• 18 •

Les Girls

Part 2

Pat’s first trip to the Europe of her imagination—in June of 1949 just after she’d spent all her money on psychoanalysis—was as an engaged woman: she had changed her mind again and decided that marriage to her on-and-off-again fiancé Marc Brandel might just be possible in the distant month of December. She was also travelling as an author whose first novel, the soon-to-be-titled Strangers on a Train, had just been accepted by Joan Kahn at Harper & Brothers.* But she still had to earn money, and so, instead of watching Noël Coward dine at the captain’s table on the Queen Mary (he had settled in several decks above her in luxury class), Pat typed comic book scenarios for Timely comics in her cattle-class cabin all the way across the Atlantic.

By the time the ship docked at Southampton she was ready to forget her engagement to Marc and travel in style to Waterloo Station. Pat’s hosts in London were Dennis Cohen, head of Cresset Press, and his wife, the psychoanalyst Kathryn Hamill Cohen, and they picked her up in their Rolls-Royce at Waterloo and drove her to their handsome house at 64 Old Church Street, Chelsea, just off the King’s Road. It was a nice change from the D deck and the third-class cabin Pat had just shared with three other women on the Queen Mary.

Kathryn Hamill Cohen was an American-born former Ziegfeld girl who had come to London at twenty-four and trained as a geneticist. She was working as a psychoanalyst at London’s St. George’s Hospital when she met Pat in March of 1948 at a party at Rosalind Constable’s New York apartment. (Pat had asked Rosalind pointedly if the Cohens’ address was the “best address” she had to offer in England.) Kathryn was beautiful, intelligent, melancholy, monied, and married: a combination Pat always found irresistible. The fact that Kathryn’s husband, Dennis, founder of London’s Cresset Press (an imprint of Bantam Books), was interested in Pat’s work and would go on to publish Strangers on a Train, The Blunderer, and The Talented Mr. Ripley practically assured that a seduction was in the offing.

During Pat’s fortnight at the Cohens’, Kathryn took her on a small cultural tour of London, out to lunch with the actress Peggy Ashcroft, and then to Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon, where they saw Kathryn’s friend Diana Wynyard play Desdemona and then visited her backstage. Pat’s appreciation of the actress known as the “Queen of Stratford” was a foregone conclusion: “She is charming, extremely, touchingly attentive to her guests. And how happy I am to spend a few hours with such a beautiful woman.”1

Back in London, Kathryn brought a geneticist’s mind to Pat’s hormone deficiencies and a psychoanalyst’s perception to her love life, summing both up in a sentence which signalled her own attraction to Pat: “If you were added up, I think you’d have a little more on the male side—from your reactions to men, I mean.”2 Two days after she’d left the Cohen house for the Continent, Pat was in Paris, in the state of rapture that city always produces, and yearning for two women at once: “I need Kathryn, or Ann!” Then, hedging her bets, she added Chloe Sprague to her wish list.3

Pat went to Marseille to stay with Mother Mary’s friend the cartoonist Jean David (“Jeannot”), who pressed his attentions on her. From Marseille, she wrote to Marc Brandel breaking off their engagement. (Like her previous good-byes to Marc, this one wasn’t quite final. When she did say a final goodbye in July of 1950, Pat recorded Marc’s “merciless” response: Marc thought she was “the most self-centered person he knew…. people didn’t exist for me except as opponents of some sort.”)4

Beginning a vagabondage that would bring her to Venice, Bologna, and Florence, Pat took a bus from Marseille to Genoa, mopping up impressions as she went. In Genoa, she paused long enough to fling into the already littered streets the yellow pyjamas Marc had given her as a love gift.

Two months after she’d left London, sick and solitary in her hotel room in Rome and feeling deeply sorry for herself, Pat took a chance on her feelings and wired Kathryn Cohen in London, asking her if she’d like to come to Italy. Yes, said Kathryn in a telephone call, she’d like to come to Naples. In anticipation of Kathryn’s arrival, Pat allowed the fetid smell and filthy streets of the city to bring her imagination back to The Argument of Tantalus, the manuscript that would become The Price of Salt. Love would often be a misery for Pat, but it never began as anything less than an artistic inspiration.

When Kathryn arrived at the beginning of September, the two women drove to Positano—this was Pat’s introduction to the enchanting hill village that would prove to be a catalyst for The Talented Mr. Ripley—and took a romantic boat trip to Palermo and Capri. Sometime during the twenty days of their travels they became lovers.

On her third-class boat passage back to New York from Genoa, Pat, enterprisingly carrying an accordion she planned to sell in New York, summoned up an image of Kathryn and began to work in earnest on The Argument of Tantalus. She was hoping, despite her “dissolute three days” in Paris (where she’d frequented the venerable lesbian bar Le Monocle), and her promiscuous behavior in London (where she’d managed to pick up and sleep with several women during the short time she stayed with the Cohens), to wring a “two year relationship” out of her feelings. Now, however, never a woman to waste anything, Pat was using those feelings to thicken the texture of The Price of Salt.

Kathryn Hamill Cohen and Pat never renewed their relationship. As a practicing psychoanalyst, Kathryn would have understood very well what Pat’s alluring needs really represented: flares in the night, illuminating the site of an accident that was just waiting to happen.

Back in New York from this first exhilarating trip to Europe, in long-distance love with Kathryn and working on the novel that would make the most “truthful” use of her own biography, Pat was in “a period of greater happiness and contentment than in the past three or four years.” Out of her haze of happiness, she provided a little theory for her behavior.

“I don’t think I trust anyone under the sun further than the length of my arm.”5

The theory set out, she went on, three months later, to describe its practice:

The entire pattern of my life has been and is, she has rejected me. The only thing I can say for myself at the age of twenty-nine, that vast age, is that I can face it. I can meet it head on…. In fact, I have learned to reject first. The important thing is to practise this. That my limping crutches are not trained to do…. Therefore, to one more love, good by. A dieu. But no—God will not be with you, not you.6

Pat was being modest here; she had long since “learned to reject first” and even to survive being rejected herself. In fact, she spent the 1940s busily constructing her character as a “lover” around the flights and drops of rejection. By the end of the preceding paragraph, she was even enlisting God to do her rejecting for her. And she went on to embellish her technique.

In 1957, Pat would briefly entertain the idea of writing a “second homosexual novel” using her sequential, parallel, and lateral love affairs as inspiration. (The Price of Salt was her first and only overtly “homosexual novel,” but, with the exception of Edith’s Diary, homosexual themes are everywhere in her fictions.) She made notes for this second homosexual novel in her cahier in the section she always reserved for her thoughts on homosexuality: “Notes on an Ever Present Subject.”

“The romantic girl, who could never live long with a lover. Show her from seventeen to sixty. She learns to accept the romantic, neurotic character of her love, to know that the girls will come and go…. End of story is…a table in a sidewalk café of Portofino, awaiting the next experience.”7

Caroline Besterman, the married Londoner who had thirty years of intimate opportunity—four of them as the most important “love” of Pat’s middle life, the only “love” Pat couldn’t make use of in fiction—to reflect on who Pat was and why, put it another way.

“I think, you see, there was always a hope that she would take up with somebody new or find a different situation. If she couldn’t change her inside she could change her outside. That’s a sign of people who tend to be insane.”*8

Barbara Roett, who observed Pat’s behavior in London in the spring of 1971 when they spent a night on the town together, had another kind of story to tell: “Pat looked at the whole evening as though we were two men going to pick up tarts. Not even women!” They ended up at the “famous old lesbian club,” the Gateways, just off the King’s Road and a fixture in Chelsea since the 1930s.

