Patricia Highsmith Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How might the alienation in Patricia Highsmith’s fiction reflect the period in which she was writing?

According to Highsmith, how do suspense novels differ from mystery novels?

Highsmith’s work is distinctive because of its amorality. What is the difference between amoral and immoral tales?

How does Highsmith use performance and imitation in her novels?

What do readers learn from doubles and duality in Highsmith’s novels?

What vision of America does Highsmith’s fiction present to her readers?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Patricia Highsmith is best known for her highly original psychological studies of the criminal mind, particularly in the Ripley mystery series. She coauthored a children’s book and wrote material for television programs, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents. A number of her novels were made into films, including the 1951 Alfred Hitchcock production of Strangers on a Train (1950) and another version, produced in 1969, entitled Once You Kiss a Stranger (1969); The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), produced by Times Film in 1961 as Purple Noon and also filmed by Anthony Minghella in 1999; The Blunderer (1954) as Le Meurtrier (1963) and Enough Rope (1966); This Sweet Sickness (1960) as the French film Tell Her That I Love Her (1977); and Ripley’s Game (1974) as The American Friend (1978). In the 1990’s she published the novels Ripley Under Water (1991) and Small g: A Summer Idyll (1995).


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Patricia Highsmith won high critical and commercial acclaim in England, France, Germany, and eventually her native country. A member of the Detection Club, she received both the Edgar Allan Poe Scroll of the Mystery Writers of America and the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière award in 1957, for The Talented Mr. Ripley. In 1964, she received the Crime Writers Association of England Silver Dagger Award for the best foreign crime novel of the year, The Two Faces of January (1964). She was made an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1990.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to her novels, Patricia Highsmith wrote several collections of short stories, including The Snail-Watcher, and Other Stories (1970), The Animal-Lover’s Book of Beastly Murder (1975), Slowly, Slowly in the Wind (1979), The Black House (1981), Mermaids on the Golf Course, and Other Stories (1985), and Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes (1987). In 1966, she published a how-to book, Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction (reprinted and expanded three times by the author), which provides a good introduction to her work. She also wrote one children’s book, Miranda the Panda Is on the Veranda (1958), in collaboration with a friend, Doris Sanders. Although Highsmith wrote prizewinning short stories, she is best known for her novels, especially the Ripley series.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Patricia Highsmith was honored several times. For her first published story, “The Heroine,” which was written while she was a student at Barnard College, she was included in the O. Henry Prize Stories of 1946. The novel The Talented Mr. Ripley was awarded the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière in 1957 and the Edgar Allan Poe Scroll from the Mystery Writers of America. For The Two Faces of January she received the Award of the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Patricia Highsmith’s novels and short stories have been considered by critics to be among the very best work in modern crime fiction. Her highly original suspense novels, closer to the tradition of Fyodor Dostoevski than to the Golden Age of mysteries, are noted for the intriguing portrayal of characters who inadvertently become involved in crime, perhaps imagining committing a crime or carrying the guilt for a crime that goes undetected. Acute psychological studies of such antiheroes, together with complex plot structure, precise prose, and suspenseful development of unease within a finely drawn context, characterize her work. Highsmith’s focus on crimes committed by ordinary people in moments of malaise suggests that the lines between good and evil, guilty and innocent, and sanity and insanity are indeed problematic.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bloom, Harold, ed. “Patricia Highsmith.” In Lesbian and Bisexual Fiction Writers. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1997. Highsmith is discussed by several scholars of gay and lesbian studies, who contextualize her work in terms of that discipline. Bibliographic references.

Brophy, Brigid. “Highsmith.” In Don’t Never Forget: Collected Views and Reviews. New York: Henry Holt, 1966. Brophy compares Highsmith’s artistic achievements to those of Georges Simenon to argue that Highsmith’s crime novels, with their moral ambiguity, “transcend the limits of the genre while staying strictly inside its rules.” She claims that...

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