P_atricia Highsmith, who published twenty-two novels, including “Deep Water” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” died in 1995, at the age of seventy-four. By the time of her death, she had alienated many of the people in her life, espousing racist, anti-Semitic, and otherwise offensive views, but the eight thousand pages of diaries and notebooks she left behind—an edited version of which will be published this November—depict an engaged, social, and optimistic youth. The following selections begin in the spring of 1948, when the twenty-seven-year-old Highsmith had a two-month residency at the Yaddo artists’ colony. There, she met the British writer Marc Brandel, with whom she began an on-again, off-again relationship, and finished writing her first novel, “Strangers on a Train.” To make money, for several years Highsmith wrote for comics, including those published by Timely, which later became Marvel. In December, 1948, she also found seasonal work in the toy department of Bloomingdale’s, where she sold a doll to Mrs. E. R. Senn, the wife of a wealthy businessman from New Jersey, who became the inspiration for the character Carol, in her novel “The Price of Salt,” which was first published, in 1952, under a pseudonym._
april 3, 1948: Have rented a typewriter, and begun, in good mood, another ending on the Comp. [Woman’s Home Companion] story. It flows. Yet each day that goes by—where is the writing I wish to do? I feel it in me. Shall I be like those people without number who feel a destiny to write magnificent works one day? Yet looking at them I know I am different, and I put my trust in my intensity—my enormous need—which I do not see at all in them. The fortune-teller’s remark to my mother in N.O. [New Orleans] haunts me: “You have one child—a son. No, a daughter. It should have been a boy, but it’s a girl.” All around me, the happy, lighthearted, happily living couples of the South. Courtship is so easy, the attainment so easy, their bodies so fortunate.
april 10, 1948: My mother awakened me at 9 with a call that I have been admitted to Yaddo. I am thrilled and delighted. Such a relief, like a soldier, to have one’s life planned for the next 10-12 weeks! My mother pleased, too, and grandma impressed. Grandma read all about Yaddo in the pamphlet. How wide in range are her interests—how much grander a person is she than all her offspring.
may 11-30, 1948: What to say of Yaddo? I shall never forget it. A singularly dull bunch, no big names—though Marc Brandel is interesting. Bob White, Clifford Wright, Irene Orgel, Gail Kubik, Chester Himes, and Vivien K[och] MacLeod, W. S. Graham, a Scots poet, Harold Shapero & wife, Stan[ley] Levine, painter, Flannery O’Connor. Great desire to drink, after 3 days. The drunkest evening of my life after ten days. At the Maranese Restaurant btw. here & town, the place we took dinner when the kitchen moved from garage to mansion. None of us ate much. We trooped into the bar & drank as if we had never had cocktails before. Mixing was the order—for a thrill—Marc soon succumbed, with carrot hair in his carrot soup. I exchanged a revealing phrase with C. Wright, the solitary gay person here, which was carried no farther. We both know. So what?
I must have had five Martinis or six. Plus two Manhattans. A near blackout at Jimmy’s with Bob & Cliff, who had passed out at the Maranese, & had to be carried by three of us into the cab. We propped him on a stool in Jimmy’s, whence he fell like an egg. We seated him in the taxi, but when we came out he was gone! The taxi fare $7.50 for Bob & me by the time we finished looking at Bob’s drawings in his studio. The driver drinking & looking, too. When we refused, we were whisked back to town, passing Cliff on the way, staggering under the dark elms of Union Avenue on his 2-mile trek back home. This night has become legendary as “the Night Clifford Fell in the Lake.”
Chester tried (in his room) to kiss me. Did I mention it already? Doesn’t matter.
There are six artists here. We are all very different from one another, yet remarkably sociable, I think. What strikes me most forcibly is our basic similarity, in fact. It occurred to me last night, if any of us saw a white note being slid under the crack of our door—with a sound like thunder in the silent depths of midmorning—each of us would drop his work and spring for it. With what hope? Perhaps a friend, some sign of personal choice, of a singling out from the rest. And it followed—personal security, ego assurance, a lover. These every artist needs and wants. Even the married artist is constantly attuned to these needs. The mornings. Energy is too abundant at ten. The world is too rich to be eaten. One sits in a whirl at one’s desk thinking of drawing, writing, walking in the woods. The overwhelming flood of experience rushing in from all sides. In the morning only do I ever desire a drink to reduce my energy from 115% to 100%.
5/15/48: Please try to notice if every artist isn’t ruthless in some way. Even the sweetest of characters have done something, generally because of their creative life, that to the rest of the world is inhuman. Some cases are more obvious, others may be more concealed. I know mine exists, my cruelty. Though where I cannot precisely say, for I try always to purge myself of evil. Generally it is selfishness in an artist. And because he subjects himself so cheerfully to all kinds of privations for his art, it is difficult for him to see wherein he has been guilty of selfishness. He sees it as selfishness for such an obviously worthy cause, too. Generally, in one form or another, it is a self-preservative selfishness, in regard to his not giving enough of himself to the world or another person.
