Tom Ripley

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Tom Ripley
Alain Delon as Ripley in Purple Noon
First appearance The Talented Mr. Ripley
Last appearance Ripley Under Water
Created by Patricia Highsmith
Portrayed by Alain Delon
Dennis Hopper
Jonathan Kent
Matt Damon
John Malkovich
Barry Pepper
Ian Hart
Andrew Scott
In-universe information
Full nameThomas Phelps Ripley
AliasDickie Greenleaf
Occupation Con artist
SpouseHeloise Plisson (wife)

Tom Ripley is a fictional character in the Ripley series of crime novels by American novelist Patricia Highsmith, as well as several film adaptations. He is a career criminal, con artist, and serial killer who always gets away with his crimes. The five novels in which he appears— The Talented Mr. Ripley , Ripley Under Ground , Ripley's Game , The Boy Who Followed Ripley , and Ripley Under Water —were published between 1955 and 1991. In every novel, he comes perilously close to getting caught or killed, but ultimately escapes danger.


Ripley has been critically acclaimed for being "both a likable character and a cold-blooded killer". [1] Sam Jordison of The Guardian wrote, "It is near impossible, I would say, not to root for Tom Ripley. Not to like him. Not, on some level, to want him to win. Patricia Highsmith does a fine job of ensuring he wheedles his way into our sympathies." [2] Book magazine ranked Ripley at #60 on its list of the 100 Best Characters in Fiction since 1900. [3]

Fictional biography

A Boston-native, Ripley was born in 1937 and orphaned at age 5 when his parents drowned in Boston Harbor. He was then raised by his Aunt Dottie, a cold, stingy woman who mocked him as a "sissy". As a teenager, he attempted unsuccessfully to run away from his aunt's home to New York City before finally moving there at age 20 to pursue an unsuccessful career as an actor. Ripley subsequently made a meagre living as a con artist utilising his skills in "forging signatures, telling lies, and impersonating practically anybody".

Highsmith introduced Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley ; set in early-1955, Ripley is paid to go to Italy by Herbert Greenleaf, a shipbuilding magnate, to convince his son Dickie to return to New York and join the family business. Ripley befriends the younger Greenleaf and falls in love with the rich young man's indulgent, carefree lifestyle. He eventually murders Greenleaf and assumes his identity, living off of his trust fund. Ripley enters a cat-and-mouse game with the Italian police but manages to keep himself safe by restoring his own identity and moving to Venice. The story concludes with Ripley traveling to Greece, having discovered that the Greenleaf family has transferred Dickie's inheritance to Ripley – in accordance with a will forged by Ripley on Dickie's typewriter.

In Ripley Under Ground , set in summer 1968, Ripley has settled down into a life of leisure and married Héloïse Plisson, an heiress who has suspicions about how he makes his money, but prefers not to know. Ripley has also become a silent partner in a gallery that markets counterfeit works by the artist Derwatt, who, unbeknownst to the public, has been dead for several years. When Thomas Murchison, an art collector, contacts Ripley with proof that his Derwatt paintings are fake, Ripley kills Murchison by hitting him over the head with a bottle of wine, then dumps his body into a nearby river. Bernard Tufts, the artist who forges the Derwatt paintings, considers exposing the fraud as well but is indirectly killed by Ripley when he experiences a nervous breakdown and commits suicide.

In Ripley's Game , set in late-1968 and early-1969, Ripley is insulted at a party by Jonathan Trevanny, a poor picture framer who has leukaemia. To get back at him, Ripley tells his associate, Reeves Minot, that Jonathan is an assassin who can assist him in taking out a rival gangster. With Ripley's help, Trevanny becomes Minot's freelance assassin in order to support his wife and son after his death. Trevanny is mortally wounded while pushing Ripley out of the way of gunfire. Ripley then leaves Trevanny's wife with the money Jonathan had earned, causing her to be silent about her suspicions.

In The Boy Who Followed Ripley , set in summer and early autumn 1978, Ripley befriends Frank Pierson, a teenage boy from a wealthy family who has run away from home. After learning that Frank killed his own father, Ripley lets the boy live with him and Heloise at Belle Ombre. Frank is kidnapped and held for ransom but is rescued by Ripley who encourages Frank to return to his family in Kennebunkport. Frank eventually commits suicide by throwing himself over the same cliff from which he pushed his father. Ripley returns to France after securing a former possession of Frank's as a memento. In Ripley Under Water , set in summer and autumn 1988, Ripley's new neighbours, David and Janice Pritchard, hear of his shady reputation and begin prying into his private life, simply because they dislike him. Ripley pursues them with the aid of Ed Bradbury, his business partner. The duo eventually get into a fatal confrontation with the Pritchards that result in the couple falling into a lake and drowning.



