Patricia Highsmith Additional Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The author of numerous novels and short stories, Patricia Highsmith examines moral values from unexpected perspectives, challenging conventional ethics and exploring questions of guilt and culpability, aggression, self-doubt, and alienation. The clinically detached voices and amoral points of view of her narrators are compelling, disturbing, even chilling.{$S[A]Morgan, Claire;Highsmith, Patricia}

Highsmith’s childhood was an unhappy one, and she felt distanced from both parents, Mary Coates and Jay Bernard Plangman. Her mother drank turpentine to try to miscarry Patricia, and shortly after Highsmith’s birth, her parents divorced. Highsmith was raised by her grandparents. Her grandmother taught her to read when she was two years old; in Highsmith’s own words, she could “read like a streak.” At age six, she joined her mother and stepfather, both commercial artists, in Greenwich Village, New York City, and took Stanley Highsmith’s last name. Highsmith detested her parents; years later, though she paid for her mother’s nursing home, she refused to visit her. She did not meet her real father until she was twelve. One of her doomed heroines describes her family as Highsmith would her own: “blind” and “uncaring.” Precocious and driven to reach outside this disturbing family setting, she had read the Sherlock Holmes stories by nine and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851) twice by fourteen; she read the dictionary and, at fifteen, started keeping “cahiers”—records of dreams, satiric observations, and germs of ideas.

At Julia Richman High School in Manhattan, Highsmith edited the school newspaper and contributed short stories. Later, while an undergraduate at Barnard College, New York, she wrote comic strips (Superman and space stories). She graduated with a B.A. degree in 1942. She published her first short story, “The Heroine,” in Harper’s Bazaar in 1945. The terse style and the depiction of irrational compulsions beneath the surface calm of her early stories established the distinctive voice that Highsmith used throughout her life.

In the late 1940’s, like her female protagonist in Edith’s Diary, Highsmith became a political activist and won the attention of Truman...

(The entire section is 926 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

Patricia Highsmith was born Mary Patricia Plangman in Fort Worth, Texas, on January 19, 1921. Her parents, both commercial artists, separated...

(The entire section is 520 words.)