[no date] After three weeks at Yaddo. The soul lusts for its own corruption—after only one week. Desperately, through alcohol, it tries to reestablish contact with the rest of humanity. One’s eternal and individual loneliness is silhouetted sharply against dark green pine woods where it seems no human figure has ever walked or will ever walk. And, too, there is the desire born of loneliness also, to mingle spiritually with all the rest of the world of this year 1948 which is now starving, fighting, writhing in agony of thirst and undressed wounds, whoring, cheating, scheming, developing private, secret fondnesses for the stinking gutter. We want that, for it is our destiny, too, and Yaddo is depriving us. There is the moment of utter corruption, around eleven or eleven-thirty in the morning. One goes to urinate, washes their hands and looks into the bathroom mirror. The clock in the workroom grows audible. One realizes the isolation and imprisonment of the body, one realizes the hell of the body, and not only here, everywhere and as long as one lives, one longs for another body, naked and loving, a man or a woman, as it may be. One mixes a drink of rye and water, sips half of it truculently at a window, looks at the sterile, made bed and contemplates masturbating and turns from it in fear and scorn. One stalks about the room like a criminal imprisoned, unregenerate, incorrigible. This is the moment delicious, nihilitive, supreme, all-answering, the moment of utter corruption.
june 2, 1948: Happiness overwhelms me. Twenty-three days at Yaddo. My life is regular, pleasant, healthful on the obvious plane. (And how often and where in the past eight years, since I lived with my parents, have I been able to say this?) On the less obvious plane, it restoreth my dignity, my self-confidence, it enables me to complete what I have never completed, that child of my spirit, my novel, and give it birth.
june 26, 1948: A turning point. Went with Marc to the lake and discussed homosexuality quite a bit. Amazingly tolerant he is. And he convinced me I must abolish guilt for these impulses and feelings. (Can’t I remember Gide? Must I always try to “improve” myself?) I returned with quite a different attitude. I think more highly of myself. I have opened myself a little to the world.
august 2, 1948: These days, I’ve been speaking with Jeanne about the need for us to separate. Promised Marc I would. She was sad, but understands. Mostly she was jealous, I think. And later with Marc. I asked if he could spend the night with me. Said yes. He was very sweet, but nothing happened, and I was upset again.
8/5/48: Persistently, I have the vision of a house in the country with the blond wife whom I adore, with the children whom I adore, on the land and with the trees I adore. I know this will never be, yet will be partially, that tantalizing measure (of a man) which leads me on. My God, and my beloved, it can never be! And yet I love, in flesh and bone and clothed in love, as all mankind.
september 10, 1948: Provincetown. Marc drunk when I arrived. Ann Smith [a painter, designer, and ex-Vogue model, a friend of Marc Brandel’s] visited us, I think probably to get a look at me. She interests me—young, pretty, simple, and understanding. We wanted to take a walk (a few days later), and Marc accompanied us. Yes—I feel like I’m in prison. Always has to be like that—with a man.
11/23/48: Opening at Midtown of B.P.’s [Betty Parsons’s] gallery. All the ancient acquaintances, friends of my friends of my twenty-first year. Age has sagged a chin line, silvered a golden head, stamped its uniform signature of tiredness on a dozen faces. I think of Proust, re-seeing the Guermantes clan in the last chapter of “À la Recherche du Temps Perdu.”
“Your favorite scene where he tramples the town’s small business is coming up, sir.”
Cartoon by Frank Cotham
december 6, 1948: First day at Bloomingdale’s. Training, and in the toy [department]. Very pleased.
december 7, 1948: Hard work. Selling dolls, how ugly and expensive! And then—at 5 p.m., someone stole my meat for dinner! What kind of wolves one works with!
december 8, 1948: Was this the day I saw Mrs. E. R. Senn? How we looked at each other—this intelligent-looking woman! I want to send her a Christmas card, and am planning what I’ll write on it.
april 23, 1949: How much I resent about Marc these days—his never doing anything but reading when he is here, while I attempt to play records, fix drinks, watch meat & canapés in the oven, simultaneously fix dinner, wash dishes, do the bed (and disgusting diaphragm) and, in the morning, prepare breakfast. He hasn’t the particular sensitivity to realize that a person in the bathroom does not wish another person sitting at the table just outside the door. These and a thousand things disturb my digestion, banish the gains made at other times.
may 7, 1949: [The fashion designer and painter] Mme. [Elizabeth] Lyne’s party tonight. The party a fiasco, because dear Marc thought two boys were making passes at him. I got my coat and left. Wish I’d stayed on or told him off—one or the other, for I came home in a silent, pent fury.
may 8, 1949: Very depressed from last night. “You’d better make up your mind whom you love,” said Ann, “because you’re wasting a hell of a lot of valuable time . . . irrevocable time.” I feel she refers to my lack of achievement in my work, my age, etc., and it all overwhelmed me. Moreover, I feel literally deprived of something, now that I cannot fall in love with anyone. However, it takes only a lunch with Dione (or even a good drawing) and laughter to make me feel, and know I am, happier now, enjoying life more now, than ever before. Such a fact allows me to bear a great deal—even the thought of going away with Marc. Though, actually, Saturday night dissuaded me from that. I will not be imprisoned so.
