Thursday, June 14, 2007

comparison of Highsmith heroes.

I have often (far, far too often) remarked that while I would love to become Tom Ripley, I can only really see myself becoming Bruno- if Patricia Highsmith started writing my life that is, or I went off the rails again. The reason is this: Tom Ripley is a romantic ideal. He starts in the first book by becoming that ideal. It’s a mistake to say the virtue in the series is that he gets away with everything and gets what he wants without a price, because this isn’t true. Often he is tormented by guilt, often his plans go wrong (witness Ripley under ground and The boy who followed Ripley, if you want tragedy) but overall he accomplishes his goals. He doesn’t romanticise murder, he says at the beginning of Ripley’s Game that “there’s no such thing as the perfect murder, there are, however, a lot of unsolved murders”, but he has a status quo he wants to maintain, and he does so regardless of the cost. Often this actually involves him being noble, heroic, and unselfish. And he comes from being the boy who doesn’t fit in, who is talented and clever but not wealthy and surrounded by all these people who get everything they want without any effort, and he ends up getting the better of them, and at ease with himself and his surroundings. He gets an happy ending, and an harpsichord.

Bruno (from Strangers on a train) is different. He begins as an outsider as well, despite being wealthy, just because of the way his mind works. He is hopelessly romantic, with a list of numerous things he wants to do just for the hell of it- most memorably to give a thousand dollars to a beggar. He does so, and the next day the same beggar’s still on the street corner. And he has plans for perfect murders. But they don’t work, because of human variables and people being easily scared, and the fact that you can’t meet with someone, see them once and then never meet again if you’ve made that connection. And what he sees as the ideal relationship with Guy, and Guy comes to realise at the end, does exist in one sense but neither of them are fully aware of it ‘til the end of the book, by which time it is too late. And it doesn’t work either, because they were just supposed to be elements in a plan, to be strangers, and not to connect.

So although Ripley himself has some romantic thoughts, he ends up being the romantic ideal, the perfect social climber, whereas Bruno, the eternal idealist, is doomed to be a failed romantic, and drunkenly sing Foggy Foggy dew (that last bit is for those of you who’ve read it)

So that’s my Highsmithian ramble over.

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