Recent years have seen a dramatic upswing in the popularity of Patricia Highsmith’s work. In this century, two biographies have been written about the prolific pulp novelist, and an array of laudatory articles have appeared in forums like Slate, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The Guardian, and The Times of London. As of this date, three new films based on her novels—there are over ten films currently in existence—are in varying stages of production, including a British teen version of Strangers on a Train, an arthouse adaptation of her lesbian romance The Price of Salt, and a treatment of The Two Faces of January, starring Viggo Mortenson and directed by Hossein Amini (Drive, 2011). Yet, her work has received very little critical attention. This term, my EN490: Major Authors course was organized around four of her novels, including Strangers on a Train, The Cry of the Owl, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and The Price of Salt (in addition to several short stories).
This past Saturday, my students pulled off quite a nice class event as their final experience in the term–we worked together to develop an afternoon with Patricia Highsmith’s Talented Mr. Ripley, which included a three-student, two-faculty discussion panel. The students did most of the work to plan and organize the event–they spoke with campus newspaper representatives, created posters and other publicity materials, traveled to classes to encourage student turnout, learned how to use the projection booth and the auditorium technology (very effectively, I might add!), book the room, contact the faculty panelists, arrange snacks, and generally ensure the event happened without hitch. We discussed which film to show, why we wanted to show it, what we wanted the audience to leave with, and so on; I still think the MU community could have benefited from seeing René Clément’s 1960 Plein Soleil, instead of the 1999 Minghella version, but the students made a good case for guerrilla education, and we went with the American film. We did have to pare down our plans a bit, but in the end, it worked well. I’m awaiting final reflections from the class, but I would definitely attempt it again–we learned quite a bit!
As a bit of tech and Highsmith indulgence on my part, I created a mashup-slash-mini-documentary about the author, which you can view online.