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Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia…
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Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith (2003)

by Andrew Wilson

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Showing 5 of 5
Hoping that The Talented Miss Highsmith is better. ( )
  sirk.bronstad | Feb 16, 2017 |
A complex, brilliant person....with a sad end. ( )
  sjohnsonauthor | Jan 3, 2009 |
Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) is best known for her disturbing books about sensitive and sympathetic psychopathic murderers (i.e. "Strangers on a Train" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley") - and for the movies they've inspired. Andrew Wilson's biography is fascinating, well researched and convincing; I don't know if I'd want to have dinner with Miss Highsmith, but at least I think I can understand a little "where she's coming from." The author Wilson would probably make a good novelist himself; he understands psychology, without being reductive or a follower of the Phil Donahue School of analysis. In many ways Highsmith was not a happy person, and she held many reprehensible beliefs about human nature and society, but she was a survivor, no doubt.

And she liked to read. I understand that, too. Here's Wilson describing Highsmith's fondness for solitary reading in her apartment - when she was in her early 20s:

"She had always been a voracious reader, but now she turned down invitations to dinner in favor of staying at home and immersing herself in the dark imaginative landscape of Thomas Mann, Strindberg, Goethe, Joyce, T.S. Eliot and Baudelaire. The mere thought that she was alone and surrounded by books gave her a near sensuous thrill. As she looked around her room, dark except for the slash of light near her lamp, and saw the vague outlines of her books, she asked herself, 'Have I not the whole world?'"

"Beautiful Shadow" is perhaps somewhat over-detailed, or maybe it just is that Highsmith's life lacks the kind of neat and tidy essence that makes for an elegant biography. On the other hand, Wilson is to be commended for his exhaustive research, AND for his ability to empathize with his subject, even at her most difficult. ( )
2 vote yooperprof | Dec 25, 2008 |
Patricia Highsmith is still, I suspect, largely unknown in the United States despite the fact that most people will remember the Alfred Hitchcock film, Strangers on a Train (not to mention the 1987 farce based on that film, Throw Mama from the Train), and the 1999 release of The Talented Mr. Ripley, all of which are based on novels by Highsmith. Between 1950 and her death in 1995, she produced twenty-two novels, seven collections of short stories, a book about writing and even a children’s book called Miranda the Panda is on the Veranda.

I have long been a fan of psychological suspense novels but have only recently started to read Patricia Highsmith because, frankly, she is not one of those high-profile writers who are found on the bookshelves of every Barnes & Noble or Borders bookstore in which I browse for new material (what that says about chain bookstores is a whole other story). As it turns out, I didn’t know what I was missing, and when I found a copy of Andrew Wilson’s Patricia Highsmith biography, Beautiful Shadow, I found that Highsmith’s personal life was every bit as interesting and as strange as her books.

Highsmith lived most of her adult life in Europe, spending more than a decade in France before moving to Switzerland where she died in 1995. But she was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and that state and her country left permanent marks on her despite the amount of time that she spent criticizing America and its foreign policy from Europe. She was born on January 19, 1921 just nine days after her parents were granted a divorce and, in fact, her birth name was Patricia Plangman not Patricia Highsmith. Three years after her divorce Mary Plangman married Stanley Highsmith, a commercial artist, and it was Stanley’s surname that Patricia was given when she started school in New York City. Highsmith always felt that she had been deceived by her mother regarding her real father and it is one of the many things for which she never forgave Mary.

The real Patricia Highsmith was largely defined by the fact that she was a lesbian although she did sleep with the man to whom she was engaged at one time, novelist Marc Brandel. She cared enough for Brandel to undergo six months of psychotherapy in an attempt to remake herself into a heterosexual but, of course, that effort was doomed to be an unsuccessful one. After graduating from Bernard, and while aiming to become a serious writer, she spent several years writing dialogue and plots for several comic book publishers at the rate of $55 per week. Her friend Truman Capote helped her get a place in Yaddo, a writer’s colony in Saratoga Springs, New York, at which she spent two months working on Strangers on a Train. Although she only ever spent two months there, it was to Yaddo that Highsmith left her entire fortune of some $3 million plus all future royalties paid on her works.

Patricia Highsmith is remembered for the way that her novels were so often told from the point-of-view of a sociopath as he committed murders and other assorted crimes. She did this so well that the reader often found himself sympathizing with the criminal and hoping that he escape justice despite the awful things that he had done. She was capable of describing, in detail, crimes of extreme evilness but she did it in such a direct, logical and detached way that the evil seemed real and almost commonplace. Most of her books have a homosexual undertone and that, along with the utter amorality of some of her leading characters, made it somewhat difficult for her to get her work published in the United States. It seemed easier for her to find willing publishers in Europe and she was always much more popular in Western Europe than she has ever been in her country of birth.

I doubt that I would have enjoyed the company of Patricia Highsmith but I do find her to have been a fascinating woman, one of those people with the kind of flawed personality that lends itself to the creation of great art. I recommend that anyone interested in reading Highsmith’s books read this biography first because of all of the insights it offers into her creative process and choices of subject matter.

Rated at: 5.0 ( )
2 vote SamSattler | Feb 27, 2007 |
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Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
To
Kate Kingsley Skattebol
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Charles Latimer
(1939 - 2002)
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When Patricia Highsmith looked up at the luminous face of the clock at the entrance to Pennsylania station, New York, she would have seen two stone-sculpted maidens flaning the extravagant timepiece.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0747568553, Paperback)

Patricia Highsmith - author of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY - had more than her fair share of secrets. During her life, she felt uncomfortable about discussing the source of her fiction and refused to answer questions about her private life. Yet after her death in February 1995, Highsmith left behind a vast archive of personal documents - diaries, notebooks and letters - which detail the links between her life and her work. Drawing on these intimate papers, together with material gleaned from her closest friends and lovers, Andrew Wilson has written the first biography of an author described by Graham Greene as the 'poet of apprehension'. Wilson illuminates the dark corners of Highsmith's life, casts light on mysteries of the creative process and reveals the secrets that the writer chose to keep hidden until after her death.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:39 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"'Every adult has secrets', says one of the characters in Patricia Highsmith's novel Carol, first published under a pseudonym in 1952 as The Price of Salt. Indeed, Highsmith - author of Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley - had more than her fair share. She felt uncomfortable about discussing the source of her fiction and refused to answer questions about her private life. Yet after her death in February 1995, Highsmith left behind a vast archive of personal documents - diaries, notebooks and letters - which detail the links between her life and her work." "Highsmith's output was prolific - she was the author of twenty-two novels and seven volumes of short stories - but it was always the degenerate and the criminal which most fascinated her. Best known for her suspense novels and the series featuring the amoral killer Tom Ripley, Highsmith raised crime fiction to new heights, and in the process created a transgressive genre of her own." "Drawing on Highsmith's voluminous personal papers, and the testimonies of her closest friends, Andrew Wilson has written the first biography of the author described by Graham Greene as 'the poet of apprehension' and by Gore Vidal as 'one of our greatest modernist writers'. In this biography he illuminates the dark corners of Highsmith's life, casts light on the mysteries of the creative process and reveals the secrets that the writer chose to keep hidden until after her death."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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