may 20, 1949: A gloomy, uneventful day, until Margot [Johnson, Highsmith’s agent] informed me that Harpers wants my book! Everything happens at once! After all these months of plodding dullness, the book and Europe. And—so I asked Marc to come over for dinner. He brought champagne. And we decided to marry Christmas Day. Three high points of my life—definitely!
june 4, 1949: Rosalind [Constable, a friend and a writer], Marc, my mother saw me off. A short farewell, for the cabin is not attractive (D deck!) and the Queen sailed promptly. I could not see any of them from the deck. Who is with me most? Ann. I think of her thinking of me today. Everything a madhouse. One gets lost dozens of times a day. The meals are thrown at one, then snatched away. No one attractive in tourist class, and we are very effectively barred from fraternizing with the other two.
6/7/49: I am curious as to that part of the mind which psychology (which denies the soul) cannot find, or help, or assuage, much less banish—namely, the soul. I am curious as to the soul’s dissatisfactions, that ever unsatisfied portion of man, which would ever be something else, not necessarily better, but something else, not necessarily richer, more comfortable, or even happier, but something else. It is this I want to write about next.
june 11, 1949: A delightful first-class carriage ride from Southampton to London, where both Dennis [Cohen, Highsmith’s future U.K. publisher] & Kathryn [Cohen’s wife] met me at Waterloo Station. Dennis in a Rolls-Royce. And a beautiful house to come home to—a Siamese cat, a superb lunch with Riesling. Kathryn is charming!
june 17, 1949: With Kathryn to Stratford. Poor Kathryn—she unburdens her heart to me, I trust, about Dennis. She has money to play with, but passion—she cannot spend at the moment, and she has a treasure of that. A rushed bite of dinner at the Avon [Hotel], and to “Othello” with Diana Wynyard as Desdemona, John Slater as Iago, Geoffrey Tearle as Othello.
june 20, 1949: London. Increasingly I must be drugged to be creative. Whether this is a stage, whether it is wrong (it is momentarily wrong) is the great problem. The worst letter from Ann. She writes me almost daily. “Why do you write to me. If you loved me, we should live together & there would be no question. It has been almost a year . . . I cannot keep the light touch much longer.” And from Marc, the first letter. Rather cool, otherwise all right. I feel so tenderly toward him. But which is I???? Extremely tired. I grow ever thinner.
6/20/49: There must be violence, to satisfy me, and therefore drama & suspense. These are my principles.
june 22, 1949: Today at last a grand decision. It is impossible to think of marrying Marc—a sacrilege. I prefer Ann. But as yet I cannot trust my emotions enough to believe I love her enough. Perhaps that will come—immediately—for her. But I know I would only hurt Marc and myself by marrying him.
[no date] How I miss the long talks with Kathryn. What things go through my head. What a charming woman is she. And the pity. The unjustness. The male form without context: everywhere. Dennis incapable of loving her. How alive she still is. How worthy of adoration. What a beautiful instrument to play on! What songs could she sing! How proud could she make her lover! I come to Paris thinking of the strange kiss she gave me the night before I left, the way she held me close and would not let me go. And why? And why? And why was I not bolder? How many years since someone had kissed her—a modest kiss, but one with reality—as I did that night? I should have liked to hold her in my arms all night, to give her the feeling of being loved and desired, because the feeling is more important than the deed.
july 18, 1949: I wrote to Marc—finally—severing everything, telling him I am sure I cannot be to him what I should.
7/29/49: Europe for the first time at twenty-eight: it widens one’s interests again, makes one diverse as at seventeen. This closing up! I hate it. It grows on one slowly from nineteen onward, as S. [Samuel] Johnson said.
august 23, 1949: Roma—a dirty town. All the men masturbating or something, staring with idiotic fixity at me. Wired K. last night & she telephoned at 6 last night. Wants to join me in Naples. Was so happy suddenly—a proper date with English-speaking friend—and what a person—I bought Cognac, wore my sweater from Florence. How lucky I am. Though suffering backache (?) and sore stomach, I feel like a god as I lie alone in my room, too sick, too frightened (physically) of what might happen in Rome, should I fall sick, to move out. Out finally to eat a beefsteak & nothing else. Had had nothing but 2 omelets for 2 days. Forgive food details, dear diary, but they become life details, perhaps. Kathryn will join me Friday. I spin out the days in Rome until then, therefore, hating it.
