Biography of Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith, born Mary Patricia Plangman in Texas, attended Barnard College in New York and graduated in 1942. She moved to Europe after a period of travel in the late 1940s. Her first novel, Strangers on a Train, a psychological thriller about two ostensibly very different men sharing a train journey, was published in 1950. The work was adapted for film only a year later, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and written by Raymond Chandler and Czenzi Ormonde. Highsmith published her novel The Price of Salt, which describes an affair between a younger woman and an older one, under the pseudonym Claire Morgan in 1952.

In 1955, Highsmith published her most famous work, The Talented Mr. Ripley, which focuses on a manipulative, murderous protagonist who assumes the identity of his victims. The book would be the first in a five-part series, accompanied by Ripley Under Ground (1970), Ripley’s Game (1974), The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980), and Ripley Under Water (1991). Highsmith was a prolific author, and her other well-known novels include The Blunderer (1954) and Deep Water (1957). Though she is best known as a novelist, Highsmith also published short stories and nonfiction, generally about the craft of writing itself. Her story collections include The Black House (1981) and Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes (1987), and she published Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction in 1966.

Highsmith was a lesbian at a time when homosexuality was generally ignored or frowned upon, and many of her works contain themes of queerness alongside those of violence and stolen identities. Her personality could be abrasive, and she generally did not maintain close relationships, though some of her short-lived affairs served as inspiration for The Price of Salt, among other works. She died in Switzerland in 1995. Her fiction remains popular. In addition to Hitchcock's adaptation of Strangers on a Train, many of Highsmith's books have been adapted as films. The Talented Mr. Ripley was made into a film starring Matt Damon in 1999, and Showtime has ordered the production of a TV series based on the novels, titled Ripley. The Price of Salt was the basis for the 2015 film Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Highsmith has been the subject of a number of biographies, including Joan Schenkar's The Talented Miss Highsmith (2009) and Andrew Wilson's Beautiful Shadow (2003).

Study Guides on Works by Patricia Highsmith