“Pat’s way of trying to attract young women was so strange and so sort of alarming. She would put her foot up on the bench next to them, with her hair coming down over her face, and look at them in a deeply disapproving fashion. Like this. [Barbara glowered.] And the poor girls would be terrified….”

“But when I saw her behavior that night…Well, I didn’t even KNOW a man who would behave like that with women!”

Pat and Barbara “were invited to a party by two very hospitable girls.” Barbara wanted to invite them back to Islington because Pat seemed to be interested in one of the girls. “And Pat said: ‘You CAN’T have women like this, you CAN’T invite women like this to your own home!!’ And they were just a bunch of very innocent gay girls who were being very kind and understanding of Pat. So I realized it would not be simple for her to find a partner.”*9

Ellen Blumenthal Hill, the woman who had the longest, strongest influence on Pat’s life (after Mother Mary) and never one to suppress an opinion, spent four years instructing Pat in a succinct sociologist’s “analysis” of her “past pattern” in love. Like the good student of psychology she was, Pat took notes. “She says, I fit the person to my wishes, find they don’t fit, and proceed to break it off.”10 Proust and Procrustes each had a hand in Patricia Highsmith’s ideas of love.

The “truth”—whatever it was at the moment—was something Pat usually reserved for those people with whom she was not in love. Or for current lovers she wanted to get away from. Or for prospective lovers she was hoping to fend off. She deployed the truth critically, punitively, or protectively, the way she and Mother Mary had always used it with each other. Pat could be very candid indeed—“authentic” is how one observer put it11—but her “authenticity” was often tied up with the immediacy of her responses. With her lover Marion Aboudaram, Pat had no difficulty in being candid.

When Pat met the French novelist and translator Marion Aboudaram alone for the first time in 1976, she said to her straightforwardly: “Go away, you’re not my type.” It was true, says Marion Aboudaram, “I wasn’t. I was a bit plump and boyish. Her type was young blondes, very made up. The first time we met, when I was interviewing her, I brought my girlfriend and Pat winked at her. She would have preferred my girlfriend, I think.”

Pat, Marion said, wasn’t “in love” with her, but Marion persisted, they got together, and Marion Aboudaram’s letters to Pat are amongst the most amusing in the Highsmith archives. Pat gave Marion some help with her translation into French from the American of Rita Mae Brown’s lesbian novel, Rubyfruit Jungle, in August of 197712—as clear an indication of Pat’s real interests as her joining a Presbyterian church choir in Palisades, New York, had been in 1958.

Pat’s penchant for speaking her mind to Marion could be charming. Once, when Pat was ill, Marion tried to tempt her into eating a bowl of soup, the way one offers nourishment to a recalcitrant child.

“I would hold the spoon in front of her and say, ‘One spoon for Poe, one spoon for Shakespeare, one spoon for Agatha Christie.’ And when I got to Agatha Christie, Pat refused the soup.

“‘No,’ she said. ‘Not Agatha Christie. She sells more books than I do.’”

When Pat and Marion’s three-year relationship was interrupted in 1978 by Pat’s coup de foudre for the twenty-five-year-old blond “made up” German costume-designer-cum-film-actor Tabea Blumenschein (see “A Simple Act of Forgery: Part 1”), Pat delivered the message to Marion brutally, candidly, and with the flair for adolescent theatricality that marked all her love affairs.

“Pat knew I was coming to the house in Moncourt [says Marion Aboudaram], and she wrote I LOVE TABEA over every mirror she had. In the bathroom, in the bedroom, everywhere. And she wrote it in lipstick and she wrote it to hurt me.”

When Tabea cut off the sexual relationship with Pat (after four fraught weeks), Marion proposed that she and Pat might stay together, “and each do what we wanted. Have affairs, etc.” And Pat said, again, very truthfully: “‘I want young girls, I want to be with young girls…’ I was forty then,” says Marion, “already too old for Pat, who was fifty-seven.”13

With Madeleine Harmsworth, a well-connected, “very nice girl, aged 26, like Keats, which always strikes a bit of a dagger in my heart,”14 who responded to Pat’s advances at her house in Samois-sur-Seine the day she came to interview Pat for the Guardian and Queen magazine in the spring of 1968, the then-forty-seven-year-old Pat was a little less direct than she would later be with Marion. A few months into her affair with Madeleine, Pat began by remarking sharply on the spinach that had lodged between Madeleine’s teeth while she ate her lunch—and the fact that Madeleine was picking at it. Then Pat moved purposefully on to comments about Madeleine’s habit of talking and chewing her food simultaneously. Soon thereafter, “I asked her to make her remarks louder and clearer at the table next time. I felt she mumbled. I suppose she will not like my saying this.”15 Pat knew what she was doing: “that might be an excuse on my part to wriggle out of a relationship which is quite good for me, as Madeleine’s character is very good.”16

Finally, Pat delivered the coup de grâce. With obvious inspiration, she managed, while sound asleep next to Madeleine, to mumble the name of her tantalizingly unavailable former lover, Jacqui, with whom she was still “a bit in love…. I always am, with people who are bad for me.”17 Sounding like a satisfied woman, Pat reported that “Madeleine heard [me mumbling Jacqui’s name] twice in Portugal, and blew her stack.”18

The technique varied; the effect did not. The lover was usually pushed away by Pat’s “candor.”

Still, proximity in love had always made Pat nervous. At twenty-seven, troubled by her homosexuality and just as troubled by the prospect of taking up residence in a heterosexual world, Pat had already decided that Hell was other people.

“Now I am incapable of the smallest decisions, and cannot even envisage my future life, since I am undecided whether I can be happy alone, or whether I must spend it with someone—in which latter case I shall have to make radical adjustments, either to male or female.

“A Quandary? Hell.”19

In August of 1950—Pat was twenty-nine—her ideas of a live-in love affair were more specific and (unintentionally) much funnier.

“Living with somebody. At first in the moments one wants to read on a bed, for instance, every movement of the other is annoying…. Get over the terror and the hostility and one lives with another person very well? Question mark.”20

Two months later, in October of 1950 in New York City, Pat was introduced to the brilliant Austrian Jewish émigré novelist, political activist, and adventurer Arthur Koestler. His dangerous charms,* “completely masculine…ways with the ladies,” and professional connections greatly appealed to her. He “wants to introduce me to Partisan Review crowd,” Pat wrote hopefully in her diary, after noting that she “[c]ould have murdered [Marc] Brandel who it seems told Koestler flatly I was a Lesbian, and that half of his book The Choice was about me.”21

She need not have worried; Koestler made “the inevitable pass” at her anyway.22 But Pat, filled with guilt as usual, and unable, as she said the next day over “seven martinis, a bottle of wine and three gins” to her friend Elizabeth Lyne, to “bear the thought of The Price of Salt appearing in print,”23 was afraid that a double truth (the publication of her lesbian novel and Marc Brandel’s revelation to Arthur Koestler about her sexuality) would sink her professionally. So she attempted to dissemble her situation with Koestler by going to bed with him. But truth will out, and the truth of Pat’s own tastes “outed” her:

“Koestler came back here, we tried to go to bed. A miserable, joyless episode. There is a mood of self torture in me—when it comes to men…. And so hostility, masochism, self-hatred, self-abasement…Koestler, efficient as always, decides to abandon the sexual with me. He did not know homosexuality was so deeply engrained, he said.”24

In Pat’s highly personalized system of reversals, truth-in-love continued to be an instrument of war: a shield that could ward off a possible relationship or a weapon that could rupture an existing one. And she stitched this approach to truth into her novels. In a Highsmith novel (any Highsmith novel except The Price of Salt, where the murder resides only in the metaphors) the clearest, truest expression of feeling arrives with the instrument of death: a strangler’s grip in Deep Water and Strangers on a Train; the point of a knife in A Game for the Living, The Blunderer, and The Cry of the Owl; the blunt end of a bludgeon in The Talented Mr. Ripley and The Glass Cell; the business end of a gun in Strangers on a Train, The Cry of the Owl, Those Who Walk Away, and People Who Knock on the Door; the bottom of a body of water in Deep Water, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Strangers on a Train; and the end of a long, horrible fall in Edith’s Diary, A Suspension of Mercy, This Sweet Sickness, Deep Water, and Small g.*

Pat’s deployment of truth, in other words, usually resulted in the violent death of something—symbolic or actual, a character or a relationship—and it was always just a little more interesting and a lot more available to her in art than it was in life. Still, she continued to rehearse its techniques in both arenas.