september 8, 1949: I wanted to embrace and kiss Kathryn. Depression—for what? I am not in love with her, only afraid to show the least spontaneity in my emotions. Always afraid? Always afraid—not really of offending—but of being offended by someone else’s rejection. With her, I can only think of my bad points, my untidy hair, bad teeth, my untidy shoes, perhaps. We leave tonight for Palermo. The boat is beautiful. Suddenly we both purr like kittens, responding to the cleanliness, the good service, above all the leaving of Naples, the change ahead. K. will stay with me until I go, then return to Rotterdam, finally to London where—everything hellish awaits her—
september 21, 1949: To the Grotta Azzurra with K. Very cluttered with rowboats, so certainly 50% of the light was obscured. What a shame. Caught the 4:10 bus back to Napoli. Then the parting. And the rushing. Grapes. And a last dinner with K. I in my white suit, which I’d wanted to wear the first evening with her. We dined—indifferently—at the vine balcony restaurant of our first lunch. K. often holds me, looks earnestly into my face, and kisses me on the lips. What does she wish me to say further? (I have said nothing.) She doesn’t wish anything. But mightn’t I? Plans—does K. want them? I know it is I who do not want them. That K. could more easily bear than I could say, I shall come to London next year and we shall live together. No, I don’t know what I want. With perfect equanimity, I can contemplate nothing but brief affairs—promiscuous ones—in N.Y. And yet I hope for a jolt (of time, in time) to crystallize my desires. I long to write, and dream of its coming out easily as a spider’s web. Now I know why I keep a diary. I am not at peace until I continue the thread into the present. I am interested in analyzing myself, in trying to discover the reasons why I do such & such. I cannot do this without dropping dried peas behind me to help me retrace my course, to point a straight line in the darkness.
october 2, 1949: Does K. think of me in this long silence? I know she does. We have a strange psychic communication, we two. I began my novel, “Argument of Tantalus” [later titled “The Price of Salt”]. Seven or eight pages that went along with that ease and fluency (of vocabulary) that generally means nothing much need be changed later. Naturally, I am very happy today. The happiest since leaving Kathryn.
october 5, 1949: Page 28 of “Tantalus.” I have no clear detail of what happens once Therese meets Carol. But it goes romping along, much as I do. All is my own reaction to things—with only, at the extremes, some extensions to follow more closely the attitudes of my main character. The sea is rolling rather heavily tonight. Could not sleep until 2 a.m.
october 9, 1949: Have never felt such outpouring of myself—in all forms of writing. A great gush. I want to get this book out of me in the shortest possible time, not even stopping to earn a bit of money.
october 19, 1949: Marc called yesterday, to my surprise. We had drinks and dinner tonight, says he still feels the same, still talks of marriage, “not in two years or even more, but you’re still the person I want to spend the rest of my life with.” Marc stayed the night, trying to please me, but being too self-effacing even.
october 22, 1949: Date with Marc. Went to dinner—bad at Le Moal’s—and movie. He stayed. I was excessively tired, and then (in fact, unless I am drunk) he is so much dead weight in my bed. Oh Christ, I want Kathryn in my bed! I trust her. I like the fact she is older than me. I think she is beautiful and intelligent. I had another letter from her. More affectionate, I would say, more half said, than the other.
november 6, 1949: Typed almost all my [story] “Instantly and Forever” today. All I can say is, I’ve seen such things printed. Marc came up with a title [for the first novel] this morning. “Strangers on a Train.” I like it very much & hope they do. God bless him. He helps me so much. Am very grateful.
november 11, 1949: Lunch with Harpers. Joan Kahn & Mr. Sheehan, an editor, junior, who says he likes my book tremendously, thinks it’s wonderful. (Later spoke with Mme. Lyne, who said Sheehan dropped in, raved about the book, without knowing she knew me.) Kahn: Will allow me to finish “Tantalus” without showing even a piece of it. And some money can be arranged, too. Wants McCullers, etc., to read “Strangers” and comment for jacket.
november 23, 1949: Thanksgiving morn: 2:45 a.m. No letter from Kathryn. She doesn’t love me. I had my chance, and I muffed it. (Will that be engraved upon my tombstone?) There is nothing in the world I want so much at this moment as a word from her. A new word. One cannot go on forever rereading the same letter. I am sick, and starving, from living on what one always lives on. Hope. The future that never comes, because one never makes it. That is, I don’t. I must tell her that I love her. I want her. I am hers. I want only to be with her. I must ask her, does she want it, too.
11/23/49: Continually I toy with my “if—ifs.” For instance, if my experience should be shut off now, sexually, emotionally (not intellectually), but mundanely, practically, I feel I should have enough. I have stretched an hour into eternity. It is all within me. I have but to draw upon it. I have not been to sea for many months, but neither have I been immured. And yet I know, as I write this, that in a week I shall condemn it as sterile, decadent, simply stupid. Thank God, I am not the single person, not even worshipping the Intellect and the Soul with single mind, like Melville! For Melville became insane, and I shall not. This afternoon in Hastings [New York], I raked leaves, in the sun and the air and the smoke. And I loved my love with all my heart. Therefore, I felt and I knew that I was not entirely the priggish person I had been half an hour before, immersed in Melville’s “Pierre” and following his vagaries of soul with the most personally involved fascination. Therefore, I know I shall not ever go mad. Which is one of the matters for which I give thanks this Thanksgiving Day.
“Is it possible you made the appointment under another name—like, say, Handsome Prince?”
