Patricia Highsmith Highsmith, (Mary) Patricia (Vol. 14) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Highsmith, (Mary) Patricia 1921–

Highsmith is an American-born novelist and short story writer now living in France. Her highly imaginative fiction is characterized by chillingly realistic explorations of crime and the criminal mind. (See also CLC, Vols. 2,4, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

Marghanita Laski

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I used to be the only person I knew who loathed Patricia Highsmith's work for its inhumanity to man, but our numbers are growing and will be increased by [The Animal Lover's Book of Beastly Murder], short stories about animals killing or mutilating people, with a strong flavour of being motivated less by pity for animals than by distaste for men. (p. 685)

Marghanita Laski, "Long Crimes, Short Crimes," in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1975; reprinted by permission of Marghanita Laski), Vol. 94, No. 2433, November 20, 1975, pp. 684-85.∗

Neil Hepburn

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Highsmith's purposes are evidently sterner than the mere setting down of [a] sad chronicle of family life [in Edith's Diary]: her characters and their circumstances are transparently emblematic of the state of the Union, as well as of the union, in the horrible Vietnam years—the do-gooding that refuses responsibility and results too easily in death for the done-good-by, the lying and evasions of men unwilling to accept the consequences of their actions, the inheritance by the rootless and thoughtless of America the once-beautiful, the irrevocable passing of that patrician strain that, for all its shortcomings, carried within it the ideals of 1776. It is a very pessimistic view of America and, in Miss Highsmith's wonderfully insinuating prose, a very convincing one. Can it really be like that? (p. 699)

Neil Hepburn, "Nuclear Reactions," in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1977; reprinted by permission of Neil Hepburn), Vol. 97, No. 2510, May 26, 1977, pp. 698-99.∗

Miss Highsmith has always been a strong and richly imaginative entertainer, and "Edith's Diary" is her strongest, her most imaginative, and by far her most substantial…. [Edith] is a firmly committed liberal with a clear view of the realities of world affairs, but her diary tells a different story: it gives her satisfaction there to soften, and even beautify, the rough edges of family and domestic truth…. The diary entries take on a brighter and brighter glow. "Edith's Dairy" is a work of extraordinary force and feeling. (pp. 86-7)

"Books: 'Edith's Diary'," in The New Yorker (© 1977 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. LIII, No. 28, August 29, 1977, pp. 86-7.

Tom Paulin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Alas, there's nothing revolutionary about Little Tales of Misogyny, a thin collection of failed fables in which various hairy, possessive or over-fecund women are murdered by their mates. It would be wrong to read these stories as indirectly feminist satires on dependency, because the real centre of their inspiration is the delight which Patricia Highsmith everwhere shows for the brutal ways in which these unlikely women are first murdered and then 'thrown away as one might throw away a cricket lighter when it is used up'. The style of these sterile anecdotes, moreover, is baldly second-rate: 'Christine was absolutely no loss to Philippe except for burial fees', and so on. (p. 745)

Tom Paulin, "Mortem Virumque Cano," in New Statesman (© 1977 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 94, No. 2436, November 25, 1977, pp. 744-45.∗

Blake Morrison

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Critics have been unsure of where to place Patricia Highsmith's work, and it's easy to see why. To call her a 'crime writer' sounds limiting, even patronising, since, like Chabrol, Highsmith is less interested in the mechanics of crimes than in the psychology behind them. On the other hand you can hardly overlook the fact that most of her fictions end up with blood on their hands: she may command a high-art following, but there are those who read her to see how ingeniously and brutally she'll dispose of her characters. Very few of the 12 stories in Slowly, Slowly in the Wind slot neatly into a crime-suspense category, but there's no slackening of invention when it comes to the crunch. Vines sprouting out of a pond drag their victims underwater; a farmer's corpse is hung up as a scarecrow; Madame Thibault's Waxworks Museum acquires three additional exhibits …

The most chilling stories here are those in which the threat of violence or death, and the taking of measures to stave off that threat, have become a part of daily routine…. There's a good deal of class and racial tension in these stories (middle-class whites protecting themselves against down-and-outs and blacks), but the ultimate horror-show is one that a family inflicts on itself: a child dies after swallowing broken glass and sleeping tablets left on the floor by a neglectful mother and drunk father. This story, 'Those Awful Dawns', reads at times like an exaggerated case-study for trainee social workers, but Highsmith's grasp of current social problems is generally greater than she's given credit for and she's at her most macabre when most mundane. (p. 455)

Blake Morrison, "Hot Stuff," in New Statesman (© 1979 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 97, No. 2506, March 30, 1979, pp. 454-55.∗

Lorna Sage

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Slowly, Slowly in the Wind is] well up to Miss Highsmith's usual standard of nastiness, though perhaps more motley, not so insidiously interlinked as her last collection, the splendid 'Little Tales of Misogyny.' Though her talent for finding fresh horrors, still unspoilt corners of the mind, is exhilarating. Here, one theme that's striking is the furious violence of the meek (senior citizens, suffering wives, violated householders): they were always supposed to inherit the earth, but she's found characteristically ingenious and chilling ways of suggesting how that may come about. Such topical motifs rub shoulders with the classics (the wax museum, the encroaching vegetable) which are equally cleverly twisted, and even a couple of metaphysical/futuristic pieces, which are not. The best story, in some ways, is the oddest, 'The Man who Wrote Books in his Head.' In it she produces a dizzying and very funny illusion within illusion, a casual reminder of the skills behind the blacker magic.

Lorna Sage, "Black Mischief," in The Observer (reprinted by permission of The Observer Limited), No. 9788, April 1, 1979, p. 37.