In fact, Pat was more likely to “spill” certain truths about herself or her opinions to casual acquaintances than to near neighbors or close friends. It was the people she ran into in cars and bars, railway stations and airports, the “strangers on trains” she met on her many travels, with whom she often felt safe enough to talk. Guy Haines, in Strangers on a Train, acts on this impulse with disastrous results: “And, worst of all, he was aware of an impulse to tell Bruno everything, the stranger on the train who would listen, commiserate, and forget.”25 Pat herself had better luck.

And so some of the most vivid punctuation for this book has come from the briefer encounters of Pat’s life: a limousine driver who took her to Heathrow Airport; a piano player at the Hotel Normandy in Deauville; a journalist at the Berlin Film Festival of 1978; a young woman in the Gateways, the lesbian bar in London featured in the film The Killing of Sister George; the proprietor of Katmandu, the lesbian club de luxe in Paris’s St-Germain; a French photographer; a German filmmaker; an eloquent refugee from a Displaced Persons’ camp who knew Ellen Hill; and two translator neighbors in Fontainebleau who lived near enough to Pat for observation and far enough away to reflect on what they saw.

There were, certainly, some friends and one or two lovers of Pat’s who thought her incapable of telling a lie. “[T]he Pat I knew,” Marijane Meaker told me, “was most unguarded, needy, open, accessible, and never tricky.” But Pat kept many things from Meaker—she would say what was on her mind but not what was under it—including the continuing importance of Mother Mary in her life, the extent of her drinking (Marijane discovered it one morning when Pat handed her the wrong glass of juice, the glass filled mostly with vodka that was meant for Pat herself), the names of certain former lovers (and what she was still doing with them), and her past experiences with psychoanalysis.26

The people who found Pat frank may have been confusing her famously candid responses-in-the-moment with her deeper fidelity to an operating principle which made deception, evasion, and secrecy, as well as silence, exile, and cunning, her most important emotional and artistic tools.

And they were natural tools, too, for a woman who could remark, as Pat did when falling in love with Ellen Hill in September of 1951, “Oh who am I? Reflections only in the eyes of those who love me.”27 And whose “typical” daydream—set down when she was working on her novel Deep Water in June of 1955—took this form:

“Typical day dream—that a total stranger comes to me when I am alone, criticizes me, points out the ideals to which I have not remained loyal, or have failed to meet; leaving me in tears, completely broken in spirit, leaving me with the idea my life is worthless and I had better not have been born.”28

It’s summer in New York City, the last week of June 1953. Pat is thirty-two years old now, with a plethora of short stories and two published novels to her credit (one of them, The Price of Salt, is pseudonymous) and another novel, The Blunderer, under way. Conventionally enough, Pat has always used metaphors of childbirth to describe how her books get “born”: “How much like babies books are to a writer!” she will write of the book she considered “healthier” and “handsomer” than her other books at its “birth,” The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955). As early as 1948, she was comparing her residency at Yaddo to time spent in a maternity ward (“If I cannot give birth in the supreme hospital of Yaddo, where can I ever?”), and her 1969 novel The Tremor of Forgery is eloquent on the “post-natal,” post-novel depression of its writer-hero, Howard Ingham.29

Pat has just returned to the United States from a second trip to Europe, a trip that lasted two and a half years. Much of that time has been spent in separating from and going back to Ellen Blumenthal Hill, the fiercely intelligent, ferociously controlling sociologist with whom Pat has been in love and hate for all but three months of her European travels. Her affair with Ellen began in early September of 1951 when, seated on a couch in Ellen’s apartment in Munich, Germany, Pat suddenly felt something she could recognize.

“I held her hands that felt like Ginnie’s, and her body, too, and soon she asked me to come up to bed. Or would I rather go home? I stayed. She is much like Ginnie. Tonight was only wonderful sensation—blotting out everyone who’s been between Ginnie and her.”30

Ellen and Pat are both Capricorns, born under the astrological sign of the goat, one day and six years apart. Ellen is the elder of the two, and her relationship with Pat has considerably extended the meaning of phrases like “getting each other’s goat” and “locking horns.” It will continue to do so for most of the next forty years.

When Pat and Ellen arrived back in New York from Europe in early May of 1953, their love affair was in a fragile state. But by 22 May, with Ellen safely in the American Southwest, Pat had decided once and for all to settle down with Ellen to a happy future and an apartment in New York. The next night, she ate a hearty steak dinner and slipped into bed with Rolf Tietgens, the gay German photographer who had played a sporadic, intense, and unconsummated role in her emotional life ever since 1943. (See “Alter Ego: Part 2.”) Of her “not quite successful” bedding of Rolf, Pat noted in her diary, “In my system of morals I do not feel this in the least unfaithful to Ellen”—and kept silent about it otherwise.31

Rolf’s main attraction for Pat had always been his homosexuality (“I feel with him as if he is another girl, or a singularly innocent man, which he is in these respects”),32 the fact that he continued to insist that she was “really a boy” (and more or less photographed her as one),*and her gleeful understanding of the way they complemented each other: “If God puts us together, I will be the man!”33 There was the additional lure of Rolf’s moroseness, his hypochondria, and his Teutonic romanticism, and Pat matched him easily in all these departments. Rolf’s last, alcohol-embittered letters to Pat from his dwelling on King Street in New York in 1968 and 1969 are monuments to self-pity and collapsed hopes.

Immured in his squalid apartment in Greenwich Village with “bursting closets,” “no studio, no darkroom,” no money, and “thousands of pictures and negatives, which climb up the walls here like poison ivy, reminding me of my past,”34 Rolf Tietgens described himself as the prey of violent robbers and male hustlers—“I am becoming more and more the victim of the young”35—and he wrote that he no longer knew who he was.36

“When Tietgens died,” says his friend and onetime neighbor on Long Island, the former features editor of Harper’s Bazaar Dorothy Wheelock Edson, “I found out that his lungs, supposedly shot and keeping him from working, were in good shape.”37 Rolf had brought Pat to Dorothy Edson’s house in Wheatley Hills, Long Island, in 1943, and it was this meeting with Mrs. Edson that led to Pat’s work being recommended for publication in Harper’s Bazaar. Mrs. Edson, who surmised from the encounter that Pat was “surely a lesbian,” was a little surprised to hear from the homosexual Rolf that he had proposed to Pat. At the time, Rolf kept a “fascinating” apartment in a “made-over dairy” in Locust Valley near Mrs. Edson and her husband on Long Island’s North Shore. Rolf’s bed was adorned with purple blankets, and his white floors were kept shiny by the practical expedient of making his visitors remove their shoes at the door and enter barefoot. Dorothy Wheelock Edson, a good New Hampshirewoman who was also the first ghostwriter for Gypsy Rose Lee’s mystery novel, The G-String Murders, was so impressed by Tietgens’s decorative tastes that at ninety-seven she said she was still sleeping under purple blankets herself.38

“He is nice but increasingly melancholic,” Pat observed of Rolf Tietgens in July of 1950, implying somehow that this romantic quality made him “[m]y favorite friend.”39 But the quality of his melancholy began to strain Pat as the years passed—“This German Weltschmerz and negativity is so hard to deal with!” 40—and their mostly epistolary friendship ended in New York in 1970 when, as Pat wrote, Tietgens grabbed the front of Pat’s coat, “called me, among other things a shit” 41…“and shoved me against wall of his house.” 42

No doubt it was something she said.