Cartoon by Michael Maslin
november 26, 1949: Another letter from Kathryn. The first in two weeks, but well [worth] waiting for. It transforms everything. She misses me. It was a very intimate letter. I have never been so happy in my life. I must literally rest a while each day, lest I drop dead with the absurd ailment of Euphoria. Not that I am excited. I am calm, serene, my concentration is even good. But I am blessed, and I know it. All these years of repression, sacrifice, disillusionment, frustration have come to be of value, for they help me to measure my extreme happiness now.
november 26, 1949: Lyne informs me Sheehan of Harpers was chiefly fascinated by my book’s [“Strangers on a Train” ’s] “homosexual theme” and presumably subject matter. I was astounded, a little disturbed. Felt wonderful this evening, going downtown after one Martini here, my pinstripe suit. I prefer my hair straight. Frightfully, dangerously tired when I went to bed at 4 a.m. I am always afraid of dropping dead, of course.
december 8, 1949: I read my notebooks all evening. A real thesaurus! I lay closer plans of “Tantalus.” I believe it will go well. I must not be too loose, that is all! I am happy tonight. And if I don’t have a letter from K. tomorrow, the fourteenth day? I shall be disappointed, sorry, but not unhappy. For betrayal of faith and trust is the very theme of “Tantalus,” which tomorrow I hope to begin to write once more.
december 10, 1949: Worked. How well it all goes. How grateful I am at last not—as Lil says—to spoil my best thematic material by transposing it to a false male-female relationship!
1/10/50: Loneliness. Not a mysterious visitation, not a disease. It depends what one has been doing last, what one will do next, whether it comes or not. This has nothing to do with “distraction,” either. I mean loneliness has to do with the psyche’s rhythm alone. Distraction never keeps loneliness [at bay], of course. I honor loneliness: it is austere, proud, untouchable, except by what it would be touched by. Melancholy on the other hand can quickly be touched by distraction. For it is a more logical thing. (And I can also see myself writing the very opposite of all this one day.)
1/10/50: A note on hearing “America.” From sea to shining sea. The many small towns I have driven through. The many lighted windows on the second floors of small homes, where young girls stand brushing their golden hair. The houses certain people call home. The rooms that are certain people’s own rooms, unforgettable. And perhaps the rooms they will have all their lives. And the shaded window with the red cross over the sill, that I passed every morning on the way to high school in Ft. Worth. The bread they eat, and the boyfriends who call them, the cars they drive to hamburger stands in, the summer evenings when the boys are home from colleges, and the betrothals are made. The children that are born to lead the same simple lives externally. And, always, the loneliness, the unsatisfied striving that is below the surface, much or little below. The girl who is unsatisfied, and yet has not the energy or perhaps the courage to escape. She dreams of something better, something different, something that will challenge and use up the aspiration that she feels clamoring within her, that cannot be satisfied by the men she meets, the stores she buys her clothes at, the movies she dreams in, even the food she eats.
january 13, 1950: Bad luck. I owe the government $122, which I won’t pay. Margot says that I have to continue working for the comics industry for several months at least. Well, then, I shall do that. At least I don’t have a hangover this morning. Ann came to see me. She’s not going to Europe this summer. Ann is too slim, not as attractive as before. My God, how many women do I want?
january 19, 1950: My birthday. 29. Work—I thought that the comics might be stimulating now. Unfortunately not. However, the checks will doubtless be. But the stories—! With the family tonight. Martinis, good French wine, presents. And a check over $20 for a macintosh. Couldn’t sleep tonight. I think of Lyne—who tickles my curiosity, that’s all. And I was also thinking about my life. I should be writing now. I cannot possibly justify these two months I plan to work on comics. I don’t get any younger.
1/25/50: Education. How we should love those years of formal education, especially in the university. To the reflective person, it is the last time he will remember that the world made sense, the world promised to continue to make sense. It is the only time when all he is filled and concerned with really concerns life. No wonder he is happy! No wonder each day is heroic adventure! No wonder he doesn’t want to go to bed at night!
1/26/50: Insanity. When one has glimpses of it, it is not in the form of random irrational thoughts, but as the entire structure of one’s information slipping. It is as if the crust of the entire world slips a bit, so that one easily imagines the North Pole at the South Pole one day.
february 1, 1950: Thus, I go through life, subsisting on one drug or another.
2/2/50: I do indeed grow tired and depressed by realism in literature—especially à la O’Hara, or even à la Steinbeck. I want a complete new world. Painters are doing it. Why not writers? I do not mean the pixie-like fantasy of Robert Nathan. I mean a new world that is at once not real, and at once fascinating and full of message, that is art, too, as simply, timelessly, and unrealistically as the best of the cave dwellers’ wall paintings.
february 9, 1950: Margot likes “Tantalus.” What more can I say? I am alive once more. I am in love with Kathryn. I am an angel, a devil, a genius. I must have nothing more to do with Lyne, who will not grant me her bed, as simply and partially as I should take it. (Idiot, she is!) I love Kathryn. My eyes are on the stars and beyond. My spirit wanders in the galaxies, and under the oceans. My breath is in the coming spring winds. My fertility is in the dry, living seeds as yet unplanted. My food is my love itself, better than any feast! The frame of my life is the frame of my work. Gloria in Excelsis Deo!
