Exeter, Devon UK • Apr 18, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Arts & Lit LGBTQ+ Author Spotlight: Patricia Highsmith

LGBTQ+ Author Spotlight: Patricia Highsmith

Florence New discusses her favourite LGBTQ+ writer, Patricia Highsmith.
3 mins read
Written by
Image: greg_mcc1 via Flickr

Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) was an American writer known for her psychological thrillers. Across her career, Highsmith wrote 22 novels and hundreds of short stories. Her first novel was Strangers on a Train, the film adaptation of which was later directed by Alfred Hitchcock. 

One of her most influential pieces, although readers were not aware of this at the time, was The Price of Salt, written under the pseudonym Claire Morgan in 1952. This book became known as the first lesbian novel with a ‘happy ending’, republished 38 years later as Carol, under Highsmith’s own name. 

Highsmith had multiple unhappy relationships with men, resenting the physical side. In 1948, she underwent psychoanalysis in an attempt to change her sexuality so she could marry a man, but later called off the engagement. Issues with her sexuality were complicated by her intense depression and alcoholism. Highsmith consistently had affairs with women throughout her adult life but felt pressured to hide her lesbianism, so continued the charade of dating men. The women Highsmith did have relationships with tended to be older, influential, and privileged, like Carol Aird, the love interest in Carol. The story was inspired by Highsmith’s seasonal job in the toy department at Bloomingdale’s, sparking a semi-autobiographical novel about a young prospective set designer who falls in love with an older divorced woman. Another inspiration for Carol was Virginia Kent Catherwood, a socialite lover of Highsmith’s in the mid-1940s. Catherwood lost custody of her child after a recording of her in a hotel room with another woman was used against her in court – a key plotline in The Price of Salt

Highsmith consistently had affairs with women throughout her adult life but felt pressured to hide her lesbianism

The Price of Salt has been incredibly important for the sapphic community, both at the time of writing and in the years since. In 1952, it was incredibly difficult to live as a lesbian openly, and there was little queer media that represented the LGBTQ+ community in a positive light. When a mass-market version of the novel was released, it sold incredibly fast. Positive letters were received from women overjoyed seeing themselves represented for the first time. Carol remains a lesbian cult classic, popularised for another generation by the film adaptation. It speaks to the private desires of a woman unable to be open about her sexuality, and it’s incredible to think how much has changed. Copies of Carol are no longer hidden under beds but are now proudly displayed on bookshelves.

You may also like

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign Up for Our Newsletter