In this last week of June 1953, the temperature in Manhattan is ninety-two degrees in the shade, the heat is shimmering up off the sidewalks, and a pneumatic drill is hard at work breaking up the concrete outside Pat’s temporary lodging: an apartment she and Ellen Hill are renting (but it’s Ellen who is paying) from Dell (Hans Felix Jüdell), the husband of Pat’s friend and confidante, Lil Picard.* Lil is the irrepressible émigrée fashion editor, revue artist, film actor (she appeared in a film with Emil Jannings), milliner, jewelry designer, writer, painter, and, well into old age, outrageous performance artist whom Pat had met “in an elevator at a gay party” in October of 1947.” 43 Pat managed to suppress her desire to kiss Lil, but Lil’s position as an older married woman “with a husband from whom she seems to keep secrets” enchanted Pat, and she began to visit Lil every day.44

Pat and Lil Picard’s tempestuous friendship lasted for thirty years; and Lil, an Alsatian Jew who fled Berlin in 1936 and was au courant with every art movement in New York from Abstract Expressionism to Fluxus (and was photographed by, amongst others, Lotte Jacobi and Andy Warhol) became an identifiable figure in New York’s avant-garde. Her flamboyant performance pieces and her column in the house journal of the newly developing East Village, the East Village Other, assured her notoriety, although not her solvency, and she never allowed her fondness for Pat to get in the way of calling her a “fascist.” Lil called Pat a “fascist” very regularly.

Of the novel Pat dedicated to her father, Jay B Plangman, A Dog’s Ransom, Pat said that she “rather modeled the character of Greta Reynolds after my friend Lil Picard.” 45 If so, it is a pallid version of the real Lil. Mother Mary, only four or five years older than Lil, was horrified by Lil’s free-wheeling sex life, her opulently unfettered self-expression, her influence on Pat, and—the very last straw—the fact that Pat had once lent Lil some money for an operation.

Flayed by the sound of the drill outside her window and broiled by the “hot as a furnace” summer weather, Pat has been writhing in her coils for the last fortnight, trying to pick up on the Manhattan social and professional life she allowed to slacken in the two and a half years of her European travels.

Three weeks ago, she’d gone to see Truman Capote’s play The Grass Harp in Sheridan Square and then tried to catch up on both gossip and business by inviting Betty Parsons, now the doyenne of her own influential art gallery, to have lunch at her apartment and look at her drawings. To Pat’s distress, Parsons preferred her “bloodless abstracts” to her representational work and told Pat that Carson McCullers had “fallen madly” in love with Kathryn Hamill Cohen, and had lingered in London for three months, begging Kathryn to live with her although “there was no affair.” 46 Now, Pat was writing “only to keep from going mad in my old city where all the business people neglect me as if I were officially boycotted.” 47

Extending her mood into fiction, she’d spent the last week of May composing a short story she called “Born Failure.” 48 She continued to meet Betty Parsons for meals and drawing classes, saw “that burly fellow” Philip Rahv again at a Partisan Review party on Forty-eighth Street, and had dinner with Bobby Isaacson, lover of the poet James Merrill (son of one of the founders of New York’s largest stock brokerage company, Merrill Lynch). She noted, without personal comment, the imminent electrocution of the Rosenbergs for spying, but was exercised at the way American libraries were suddenly eliminating “controversial” authors from their shelves; authors like Dashiell Hammett, Howard Fast, and Langston Hughes.49 She “was on the brink of a depression quite as serious as the 1948–49 winter one” and was doubting both her agent Margot and her relationship with Ellen Hill: “Nothing is ever permanent,” she said. But it was really the permanency of her own feelings that Pat was doubting.50

On the seventeenth of June, Pat went to a cocktail party at James Merrill’s apartment at 28 West Tenth Street where she ran into Jane Bowles. “She looks plumper, older, and is otherwise much the same—moderately friendly,” Pat thought. Jim Merrill “looked sweet in a lavender shirt of subtle hue. Also Oliver Smith, Johnny Myers, Harry Ford & wife, etc. Tietgens is not invited.” Rolf Tietgens hadn’t been invited because he’d had an unauthorized fling with Bobby Isaacson in Rome. One month ago, Pat had had her own unauthorized fling: the one-night stand with Tietgens she’d neglected to mention to Ellen Hill.51 At the party, Pat talked to Terese Hayden, manager of the Theatre de Lys on Christopher Street. Hayden had done an “apparently unsuccessful” screen treatment of The Price of Salt, which Pat had received in Florence in June of 195252—with the character of “Carol…changed to Carl” and the title of the screen treatment changed to Winter Journey.53 By then Pat, embarrassed anew by her novel, was calling The Price of Salt a “stinking book” and marvelled to Kingsley that it had “sold to Bantam for $6500.”54

On the eighteenth of June, tossing and turning in the unendurable heat, Pat had a nearly “sleepless night” which produced a “curious dream”—made out of the weather and her illicit feelings.* In retrospect, the dream seems almost to be a preparation for the dreadful incident which occurred with Ellen Hill ten days later. In the dream, Pat was with Kathryn Hamill Cohen and a naked girl. Their clear “intention was to burn the girl alive.” They put the girl in a wooden bathtub along with a wooden effigy of Pat’s grandmother “with arms outstretched,” and it was Pat who picked the bathtub up and ignited the papers under it. Pat reminded the weeping Kathryn: “Don’t forget, the girl asked us to do it to her!” But then a “horror went through” Pat at the “suffering of the girl.

“A moment later, the naked girl simply stood up, stopped her crying, and stepped out of the bathtub unhurt except for singes: the fire had gone out. I felt guilty at the thought the girl would report what we had done…. Then I awakened.

“I subsequently had the feeling the girl in the tub might have represented myself, because she looked a little like me in the dream, at the end. In that case I had two identities: the victim and the murderer.”55

Despite the continuing heat, the lingering effects of this “horrid vivid dream,” and her daily efforts to break into the new medium of television with a script called “Innocent Witness,” Pat was finding the strength to launch a few more professional and personal advances.

