Patricia and Her Double

Adriana Prodeus

Had she not become a writer, she would have been a murderer. Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) balanced precariously on the border of ‘being’ her protagonist, Tom Ripley. She even said that he was the real author of her novels, and signed them ‘Tom/Pat’. Through this character, which was developed in five books, she built the most intimate relationship in her life. A relationship that has fascinated filmmakers for decades.

People have tried to pigeonhole Highsmith as an author of crime fiction, a master of suspense, and a lesbian writer. She has eluded such formulas. In each of her books, she explores new worlds and is simply a writer of splendid literature. Her Little Tales of Misogyny are succinct stories about women who kill their husbands in the most ingenious ways. For example, by bearing them seventeen children. In a restrained style and icy tone, Highsmith climbs the heights of irony. Quite a different convention is maintained in The Cry of the Owl, a brilliant thriller about a stalker watching a woman who gets tangled up in a toxic relationship.

Patricia was a child of Freudianism, conveying his ideas in roles and scenes. The repressed aspect of consciousness comes to light in her books. We see events from the perspective of the hero because a sense of horror is achieved by showing what would happen if our fantasies were fully realized. Perhaps this is the reason her strongest relationship was with Ripley.

Tom Ripley appeared on the pages of her novels for the first time in 1954, stating that he was 25 years old. Today he would therefore be 82. He was last seen­ in 1992, standing on a bridge in Moret-sur-Loing, throwing his ring into the water. He left it there as a good luck omen that he would someday return. So perhaps he is alive – living under an assumed name, in a estate like Belle Ombre. These days it would not be so easy for him to hide, traces of DNA and retinal scans would reveal his identity. But he would also dissolve into multiple aliases and avatars. He would use old tricks, traveling on various passports and making a living by forging paintings. But in our era of simulacra and doubles, living in hiding has also simply lost the dramatic effect it once had.

How many murders Ripley has committed, he does not exactly remember himself. He does not delight in them. After the first, subsequent ones just happen, but he tries to deal with them with detachment, serenity, and good manners. He abhors blood and violence, killing out of necessity. He craves a luxurious lifestyle and is afraid to lose his. What fascinates him most is his own nature, the fact that lying is more authentic than the truth.

Tom is never carried away by sentiment. He has a seeming internal balance. However, he is deathly afraid of the fact that some basic information about himself continues to elude him, the knowledge of who he really is. He is the perfect actor. He assumes different names, and uses his talent for forging signatures and his exceptional ability to imitate voices. He pays no price for all of this because inside he merely feels a kind of chill, as if he did not participate in key moments in his own life. He playfully engages the situation, looking at himself in costumes and scenery that have moved him from the lower to the upper class. What guarantees his success is the fact that for him there is no point, there is no motive. He kills time playing the harpsichord and trimming dahlias. He experiences emptiness like a sweet disease.

None of the film adaptations of the Tom Ripley saga entirely satisfied the writer’s vision. If we were to imagine Kubrick’s The Shining crossed with Hitchcock’s Psycho and Crispin Glover’s It is Fine, Everything is Fine, such a combination would perhaps reflect the tension, chill, and madness of the prose. The most well known film version of Ripley’s work, an adaptation by Anthony Minghella, was unsuccessful. From the first scenes of the film, the construction of the uncertain and absent-minded protagonist relies on guilt, homosexual fantasy, and being lost. The writer would, therefore, have not liked Matt Damon. Moreover, she would have criticized Dennis Hopper in The American friend by Wim Wenders, a 1977 adaptation of Ripley’s Game. Alain Delon was, in her opinion, a little better, and she was bored by British actor Jonathan Kent in the television version. John Malkovich would also not have appealed to her in Liliana Cavani’s film. After all, she coolly received Gerard Depardieu’s performance in Dites-lui que je l’aime.

Nothing was able to satisfy her. She alone could play Tom Ripley.

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Adriana Prodeus spoke about the films of Hitchcock, Chabrol, Wenders, Cavani, Miller, and Minghella and their relation to books in a multimedia lecture. A discussion about copies, doubles, and forgers took place with both her and Zofia Gebhard, a poet and art historian from Wrocław.