2/27/50: 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. I can survive. I can even combat it. It will not knock me down again, much less knock me out. In fact, I have learned to reject first. The important thing is to practice this. That my limping crutches are not trained to do. Ah, how insignificant it all is! And how significant! To one more love, goodbye. Adieu. But no— God will not be with you, not you. But fare thee well, all the same. God knows, I hold thee high.
march 28, 1950: Lyne told Marc all I need[ed] was a man to “make me feel like a woman.” Her usual, refreshing tack, and to hell with Freud, and even past history. Pat’s not queer, Lyne says. She’s got this wrong. Spent night with Marc. I am easier with him, but much rebellion left, I can feel. And if Kathryn writes me favorably? I envisage 2 months now with Marc, when I shall write my book, followed by movie money, Europe, and I hope Kathryn. If I were to do what I feel like doing, it would be Kathryn & Europe, and not these 2 months (so far as pleasure goes) with Marc even. Feel like a woman? He makes me feel like a male pervert, a sailor in the Navy, a naughty little boy at school. He has a knack of not knowing what I want.
4/2/50: A note after rereading all my notebooks—rather, glancing through all of them, for who could possibly read them? Impressed only by the range of interest, the terrible striving in all directions. Depressed by the monotonous note of depression, and the affinity of melancholy. Impressed very rarely by cleverness, by poetry. But sometimes, I think, by an occasional good insight. A few usable things in literature. But this I must say: the sackcloth ashes age has passed. The adolescent aloneness (reluctance to join with humanity) has passed. So melancholy now, on the lonely gray seas, is tempered with sight of shore. I have my friends. More than that I have Life, and know how to repair to it at all times, under any conditions. Things which once were so bewildering and complex, marriage and sex, for example, are not so now. They have been torn down a bit. Become more lovable, in fact. I must get it all to flow. To let it dam up till it is an insufferable force, that has to be knocked out by liquor and dissipation to tire the body. In short—as I have ivy-towerishly preached since adolescence—I must learn to find life in my work, living there, with its dramas, hardships, pleasures, and rewards. For I have yet another long road to go, before I can find in another person those compatible elements, which will enable all this to flow. I have merely learned, so far, to avoid those persons who would stop it.
april 3, 1950: Margot sold my book [“Strangers on a Train”] to Hitchcock for $6,000 + $1,500 for Hollywood work or not at time of filming—6-9 months hence. Celebrated wildly with Lyne (broke date with Jeanne). Then called Ann at 3 a.m. & was stupidly inveigled into inviting her here. Dismal, and I feel it’s the last time.
april 7, 1950: Hysterical, because Lyne made me wait an hour for her. I have a cold & fever, but that’s small excuse. The point is, the pattern resumes. The point is, I have a chance out of it now (a bit of money), and my imprisoned soul (in such bad shape that an A.S.P.C.A. would have guillotined me years ago, had they known, and God himself must be wishing, o profoundly wishing, he hadn’t made such a creature or let such a creature be made). How about the insect in the country brook, born to live 30 seconds due to natural enemy living in the proximity? I think such a creature even would be considered happier. At any rate, drunk and sober tonight, I feel myself approaching the end of phoniness. I have lived as a phony too long. The honest money in my pocket is crying out against it. What do I cry? What is the cry of my soul? Kathryn. (Result of waiting for Lyne 45 minutes, plus 102 fever, plus lousy dinner in a nightclub, + 3½ Martinis + a crying jag.)
april 17, 1950: I have borne heavier crosses than Kathryn. The letter came today (written Thursday April 13) and it is not good, I suppose. She is incredibly burdened with all kinds of things just now. “I have to learn to walk alone,” she wrote, “before I’ll be of any use to myself or to anyone else.” And that she would like to see me whenever possible. What ever remains but friends?
Marc got my negative letter today, too. Thus we both get it in the neck the same day.
april 20, 1950: [Port Jefferson] One inconvenience after another. No gas. Parents left at noon, and I sat huddled by a fire the rest of the chill, rainy day, reading Greene’s “The Man Within.” How brilliant it is. How like Kathryn is Elizabeth. And Andrews like me in my most cowardly, indecisive moments. (My cowardice, if any, lies in indecision alone.) I wept at the end. Real tears, à la “David Copperfield” when I was a child, tears now because I am grown up, and so are these people.
may 3, 1950: Ah, life can be beautiful. Chapter Nine done. P. 111. And the next chapter planned at the moment. Symbolism coming out fine. I’ve my sloppy shirt-paper notes pinned beside my desk. I might go all day without speaking to anyone here, except perhaps for my mail.
may 4, 1950: This is such a painful novel I am doing. I am recording my own birth. My 8-page stint is sometimes agony. So far, generally, I feel happy at night, however, after the pages are done.
5/4/50: To hell with the psychoanalyst’s explanations of Dostoyevsky’s gambling as sexual release. Dostoyevsky wanted to destroy himself, to experience his own destruction. Purge of the soul! Dostoyevsky knew. Touch bottom before you can thrust to the heights! Touch bottom, indeed, merely for the sake of knowing bottom. I know all this so well, I feel it, I enact it, too.
may 5, 1950: A letter from Kathryn. A good one. Very good. She liked my postcards, letters, congratulates me on the movie. “You are neither an irrit[ation] or a distraction, but someone whom I feel very close . . .” Excoriating letter from Marc, telling me I cling to my disgusting, infantile sicknesses like a little girl clings to a doll, ending “and let’s get married.”