On the twenty-fourth of June, Pat went to lunch with a man “I like so much—better than any editor to date,” Cecil Goldbeck.56 Mr. Goldbeck, a vice president at the Coward-McCann publishing company, had already published one of Pat’s novels in paperback, The Price of Salt, and would go on to edit The Blunderer (for which her current relationship with Ellen Hill provided two characters and a situation) and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Now, he wanted to give her a thousand dollars “sight unseen” for her next “suspense” novel. Cecil Goldbeck’s enthusiasm for fiction like Pat’s seems to have run in his family. His brother, Willis Goldbeck, was the uncredited coauthor of a work whose themes—sexual humiliation and horrible revenge—were also Highsmith favorites: Tod Browning’s 1932 classic cult film Freaks.57

The nominal purpose of Pat’s second visit to Mr. Goldbeck on 28 June was to “consult” him about her hardworking agent Margot Johnson’s “value” to her. Throughout her travels in Europe, Pat had been blaming Margot for her long run of bad publication luck. When Pat met the brilliant Proust scholar Mina Kirstein Curtiss (ballet patron Lincoln Kirstein’s sister) at a cocktail party at the literary agent Mme Jenny Bradley’s house in Paris at the end of 1952—Curtiss had been Margot Johnson’s teacher at Smith College—she queried Curtiss sharply about Margot. “There is no better agent,” Curtiss replied.58 Ten days before that, Pat had written to Kingsley from Europe, asking her, too, to assess Margot’s reputation in publishing circles: “Margot hasn’t sold anything for me in ages…. I’d love to know just how her standing is at present.”59

This time, however, Pat was angling to bypass Margot completely and deal directly with Cecil Goldbeck herself so that she could cut out Margot’s commission—a little bait-and-switch maneuver she would try, with variations, eight years later on her French publishers Calmann-Lévy (she ditched them, briefly, for Robert Laffont), and then again in 1979 on her next American literary agent, Patricia Schartle (whom she attempted to shortchange on European commissions).60 But Mr. Goldbeck honorably assured Pat that “Margot [was] the best agent” she could have. The others were like “factories,” he told her, “you produce or are thrown out.”61


The Mother of Them All: the indomitable Willie Mae Stewart Coates and her husband, Daniel. The hand on the wall belongs to Daniel and Willie Mae’s granddaughter, Patricia Highsmith. (Swiss Literary Archives)


Little Patsy all dolled up by Mother Mary and expressing herself in the yard of her grandmother’s boardinghouse in Fort Worth, Texas. (Swiss Literary Archives)


Mary Coates Plangman Highsmith. “I too am an extrovert and never met a stranger,” Mary wrote to one of Pat’s lovers. (Swiss Literary Archives)


Jay Bernard Plangman. Before his mustache, his marriage, and his disappearance from the life of his only child. (Swiss Literary Archives)


Mary and Stanley Highsmith, on their honeymoon in Galveston, Texas, in 1924. (Swiss Literary Archives)


Mary and Patsy in Galveston. Pat dated this photo “1925,” but other photographs and other evidence—including Little Patsy’s uncustomary dress and downcast demeanor—indicate that it was taken at the time of Mary and Stanley Highsmith’s honeymoon in 1924. (Swiss Literary Archives)


Pat, dressed more or less like Jackie Coogan in The Kid. From an early age, Pat felt she was a boy in the body of a girl. (Swiss Literary Archives)


Handsome Dan Coates, Pat’s “Brother Dan,” famous in Texas as a rodeo announcer for his “golden voice.” He was posthumously elected to the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame. (Swiss Literary Archives)


Pat as a teenager, impeccably dressed for mounting an English saddle. (Collection Annebelle Potin)


Pat in her early twenties: lovely, secretive, desired by many. (Swiss Literary Archives)


Patricia Highsmith, editor of the Barnard Quarterly, surrounded by her staff in 1942. On Pat’s left is Kate Kingsley (later Skattebol). (Barnard College Archives, published in The Mortarboard, 1943.)


Rolf Tietgens, the German photographer who wanted to marry Pat.


Pat at 21, photographed by her new friend Rolf Tietgens.


Judy Holliday. Pat and Judy were close friends at Julia Richman High School; Pat kept a copy of this photograph.


The witty, wealthy, well-connected painter Buffie Johnson in a characteristic pose by Edward Weston. She and Pat met when Pat was a junior at Barnard College. (Collection Buffie Johnson)


Rosalind Constable, a well-known arts journalist, the eyes and ears of the Luce magazine empire, and Pat’s idol for a decade. (Menil Collection)


Lil Picard, the dress and hat designer, painter, journalist, and performance artist who was Pat’s “most inspiring” friend for thirty years. (Collection University of Iowa Libraries)


The 1943 Alex Schomburg cover for the Superhero comic The Black Terror #2. Pat wrote extensively for Black Terror and his “mild-mannered” Alter Ego, Bob Benton. The Superhero and his Alter Ego first appeared in a Nedor comic in January 1941—and their resemblance to Superman and Clark Kent was entirely intentional.


The splash page for “The Fighting Yank” in the October 1945 issue of America’s Best Comics. The Yank, who debuted in a Standard comic in September 1941, was another of the second-string comic book Superheroes Pat wrote for.


Jap Buster Johnson defeats the Japanese army in New Guinea with extreme prejudice. Pat and Mickey Spillane both wrote for this wartime human killing machine, first published in a Timely comic in December 1942.


The Destroyer, another of the wartime Superheroes-with-double-identities for whom Pat wrote. The first Destroyer story was written by Stan Lee for a Timely comic published in October 1941.

Pat’s two meetings with Goldbeck were the bookends to her disastrous reunion with Ellen Hill, who had just returned to New York on 25 June from a trip to Santa Fe. Pat ducked the first evening with Ellen, spending it instead with Jean P., a new attraction. By 28 June, Ellen and Pat’s relations were “strained and insane.” Ellen wanted Pat to return with her at once to Santa Fe “in the new car. I am saying, due to her foul temper, I will not.” Pat was having “secret talks, all comforting” with Jean.

By the time Pat and Ellen had arrived back in the States on 13 May 1953, and by the time Ellen had returned to New York from her solitary trip to Santa Fe to see her mother at the end of June, Pat was ready to have a little fun with someone else. In fact, she had already been having quite a bit of fun with several other women in Ellen’s absence.

On 1 July, after arguing with Ellen for hours, Pat slipped out at three o’clock in the afternoon for a drink with Ann Smith, the lover with whom she’d intermitted her affair with Marc Brandel. (In a fit of writer’s revenge, Marc turned Ann, who was a very pretty blonde, into the caricatural “ugly lesbian” in his novel The Choice.) Pat then “arranged with a friend to bring Jean P. out to her place in Fire Island next weekend. By that time I thought to have Ellen en route for Santa Fe or Europe. Ann was wonderful,”62 Pat confided to her diary, excited, as always, to be juggling three women at once.

After the drink with Ann, Pat returned to the apartment she and Ellen were sharing. She had another “violent” argument with Ellen that lasted two and a half hours, from five to seven-thirty in the evening, and threw a glass on the floor to “emphasize I did mean it when I said I wanted to separate.”63 Ellen “has tried everything from sex to liquor to tears to wild promises of giving me my way in everything.”64 Pat’s account of this evening is as numb to remorse as any scene Mickey Spillane, the scriptwriter for Jap Buster Johnson at Timely comics just before Pat took up Jap Buster’s story line, might have slipped into one of his Mike Hammer novels:

“She threatened veronal & insisted on having two martinis with me which she tossed down like water. I said go ahead with the veronal. She was poking 8 pills in her mouth as I left the house. I love you very much were the last words I heard as I closed the door. She was sitting naked on the bed. Had just written her will giving me all her money, & saying give Jo [a woman who had been a lover of both Pat and Ellen] $5,000 when I got around to it. And called me the nicest person in the world for having stayed with her as long as I did this evening.”

Ellen had threatened suicide once before, in 1952, when, after browsing Pat’s diaries without permission, she got the shock awaiting anyone foolish enough to break into a writer’s private thoughts: an uncomplimentary assessment of her own character. The diary shock was mutual and it was repeated: in the summer of 1954, Ellen peeked again at another of Pat’s diaries—and was caught again. Her “honest diary,” Pat wrote, was what had helped “to keep [her] on the right moral track…. Her “purging effect of putting things down in words” had been interrupted and it was all Ellen’s fault.65 Naturally, Pat punished herself: she stopped writing her diaries for the next seven years.66

Still, Ellen was neither the first nor the last loved one to read Pat’s private writings without permission. Nor was Ellen the last woman to whom Pat would recommend suicide. When the roommate of another friend threatened to jump off a balcony in the 1980s, Pat was quick with her support. “Let her jump!” wrote Pat feelingly, and then followed this up with a gentler suggestion. “I’ve been in, and also witnessed, such drama, therefore I felt inspired tonight to state: get away from it, no matter what it costs in time and money.”67

The bonds of love—never mind how eagerly she slipped into them—always eventually felt like iron chains to Pat Highsmith. Emotional blackmail of any kind, one of the many twisted strands by which she was still connected to Mother Mary, brought out Pat’s inner executioner and her outer escape artist.

