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Looking for Ripley: A Portrait of Patricia Highsmith

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BBC Radio 4, 28 February 2009
 
This fascinating documentary broadcast to accompany the BBC's adaptation of the complete Ripley cycle of five novels, looked at author Patricia Highsmith's life and how she viewed her most famous (infamous?) fictional creation. Through a combination of archive interviews, readings from her work by Ian Hart (radio's Ripley) and contributions from her biographer as well as other scholars, we learned that Highsmith did not perceive Ripley as a murderer. Rather he represented her alter ego; an imaginative projection of her desire to experience life's dark side. Highsmith never tried to explain Ripley's behaviour: what we do know is that it was inspired by an unnamed event in his childhood, which gave him the fear of being perpetually pursued. That pursuer was not someone real, but more to do with Ripley's dark side; his feelings of guilt and paranoia. His desire to assume the identities of those he kills represents an attempt to escape such feelings.
 
We also learned that Ripley was specifically a creation of the 1950s, a time when America experienced similar paranoia as a result of McCarthyism and the Red Scare. He is an everyperson trying ot escape from the darkest recesses of his soul, just like those who sought at that time to escape the perceived 'enemy' of communism. Highsmith herself resembled her fictional creation; she left the United States during this period, and spent the rest of her life as a rootless migrant desperately searching for something while perpetually endeavouring to escape her past. Highsmith remained an outsider, a wanderer - both physical and emotional - using her novels to work out her own feelings of guilt. Even though Ripley remains resolutely masculine in terms of manners and deportmen, he speaks to everyone regardless of gender. The director of this fascinating documentary was Eren Riley.