5/6/50: This won’t come again (some things I know, as I knew when I was twenty-three, and twenty-one, that the same sensations cannot be reduplicated because of the very age element), the sheeplike clouds on a pleasant evening in May, with the castle nearby, all black and dark and huge, where I shall work alone. And while my friends are leaving in the car. It is all pleasant, I welcome it, and I am not afraid, and yet love goes with them, the human voice, the touch of the flesh at all, and the possibility of something failing, some little thing, while the group goes out to get into the car, while one or all of us look for a place which sells newspapers after ten o’clock in the evening. No, this will not come again, I standing in the dark driveway, lighting a cigarette to comfort me, while the automobile purrs away in the darkness. I staring to a different world and one which I love better. Living life I do mistrust, but friends and lovers one has always. One has always, at least, the remembrance of how the lovers were, which indeed is no different from the way the friends are. For I do project into friends the imaginative virtues, capabilities, which I project into lovers. Both are created. And a man does love by an illusion.
5/17/50: Writing, of course, is a substitute for the life I cannot live, am unable to live. All life, to me, is a search for the balanced diet, which does not exist. For me. Alas, I am twenty-nine, and I cannot stand more than five days of the life I have invented as the most ideal.
may 23, 1950: In a burst of confidence, I showed Ethel [Sturtevant, who was Highsmith’s creative-writing instructor at Barnard] chapter six, in which Carol appears, picks up Therese. “But this is love!” Ethel exclaimed upon reading half of the first page. I admitted it was something like that but in later discussion said T. had a schoolgirl crush, wanted back to the womb relationship, which Ethel said was borne out by the milk episode, but not in their meeting. “That’s a sexual awakening. Your genius ran away with you here . . . Now this packs a wallop! This is an excellent piece of writing, Pat.”
5/28/50: I have just heard a remarkable popular song called “Let’s go to church on Sunday (we’ll meet a friend on the way)” [“Let’s Go to Church (Next Sunday Morning),” performed by Margaret Whiting and Jimmy Wakely]. They will meet a friend on the way. Next Saturday night, the young man will hold up a candy store and the girl will sleep with the man who will necessitate an abortion. These two will marry in less than a year and produce five more Catholics. They will vote in the Catholic senators and boycott the best artists and writers. They will provide sons for the next war and dedicate the next superwar mondial to the unknown soldier. They will prevent people from parking on their block and they will turn the stomachs of the rest of us when they appear in bathing suits on public beaches. They will be honored because they carry on the race. But they will not be the people by whom this century will be known.
Cartoon by Mort Gerberg
may 31, 1950: Went to Wanamaker’s on luxurious lady of leisure shopping tour, & picked up maps from R.C.A. for Carol & Therese’s trip. I live so completely with them now, I do not even think I can contemplate an amour.
6/6/50: Today I fell madly in love with my Carol. What finer thing can there be but to fling the sharpest point of my strength into her creation day after day? And at night, be exhausted. I want to spend all my time, all my evenings with her. I want to be faithful to her. How can I be otherwise?
june 14, 1950: Carol has said no now. Oh God, how this story emerges from my own bones! The tragedy, the tears, the infinite grief which is unavailing! I saw Marc for a beer. Very detached, unreal feeling tonight.
6/16/50: (One day before finishing my second novel.)
I have learned the trade of writing rather late. I am later still learning the art of life. I came home and only happened to look into Emily Dickinson, and was reminded afresh of that poor woman’s (and rich poet’s) fate of loving a man she saw so briefly—and of what she made of it, of what she gave the world and herself in beauty.
june 30, 1950: Today, feeling quite odd—like a murderer in a novel, I boarded the train for Ridgewood, New Jersey. It shook me physically, and left me limp. Had she [Mrs. E. R. Senn] ever taken the same train? (I doubt it. She’d use a car.) Was compelled to drink two ryes before I took the 92 bus, the wrong one, toward Murray Ave. I asked the driver, and suddenly, to my dismay and horror, I heard the entire bus shouting “Murray Avenue?”—and giving me directions! Murray Avenue is a comparatively small lane going into thickly wooded land, on one side of Godwin Avenue. There is a building on the left, a big, quiet, fine house on the right, where two cars stood, and women sat on the porch, talking. The number was 345—and I pushed on, seeing 39—on the next house, and thinking the numbers were going the wrong way, for hers is 315. Besides the street was so residential, there were no sidewalks, and I was a conspicuous figure. I dared not go any further up the avenue where the trees grew closer and closer, and hers might have been the only remaining house (I caught no glimpse of it!) and where she just might have been on the lawn or porch, and I might have betrayed myself with halting too abruptly. I walked on the opposite avenue, which was not even called Murray. (And felt safer because it was not hers.) And then as I came back to Godwin a pale aqua automobile was coming out of Murray Avenue, driven by a woman with dark glasses and short blond hair, alone, and I think in a pale blue or aqua dress with short sleeves. Might she have glanced at me? O time, thou art strange! My heart leapt, but not very high. She had hair that blew wider about her head. O Christ, what can I remember from that encounter of two or three minutes a year and a half ago. Ridgewood is so far away! When shall I ever see her in New York again? Shall I go to a party one evening and find her there?