And escape from Ellen Hill she certainly did.

After leaving Ellen in the act of swallowing those Veronal pills (and helpfully cancelling the evening appointment Ellen had made with the Czech painter Jim Dobrochek), Pat went straight to her friend Kingsley’s apartment on West Eleventh Street. Pat didn’t mention the scene she had just been a part of; she seemed, in fact, to be much more interested in what Kingsley and her beau, Lars Skattebol, were going to say about her latest novel. “They ripped me mercilessly (& stupidly) re my third novel [The Traffic of Jacob’s Ladder, now lost, which Pat was writing at the same time she was taking notes for The Blunderer]: a prerogative, and [said] I’d never write another decent novel having spat out such infantilism.”

Then, her usually uncertain appetite stimulated by the evening’s excitements, Pat went on to Jean P.’s apartment, where she ate two hamburgers and alarmed Jean with “the sad story of tonight & Ellen.” When Pat finally made her way home at two o’clock in the morning (and she took her time about it), she found Ellen in “a coma—out, anyway, beyond coffee & cold towels…. A doctor…arrived, pumped her stomach to no avail [then] the police, then Bellevue [Hospital] where I delivered her at 4:30 AM.

“There was a note on typewriter which the cops took”: ‘Dear Pat I should have done this 20 years ago. This is no reflection on you or anyone—’”

Pat spent the night with Jean P., then went in the early morning to Bellevue Hospital, where she answered questions about Ellen’s health. The “doctor gives [Ellen] an even chance,” Pat noted without comment, and went on to her agent Margot Johnson’s apartment. Margot provided “general comfort” and martinis (“unfelt”). Rosalind Constable’s lover Claude offered her apartment to Pat for the weekend, but Pat said she was driving Ellen’s Morris Minor out to Fire Island—“the first of the black eyes I give myself through apparently crude behavior where Ellen is concerned.”

The next morning, 3 July, Pat met Jim Dobrochek, Ellen’s artist friend, at the hospital. She told him the whole story and gave him Ellen’s “effects.” Ellen was still in a coma.

“Jim had been walking streets all night. Told me over AM coffee Ellen mistreated him on his arrival here…buttonholed him at the pier & said: Don’t ever tell a soul that I am Jewish! I had not known before she was totally Jewish, from that tight, sophisticated, brittle German Jewish intellectual set of pre-Hitler Berlin.”*

After meeting Jim, Pat made her getaway to Fire Island with Jean P. in Ellen’s car. This, she wrote, “is a major strike against me, with Ellen’s mother. Ideal weather & connection & its heaven to be out here. I am escaping from hell.”68

By the following morning, 4 July, Independence Day, Pat was forcing herself to “work, half believing Ellen dead.” At six in the evening, she called Jim from the legendary Fire Island hotel, Duffy’s (burned to the ground in 1956), and learned that Ellen “came to yesterday—early this morning. The strain is over.” At one thirty that morning, Pat, skunk drunk, “picked [a] fight with some late girl callers.” It was a physical fight and she was “sadly beaten,” ending up with a chest so bruised that she had to have it X-rayed when she got back to Manhattan. It was Jean P. who broke up the fight and pulled Pat away.

Pat was already planning to take an apartment with Jean, “a major decision…that cannot possibly last” and that evening she drove back to Manhattan with Jean and another friend from New York, Betty—“one of few confidants—in Ellen’s car.” Betty may have been Pat’s confidante, but Pat was confidently double-crossing her: Betty’s lover was Ann Smith, Pat had been seeing Ann secretly again, and Betty didn’t know a thing about it.

By 7 July, Pat was installed on Twenty-fifth Street in the apartment of a friend of Jean, cat-sitting, entertaining “T.V. speculations,” and feeling “[t]he old ambiguous pull—toward safety & toward destruction.” After trying to get away from Ellen, she was now afraid that Ellen was trying to get away from her—and she was dining out or having people in every night and carefully monitoring her “bruised chest,” “mental strain,” and low red blood cell count: “I am in the 60s in blood.”69

On the fourteenth of July—a Tuesday—a “Notice arrives Neue Zuricher [sic] pays me $18.70 [for an article]. Am extremely proud!” Ellen was already receding from her thoughts.

Pat and Ellen had been tempestuously together and rumbustiously apart—it’s often hard to tell which was which—since September of 1951, when they were introduced to each other in Munich by a classmate of Pat’s from New York, Jo, who had been Ellen’s lover and was, secretly, a lover of Pat as well. Pat failed to mention to Ellen that she had been sleeping with Jo, but, pleased as always to be part of a triangle and part of its destruction, Pat wrote in her diary that “Jo has suddenly lost me and Ellen as well.”70

Pat fell hard for Ellen and quickly elevated her to her currently vacant (but always fully endowed) Muses’ Chair: that gilded hot seat in her Heaven of Love reserved for women who could inspire her writing. Pat’s delight in Ellen produced some superb literary results—as well as an occasional writing voice no one would ever associate with Patricia Highsmith.71

Ellen! Helen! Helena! Hellenes!

Tambourine and sunflower,

Parasol and pumpkin,

Veins of Venus

And Ariadne, spinning her unexpected fruit,

Mother, madonna, womb and matrix,

Placenta, placid, plaisant!72

In July of 1951, a month and a half before meeting Ellen Hill, Pat had been alone in Munich, lamenting the lack of inspiration in her life. “The danger of the celibate. The danger of disaster. He lives for himself alone, must be his own spur, his own inspiration, even his own goal. It’s so difficult, and so inhuman. It’s so easy to work for someone one loves.”73

Pat would later write ingenuously to Kingsley that although she couldn’t really say why she’d gone to Europe in early February of 1951, she thought it might have something to do with “my very queer life in N.Y., which led to dismal similar cycles by no means normal or usual even in New York, I think. My family had left the state. I had broken with Rosalind.”74

What Pat didn’t mention to Kingsley was that the violent spiral of alcoholism, sexual promiscuity, and psychological destructiveness she was demurely calling “my very queer life in N.Y.” had been caused by her desperate feelings about publishing her lesbian novel, The Price of Salt: the work that came most directly out of her own history. The real reason Pat went to Europe was to escape herself.

While she may not have fallen in love in Munich in July of 1951, Pat’s celibacy didn’t last long either. In August, she ran into her old Barnard classmate Jo at the American consulate, and soon invited her to bed. Pat was also returning to “the voluptuous shoulder” of a German woman, Tessa, with whom she had already spent some exciting nights.75 In late August, Pat “[v]isited Schleissheim DP [Displaced Persons] Camp…. There must be something masochistic in my nature.” But she didn’t describe the camp, just as she hadn’t described the postwar, bombed-out or otherwise battle-scarred conditions of the cities she’d been touring: London, Paris, and Munich. In Europe, the scenery Pat chose to write about was usually aglow with her long-term goal: “All I want is to be rich & famous! Not much, eh?”76

Cheering up fast (but in her own special way), Pat went to the theater with Jo to see Jean Cocteau’s play The Typewriter.

