Tom Ripley, literary anti-hero, playboy sociopath and all round bad egg is Patricia Highsmith’s most lasting creation. In a series of five books written over five decades (referred to as The Ripliad), she grew the character from small time swindler and wannabe in The Talanted Mr Ripley (1955) through to the cultured, sophisticated country gent of Ripley Under Water (1991).
It has been noted by many writers that Highsmith shared myriad characteristics with Ripley. While not autobiographical, Ripley could be likened to her unmoored id – a way to exorcise demons perhaps. She was even known to sign off correspondence with a playful “Pat H, alias Ripley”. Her creation was a monstrous success, right from the start. Ripley was a new kind of character in modern crime fiction, an utterly amoral person, flawed and complex, who the reader is being asked to root for. It is not too much of a stretch to state that Ripley is relatable and even likeable in many ways that Highsmith herself simply was not.
Five different leading men have tried their hand as Ripley, each of them displaying a different facet of his form and each laden with the baggage of the conventions and mores of their day. We thought we’d have a look at how each one measured up to the task.