Who is Patricia Highsmith?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Patricia Highsmith was one of the most talented American novelists and short story writers of the 20th century. She is well known for her claustrophobic crime thrillers and macabre short fiction. Many of her works, notably Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley, have been adapted to film.

Patricia Highsmith died of leukemia on February 4, 1995.
Patricia Highsmith died of leukemia on February 4, 1995.

Patricia Highsmith was born Mary Patricia Plangman in Fort Worth, Texas on 19 January 1921. Her parents had divorced five months before Patricia's birth, and she spent her early childhood with her grandmother, who instilled in her a love of reading. Highsmith later moved in with her mother and stepfather, with whom her life was very stressful. Her relationship with her mother in particular was stormy and complicated.

Highsmith studied English composition at Barnard College, graduating in 1942. She began writing professionally for various comic book publishers immediately after graduation, and she spent her twenties living in New York City and Mexico. Her first novel, Strangers on a Train, was published in 1950. It was fairly successful, but it was not until Hitchcock's 1951 adaptation of the novel that Highsmith's career really began to take off. In addition to Strangers on a Train, Highsmith is perhaps best known for her series of novels featuring the character Tom Ripley.

Much of Highsmith's fiction, including the Ripley novels, features homosexual themes, and she wrote the first work of homosexual fiction with a happy ending, The Price of Salt, under the pseudonym Claire Morgan in 1953. Highsmith had many lesbian affairs, in addition to some with men, but she was a private person who suffered from alcoholism and had difficulty maintaining relationships in general. Her longest relationship, with fellow writer Marijane Meaker, lasted only two years, from 1959 to 1961.

In 1963, Highsmith became disillusioned with American culture and foreign policy, which she considered hypocritical, and moved to Europe, where she would spend the rest of her life. She continued writing until her last days, in which she suffered from leukemia. Patricia Highsmith died on 4 February 1995 in Locarno, Switzerland, and her final novel, Small g: a Summer Idyll, was published a week later.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


@boathugger: Patricia Highsmith won the French Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere in 1957. In 1964, she was awarded a Silver Dagger by the British Crime Writers Association. In 1979, she was awarded the Grand Master award by the Swedish Academy of Detection.


@boathugger: Highsmith explored the psychology of abnormal behavior and guilt. Many of her stories dealt with questions of personality and identity. Not only was she a talented writer, she was also a sculptor and a painter.

It is said that Patricia Highsmith was somewhat of a recluse. She spent most of her life alone. A publisher by the name of Otto Penzler described Highsmith as “the most unloving and unlovable person I have ever known”.


Does anyone have any additional information about Patricia Highsmith?

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