7/1/50: I am interested in the murderer’s psychology, and also in the opposing planes, drives of good and evil (construction and destruction). How by a slight defection one can be made the other, and all the power of a strong mind and body be deflected to murder or destruction! It is simply fascinating!
And to do this primarily, again, as entertainment. How perhaps even love, by having its head persistently bruised, can become hate. For the curious thing yesterday I felt quite close to murder, too, as I went to see the house of the woman who almost made me love her when I saw her a moment in December, 1948. Murder is a kind of making love, a kind of possessing. (Is it not attention, for a moment, from the object of one’s affections?) To arrest her suddenly, my hands up on her throat (which I should really like to kiss) as if I took a photograph, to make her in an instant cool and rigid as a statue. And yesterday, people stared at me curiously wherever I went, in the trains, the bus, on the sidewalk. I thought, does it show in my face? But I felt very calm and composed. And indeed, at a gesture from the woman I sought, I should have cringed and retreated.
7/21/50: The night. I dream of earthquakes, the earth shaking and tipping out the window, while the house stands still! One half awakens—more than half!—sits up in bed with the dream clinging heavily to the edges of one’s brain, tipping the whole brain like a house itself, caught in an earthquake. I call out someone’s name, because I don’t know what bed I am in, or what house. I see and hear myself doing it, knowing I am both asleep and awake, and the limbo is horrible! I walk into the kitchen, thinking of getting some hot water and milk to drink, but my brain grasps even this simple idea like the clumsy hands of a primitive monster. And the primitive monster is myself. I chew voraciously at a half-eaten chop which I really do not want, and put it down again. The earth shakes, and I doubt even gravity. I am suddenly somebody else, another creature I do not know. (I know, though, that I lived a hundred million years ago.)
9/22/50: Of my book, in conclusion, two weeks before finishing the rewrite: this is not a picture of the author sweating. The bookstores at this moment happen to be glutted with tracts excusing and apologizing for homosexuality, depicting their very rugged male heroes writhing with heterosexual disgust as they try to throw off the hideous coils that bind them, while in the last scene their beloved is without reason killed, lest somebody in the Bible Belt despise the fact they may continue living together in a cohabitation he has been hammered into countenancing, but which may sour in his mind a week later. This is the story of a woman weak because of social weaknesses in her society, having nothing to do with perversion. And a girl starved for a mother, in whom the artificial upbringing of an orphanage’s home, however scientific, has not sufficed as parental love. It is just a story that might have happened, with no axe to grind.
october 12, 1950: In furious mood. Walked furiously up 2nd Avenue. And at 4 p.m. got the curse! First time since end of May or June. Because I finished my book today, too, perhaps. A nice writing streak, with the end in which Therese does not go back with Carol—but refuses her, and is alone at the last. Shall show M.J. [Margot Johnson] both versions, and am sure she will prefer the “lift” ending in which T. & C. go back together. In the course of the evening got horribly blind drunk! Blackouts and everything else. Including spending all the money in my wallet. Lyne eventually poured me into a taxi at 3 a.m.
october 18, 1950: Walter [Marlowe, a friend and a writer] & I discussed my book. I told him I did not mind shelving it for five years. He suddenly agreed, and said Sheehan told him—“I’m glad Pat tackles a subject like this, because it’s something she really knows about, but for her career I think it’s very bad.” To get a label. And I’ve already one as a mystery story writer!
october 19, 1950: So that is the big news—I shall try to persuade Margot J. that the book should not be published now. And she will doubtless argue otherwise. Everyone will. But it is my career, my life.
10/20/50: Now, now, now, to fall in love with my book—this same day I have decided not to publish it, not for an indefinite length of time. But I shall continue to work on it for some weeks to come, to polish and perfect it. I shall fall in love with it now, in a different way from the way I loved it before. This love is endless, disinterested, unselfish, impersonal even.
october 29, 1950: Margot has finished my book. “I’m very pleased, Pat,” but not with too much enthusiasm, I thought. “What do you think of getting it published under another name?” she asked. I don’t mind. Temporary, partial relief from shame. We must get the opinions of several “independent readers.”
december 21, 1950: What shall I write about next, I think here in this diary where I think aloud. O more definitely than ever this 29th year, this third year and I always change on the thirds, has seen much metamorphosis. It will come to me. My love of life grows stronger every month. My powers of recuperation are wonderfully swift and elastic. I think of writing a startler, a real shocker in the psychological thriller line. I could do it adeptly. ♦
(Diary entries are dated in long form, notebook entries numerically. A few entries here were written or partly written in French or German and were translated by Sophie Duvernoy and Elisabeth Lauffer.)
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