The October 4, 2021 issue of The New Yorker published nine (magazine) pages of the author Patricia Highsmith’s diary—“A Straight Line in the Darkness”. This reproduction of the diary begins in 1948 when Highsmith was age twenty-seven. At the end of her life, in 1995 at the age of seventy-four, she had written some eight thousand pages of her diary and published twenty-two novels.
Does anyone here keep a diary? I tried years ago, and diary-writing seemed to deplete me of energy of the story writing and novel writing. So I couldn’t keep it up. I tried to keep a dream diary, too. Now I take brief notes of my dreams in my daily planner.
Highsmith’s diary will be published in November, 2021. I don’t know the genesis of the publication. Did Highsmith instruct her heirs to publish the diary or instruct her literary agent? Or did someone just find the 8,000 pages and decide to publish them (which has happened to other authors including, I believe, Philip Roth)?
I just don’t know. Clearly, she meant to keep the diary secret during her long life.
Some entries are written in French or German and have been translated for publication. But most entries are in English. There’s some beautiful writing in there, more beautiful than her published work that I’ve read. In fairness to her, I haven’t read many of her novels.
What explodes out of the diary is her enormous energy and tumultuous engagement with the world. She met a British writer while at a writers’ retreat and became his on-and-off lover, at one point agreeing to marry him only to break it off because she “could not be he wanted.”
In 1950, Alfred Hitchcock paid Highsmith $7,500 for the rights to her first novel, “Strangers on a Train”. In 1950, this was a quite a lot money—the price of a nice house in some regions of the country or a professional’s yearly wage. The film was released in 1951 and, in my movie guide at least, is considered one of Hitchcock’s finest. (I confess I haven’t seen it—I’ll scour my library’s movie selection next time.)
(For comparison, for my 7,000 word short story in OMNI magazine, I was paid for an option of mid-five-figures for four years, then an outright sale of mid-six figures. So, in total, that would be the price of a house in some regions of the country—but barely so, in outlying parts of California.)
Two other films based on Highsmith’s work are “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (based on the novel of the same name) and “Carol” (based on the novel “The Price of Salt” published under a pseudonym in 1952.) Highsmith’s very supportive literary agent and New York editor didn’t want her to get a nonbinary reputation in the 1950s.
Recommended for anyone who is interested in a writer’s life, readers and fans of Patricia Highsmith, and anyone who is interested in the turmoil of a nonbinary life at the midcentury.
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