“This is the kind of evening (and life) of which I dreamed in college—in a very Scott Fitzgerald way: Europe, a girl, money, leisure, a car. [Pat had a secondhand BMW but no driver’s license.] Now I’ve had one night of it, after twelve years.”77

Pat had been in Europe since “5:15 AM Paris time” of 5 February 1951. She had flown from New York to Paris with “a slight hangover,” obsessively marking the height the airplane attained (nineteen thousand feet), the length of the flight (eleven hours), and the price of her one-way ticket (four hundred dollars). She’d had a “hectic departure” at Idlewild International Airport, seen off by Mary and Stanley, Rosalind Constable, Ann Smith, and her agent Margot Johnson, who, after observing Mother Mary and Pat together, remarked in apparent bemusement: “There must be some mistake.”

Pat went a little too early in the morning from Le Bourget Airport to Elizabeth Lyne’s apartment on the rue de Lille, where she was to stay with Mme Lyne in a nearly empty house of great and dilapidated beauty. She met Janet Flanner and her lover Natalia Danesi Murray immediately for cocktails at the Hotel Continental (“Poor Natalia, a slave for 11 years to Janet”); looked for and then wrote to Ruth Landshoff-Yorck, the writer, refugee, and patron of avant-garde arts she’d known from Leo Lerman’s salon; and went to lunch with Lucien Vogel, founder of VU, the first journal in France to expose the existence of Nazi concentration camps, and his wife, Cosette, sister of Jean de Brunhoff, creator of the Babar books. Vogel spoke French too rapidly for Pat’s comprehension, and André Gide, the Frenchman Pat most wanted to meet, would die later that month, before, as Mme Lyne said to Pat pointedly, Pat could “improve her French so she wouldn’t sound like an idiot when she met him.” Pat went to “a phony lesbian night club off the Champs-Elysées [which was] a favorite haunt of Peggy Fears” she met Tom and Theodora Keogh (to whose highly original first novel, Meg, she had given such a good review a year ago—the best review she was ever to give a woman writer) at Deux-Magots;78 saw Esther Murphy Arthur and Paul Monash; and visited her European literary agent, Mme Jenny Bradley, on the Quai Bethune. Mme Bradley, the perfect agent, gave her washcloths and Ivory soap. All this, and much more, Pat did in the first week of her arrival in Paris.

Late in February, Pat flew to London and was met by two reporters who “took a few snaps” and talked about Strangers on a Train. She stayed, once again in opulent surroundings on Old Church Street, with her Cresset publisher-to-be, Dennis Cohen, and his wife, Kathryn, for whose signs of love she had waited so anxiously in New York. Pat now took unsympathetic notes on Kathryn’s depression (Kathryn committed suicide in 1960), her “cheerlessness,” and her obvious lack of response to Pat and to the manuscript Pat would soon be calling The Price of Salt. Pat feared Kathryn didn’t like the book and wouldn’t want to recommend it to her husband to publish. Kathryn didn’t and wouldn’t. Pat wrote: “I failed with K—as a person, as a writer.” Pat’s best feelings about The Price of Salt dissolved immediately: she suddenly couldn’t understand “how Ann Smith could have liked it so unreservedly.”

Pat lunched with Rosalind Constable’s former lover Maria (with whom Pat had also slept on her last trip to London) and renewed their affair to cheer herself up. She got the idea for her “third decadent novel,” called The Sleepless Night (The Traffic of Jacob’s Ladder in its final form), and after her night with Maria, the new book “broke its embryonic waters,” and her writing began to go well for the first time. Pat and Maria went constantly to the Pheasantry, a private eating club in Chelsea. “That is bringing the night into the day. That is bringing paradise into the prosaic,” Pat wrote about Maria, wondering, however, if she had “lost the giving power of falling in love…. Lately it is entirely bound up with whether the person is accessible or not.” Pat would have agreed with Ivy Compton-Burnett that the most important aspect of friendship was “availability.”

In London, Pat saw a lot of the handsome Austrian writer Raimund von Hofmannsthal, son of Richard Strauss’s librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. They discussed, censoriously, the effect comic books had on his children, without Pat saying anything about her long employment in the comics trade. Through Dennis and Kathryn Hamill Cohen, Pat was interviewed regularly by the press and met many people: Alan Pryce-Jones, the John Canters, the actress Constance Cummings (who lived next door to the Cohens). And everywhere Pat went, everywhere she was invited, she saw in bombed-out, still-rationed London only what she had always “dreamt of having”: a “[c]harming 2 story house, good martinis and a good dinner with French wine…a wife, and books and a Siamese cat.”

Pat flew back to Paris on the ides of March, fearing that she had overstayed her welcome at Dennis and Kathryn’s (she had), and took a room at the Hôtel des Saints-Pères in St-Germain-des-Pres. She had her usual trouble getting her typewriter out of customs—it took several days and a good lie—and she had to go to Le Bourget Airport for it. She resumed her regular dinners with Janet Flanner and Natalia Danesi Murray. Natalia was trying to engineer a contract with the Bompiani publishing company in Rome (where her mother was an editor) for Strangers on a Train.

On her way to Rome, in April, Pat once again visited Jeannot and his mother, Lily, in Marseille. This time it wasn’t Jeannot who pressed his attentions upon Pat; it was Jeannot’s gorgeous girlfriend who made the “violent pass.” “I was cold,” Pat wrote, and then “I thought, I am making an awful mistake.” As usual, Pat felt she was overeating and overweight. Also as usual, she was thin as a rail, but this feeling of being fat would persist for months. She took a train—she was thrilled to be on a train again—on her way to the isle of Capri to visit Natalia Danesi Murray and her mother, Ester Danesi, who had a “charming apartment next to the Quisisana Hotel. Her mother, formerly a journalist, very calm & slow, working diligently now on p. 67 of [the translation of] ‘Strangers.’ Very touching & heartwarming.”79

Pat was plagued by both constipation and also, good Freudian that she was, by deep fears of being entirely without money. She was depending on Natalia Murray for too much, including meals and introductions to many people (the composer Lukas Foss was among them), and she was wrestling with her dependence.

Janet Flanner said to everyone about Pat: “She has talent.” But Pat felt inadequate and resentful around Janet: “typical frustrating afternoon which so exposes my own miserable psychological contitution…. I am unable to speak, to participate on my own level, but must remain tongue-tied, stupid, dull. Janet F. often affects me like this.”80 When Janet finally left for the United States, “flat broke, homeless in Paris,” on 3 May, “everyone [was] chagrined” except Pat, who wrote in her diary: “Very lovely tonight without Janet.”81 (Given Pat’s crabbed handwriting, the phrase could have been “very lonely” certainly, both phrases were true.) A few days earlier, Pat had written about herself and Janet: “How like a schmuck I feel in comparison to her—and in accordance with my perverse nature, I am immediately better (more open in every way) as soon as she is gone, while all I should have liked to do was please her.”82

In Paris, Pat managed to run into her old lover Natica Waterbury and Natica’s lover Maria—leaping across the Boulevard St-Germain when she recognized Natica—and they enjoyed themselves separately and together in a succession of lesbian bars, notably Le Monocle in Montparnasse. But Pat was rarely interested in the women she found in bars. She made an appointment to meet “Sybille Bedford and her smooth-faced friend, Evelyn Keyes,” but something interrupted it. Pat went many places in every city she visited, met many people on whom she took extensive notes, but nowhere in her diary notes on Paris, London, or Munich is there any sense that these cities might still be suffering the effects of one of the most devastating conflicts in human history, the Second World War. As she would make Tom Ripley do, Pat continued to see in Europe mostly what she wanted to possess: “Il meglio.” The best.

