages of handwritten notebooks and diaries.
As an adult, Patricia Highsmith's sexual relationships were predominantly with women. She occasionally engaged in sex with men without physical desire for them, and wrote in her diary: "The male face doesn't attract me, isn't beautiful to me." She told writer Marijane Meaker in the late 1950s that she had "tried to like men. I like most men better than I like women, but not in bed." In a 1970 letter to her stepfather Stanley, Highsmith described sexual encounters with men as "steel wool in the face, a sensation of being raped in the wrong p.... Discover the Patricia Highsmith popular books. Find the top 100 most popular Patricia Highsmith books.