The lesbian life and loves of Patricia Highsmith
But the idea for the troubled housewife in the novel, The Price of Salt (which later became the basis of the highly-lauded movie), came from an innocuous meeting.
During her hungry years, Highsmith took a temp job at the toy department of Bloomingdale’s. As in the book, the young writer met a beautiful, older woman who bought a doll for her daughter.
While Highsmith would never see the woman again, something else was born from that meeting. That night, her experience drove her to write what would become her groundbreaking novel.
Patricia Highsmith’s childhood
Highsmith was born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1921. A few days before she was born, her parents separated. When her mother married again, she took on her stepfather’s surname.
As a child, she was sent to live with her grandmother who taught her how to read. She later developed a love for reading because of her grandmother’s wide library.
While Highsmith contended her mother had tried to abort her, her biographer insisted it was her father who wanted the abortion.
Patricia Highsmith: The writer
From a voracious reader, Highsmith became a prolific writer, coming out with 22 novels and countless short stories.
Aside from Carol Aird, the author also created the very popular fictional character Tom Ripley of The Talented Mr. Ripley fame.
“Europeans honored her as a psychological novelist, part of an existentialist tradition represented by her own favorite writers, in particular Dostoyevsky, Conrad, Kafka, Gide, and Camus,” Michael Dirda wrote in the New York Review of Books.
Ironically, her first novel, Strangers on a Train was relatively successful when it was first published in 1950.
But the book found its footing when it was adapted into film by Alfred Hitchcock a year later.
Patricia Highsmith and the price of love
Highsmith wrote The Price of Salt in 1952. This story was considered revolutionary because it had a happy ending for its lesbian characters.
“Prior to this book, homosexuals male and female in American novels had had to pay for their deviation by cutting their wrists, drowning themselves in a swimming pool, or by switching to heterosexuality (so it was stated), or by collapsing– alone and miserable and shunned– into a depression equal to hell,” Highsmith wrote in the afterword of the new edition of her book.
Likewise, this book reflected Highsmith’s tendency to fall for married women and have short-lived relationships with them.
Specifically, The Price of Salt was based on one of her affair with American socialite, Virginia Kent Catherwood.
All in all, Highsmith’s life was troubled and replete with depression and alcoholism. However, her contribution to American literature was incomparable.