On the seventh of May she heard that Ester Danesi, Natalia’s mother, had at last secured the Bompiani contract for Strangers on a Train, and as she finished the story she was working on, Pat thought: “Christ, I can write, but when I am done I need an editor! God, if it were only easier for me to make decisions.”

That evening, she did make a decision. Instead of taking home one of her two dinner companions, “the beautiful Deirdre,” she took the other one, “Grant,” the man, home with her. “Better than I expected, but in the morning I am uncomfortable and ashamed & feel unnatural.”83

On 9 May Pat was in Florence, and by the twelfth she was in Venice staying with Ruth Landshoff-Yorck, who, she wrote, was ordering her around the way Rosalind Constable used to. She went to cocktails with Peggy Guggenheim, “Somerset Maugham attending. Short, stutters, extremely polite. We did not talk about writing.” It was decades later that Pat thought she remembered Maugham telling her that in mixing martinis, he merely “showed the cork” of the vermouth to the gin. But Maugham said this to everyone.84

On 6 June, Pat heard from Margot Johnson that Harper had rejected The Price of Salt. “Harper’s reports not enough enthusiasm from the editorial board, that I probably can’t do the book because I am too close to the subject, haven’t the ‘mature approach.’” Margot immediately submitted the manuscript to Coward-McCann. (Pat was still “going over my [manuscript] with a fine tooth comb.”) Pat sounded relieved about the rejection: “It doesn’t depress me in the least.” But by 24 June, Coward-McCann had taken it “with compliments” and the promise of “$500 to come.”85

As usual, Pat’s affinities for women waxed, waned, and flared up as unexpectedly as Saint Anthony’s fire. Amongst her serious crushes at this time was Ursula—“with whom I am half in love”—a German princess and a friend of Ruth Yorck. Pat was impressed by her title and inclined to listen to her. “Ursula says I write so well but am full of tricks which the reader doesn’t quite swallow. A depressing judgement, with perhaps some truth in it.”86 She saw a lot of Ursula and went with her and the writer Wolfgang Hildesheimer—another of the talented Jewish refugees Pat had met and magnetized on her last trip to Europe—to a poetry reading in Munich.

Eight years later in New York, on New Year’s Day of 1959, Pat would use the name of Wolfgang Hildesheimer, who was by then translating Djuna Barnes’s novel Nightwood into German, to try to strike up an acquaintance with the reclusive Miss Barnes. Pat wrote transparently and awkwardly to Barnes at her apartment on Patchen Place to say that Wolfgang Hildesheimer was a “great friend” of hers who might require some help in his translation of Nightwood and that she hoped to meet Miss Barnes for a “cup of coffee together or a drink some time, so I can tell him what you are like.”87 Djuna Barnes, far too canny to be so easily trapped, riposted in a letter to Pat five days later that she herself had just written to Hildesheimer to offer him assistance with his translation and, as for the matter of what she was “like,” “if [Hildesheimer] wishes a photograph of me he may obtain one from my publisher, Faber & Faber.”88 Pat never met Djuna Barnes.

Now, in 1951, in Munich, Pat was having equally bad luck with her German princess. Pat questioned a translation the princess was doing—it’s not clear if it was a translation of one of Pat’s stories—and “[t]he Princess blew up and said I was exactly what R. Yorke had said I was, etc.”89 Pat had already acquired a reputation.

Early in July, Pat was in Salzburg buying “a beautiful hunting knife for Shillings 53. About $2.50. I hope I shall have it for many years.” (She does still have it; it’s in her archives.) In Salzburg, she felt “fat, old” again. “I heard my heart and felt mortal as mortal can be…. Thirty—what a turning point. I remember Natalia saying, in Capri: ‘Thirty? You don’t begin to live until you are 30.’ Tonight. My movie opened, I believe.”90 She meant Strangers on a Train. It was the first time Pat had claimed any relationship to this other version of her first published work—and the very idea (“my movie”) seems to have reminded her that she was going to die.

Late in July she was in Ambach, just outside of Munich, taking driving lessons and coming to the end of “my typing over” of The Price of Salt. “Have integrated Richard much more with the action, and also included that element of morbid curiousity [sic] and self participation I remarked in Marc [Brandel].” The book was still coming directly out of her life.91 Pat was also keeping up her usual pace of correspondence, with letters to and from friends, to and from old lovers, and to and from prospective lovers, new acquaintances, and business contacts in the book world. It was the habit she had begun with her first foreign outposting, to Taxco, Mexico, in 1944–45, and chronic correspondence would become her version of fidelity. On paper, Pat was able to keep her affections focused and her loyalties alive. Aside from the colloquies she conducted with herself in her diaries and cahiers, letter writing would serve as her main form of conversation.

By the end of July Pat was back in Munich, thinking that the pseudonymous authorship she’d decided on for The Price of Salt was a handicap, that the whole book was a handicap, and, almost as bad, that it was also responsible for her two abscessed teeth. “I know instinctively that anxiety and mental tension can cause this…. I live under the threat of having half my remaining teeth removed (tomorrow) and the resulting ignominy and disfigurement.”92 She had seen a “torturing” dentist in Venice and hunted up an American one in Germany, and was working away on short stories, radio pieces, and an article for the New Orleans Times-Picayune (it was turned down). Her energy was enormous; her social networking, plans for future work, and persistent physical complaints (and complaints about those physical complaints) never stopped.

On 11 August, she “ended my book [another version of The Price of Salt] and it’s ready to pack.” It was, she felt, time for an accounting and so she did one: counting up her lovers on a little strip of paper she entitled “whole show.” She printed their initials out in ink, and the paper is stained with what appears to be beer.

Twenty-one of them! I count—

V-C – B M.S. B.B. C.S. R.B. – J.S. N.W. – V.C.K. – J.P. – J.C. J.I. – J.T. – A.S. – P.F. – S.D. – B.C. – K.G. – M.E. – T.R. K.C.

But Pat was only counting the lovers that still counted for her. There was no Rolf Tietgens (he hadn’t, technically, been able to make love with her in their short month of trying years ago, anyway), no Marc Brandel, no male initials discernible, in fact. And she was certainly not counting the dozens, the hundreds, of short flings she’d had with women and a comparatively small number of men, nor the many longer relations she’d had with the women for whom she’d felt more than a passing fancy. This was Pat remembering her memories in the moment and then ranking them, not Pat telling her history on a witness stand. Her diary entries—this can’t be stressed too often—were regularly written long after the dates she put on them, and her opinions were always subject to change. (“J.T.” is not Judy Tuvim; it is her lover Jeanne, whom Pat continued to try to lure to Europe, and who married shortly after Pat made this diary entry.)

In August in Munich, three weeks after marking and then relinquishing her celibacy to Jo and Tessa, Pat failed a typing test (three times in a row) at the Peterson Caserne, the American army base in Munich, where she was trying to get a little work as an army typist in the Criminal Investigation Commission. Pat’s interest in the criminal mind and her talent for flunking job interviews never left her. Thirty-seven years later, on Don Swaim’s radio program in New York City in 1987, Pat said that she’d “wanted to avoid learning anything useful [so she] never learned to type.” She “didn’t,” she repeated, “want to get stuck with a secretarial job.”93

By 29 August, in Munich with Jo, Pat found herself staring “at a woman who was staring at me, not knowing it was Ellen Hill. I stared because she was the only attractive woman I had seen in days, and the staring is inevitable in this town.”94 Six days before this sighting, Pat had been prompting Jo to see “if she liked sleeping with me [and] she said ‘I suppose basically I’ll always want to sleep with you.’” But Jo’s opportunity was short-lived; within a week, Pat was madly in love with Ellen Hill.95

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