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20 - Patricia Highsmith

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2012

Timothy Parrish
Affiliation:
Florida State University
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Summary

There may be the girl waiting, the kiss in the dark, the whispered word of promise, the sun in the park or the swans on the lake. The job for me and the job for him and for him, the flag waving bold and free forever, and over and over again the handsome boy meeting lovely girl and all the lovely love pursued and captured. It might all be for the best … but I don’t see it that way. I never will. I just don’t see it that way.

Patricia Highsmith, Cahier 6, May 7, 1942

Let’s not waste a moment. Miss Highsmith has been waiting a long time.

Patricia Highsmith (1921–95), who spent half her life outside the United States and saw her best works corralled into categories that couldn’t begin to account for their depth, their dazzle, and their direct attack on her readers, wrote six or seven of the darkest, most delinquent novels of the last half of the twentieth century.

At least two of them, Strangers on a Train (1950) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), are masterpieces of midcentury American fiction – and in the old-fashioned sense, too. They shed light and throw shade on the modalities, manners, moeurs, and psyches of profoundly transgressive, specifically American characters in ways that should have staked Highsmith’s claim to a corner of literature’s best back lot (strewn, now, with crumpled carbon paper, point-less fountain pens, and discarded typewriters) – the Great American Novel.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2012

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References

The Patricia Highsmith Papers at the Swiss Literary Archives in Berne, Switzerland. Available online. URL: .
Schenkar, Joan, The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2009; New York, Picador, 2011.Google Scholar
Lawrence, D. H., Studies in Classic American Literature (New York, Viking Press, 1966), p. 5Google Scholar
Highsmith, , Strangers on a Train (New York, W. W. Norton, 2001)Google Scholar
Highsmith, , “Afterword,” in The Price of Salt (Tallahassee, Fla., Naiad Press, 1993)Google Scholar
Highsmith turned Henry James’s central premise for The Ambassadors (1903) upside down (the only way she could imagine it) and smuggled it into The Talented Mr. Ripley
Marcel Proust’s The Captive & The Fugitive (1923; 1925) provides a perfect expression of the central situation in many Highsmith fictions: “It is terrible to have the life of another person attached to one’s own like a bomb which one holds in one’s hands, unable to get rid of it without committing a crime.”
Strangers on a Train to The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980)
Highsmith, , Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction (New York, St. Martin’s Griffin, 1990)Google Scholar
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  • Patricia Highsmith
  • Edited by Timothy Parrish, Florida State University
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to American Novelists
  • Online publication: 05 December 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCO9781139003780.021
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  • Patricia Highsmith
  • Edited by Timothy Parrish, Florida State University
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to American Novelists
  • Online publication: 05 December 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCO9781139003780.021
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Patricia Highsmith
  • Edited by Timothy Parrish, Florida State University
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to American Novelists
  • Online publication: 05 December 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCO9781139003780.021
Available formats
×