Highsmith characterizes Ripley as a "suave, agreeable and utterly amoral" con artist and serial killer who always evades justice. Ripley is epicurean and sophisticated, living a life of leisure in rural France. He spends most of his time gardening, painting, or studying languages. This is financed by a stolen inheritance, a small income from the Buckmaster Gallery, and his wife's allowance from her wealthy father. He is polite, friendly, and cultured, and dislikes people who lack such qualities; when the Pritchards appear in Ripley Under Water, their poor taste and manners immediately offend him. Ripley has typically been regarded as "cultivated", a "dapper sociopath", and an "agreeable and urbane psychopath." [4]

In his review of Purple Noon , René Clément's 1960 adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, film critic Roger Ebert described Ripley as "a committed hedonist, devoted to great comfort, understated taste, and civilized interests. He has wonderful relationships with women, who never fully understand who or what he is. He has friendships – real ones – with many of his victims. His crimes are like moves in a chess game; he understands that as much as he may like and respect his opponents, he must end with a 'checkmate'." [5]


While Highsmith never explicitly portrays Ripley as gay or bisexual, certain passages in the Ripley novels imply that he harbors some unacknowledged attraction towards men. In The Talented Mr. Ripley, he is obsessed with Greenleaf, and is jealous of his girlfriend to the point that he fantasizes about Greenleaf rejecting and hitting her. He is also afraid that others will think he is gay, and jokes that he wants to give up both men and women because he cannot decide which he likes more. [6] In Ripley Under Ground, he recalls "turning green" during his wedding, and going impotent with laughter while having sex with Heloise during their honeymoon.

In The Boy Who Followed Ripley, he reflects that he and Heloise rarely have sex, and that frequent sexual demands on her part "really would have turned him off, maybe at once and permanently". [7] The Boy Who Followed Ripley, meanwhile, has been cited as portraying a homoerotic subtext between Ripley and the novel's supporting protagonist, Frank Pierson. For example, Frank sleeps in Ripley's bed without changing the sheets, and speaks of his happiness at being at Belle Ombre with "the words of a lover". [7] Highsmith herself was ambivalent about the subject of Ripley's sexuality. "I don't think Ripley is gay", she said in a 1988 interview with Sight & Sound . "He appreciates good looks in other men, that's true. But he's married in later books. I'm not saying he's very strong in the sex department. But he makes it in bed with his wife." [8]


Ripley is portrayed as devoid of conscience; in The Boy Who Followed Ripley, he admits that he has never been seriously troubled by guilt. Though he sometimes feels "regret" about his earliest murders – he considers the murder of Greenleaf "a youthful, dreadful mistake", and that of Greenleaf's friend Freddie Miles, "stupid" and "unnecessary" – he cannot remember the number of his victims. [7] In his 2001 book Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited, Sam Vaknin writes that Ripley (as portrayed in the 1999 film The Talented Mr. Ripley ) meets five of the seven criteria for antisocial personality disorder, and displays narcissistic traits. [9]

Ripley is not without redeeming qualities, however. He feels genuine affection (if not love) for several characters throughout the series, and has his own code of ethics; in Ripley's Game, Ripley reflects that he detests murder unless it is "absolutely necessary". [10] In his review of Purple Noon, Ebert wrote: "Ripley is a criminal of intelligence and cunning who gets away with murder. He's charming and literate, and a monster. It's insidious, the way Highsmith seduces us into identifying with him and sharing his selfishness; Ripley believes that getting his own way is worth whatever price anyone else might have to pay. We all have a little of that in us." [5]


Alain Delon is, in Purple Noon, the first cinematic incarnation of the character, here with Marie Laforet (as Marge) during the shooting of a scene in Italy in August 1959. Delon-Laforet-Italie-1960.jpg
Alain Delon is, in Purple Noon , the first cinematic incarnation of the character, here with Marie Laforêt (as Marge) during the shooting of a scene in Italy in August 1959.

Highsmith's first three Ripley novels have been adapted into films. The Talented Mr. Ripley was filmed as Purple Noon (French: Plein Soleil) in 1960, starring Alain Delon as Ripley, and under its original title in 1999, starring Matt Damon. Ripley Under Ground was adapted into a 2005 film, starring Barry Pepper. Ripley's Game was filmed in 1977 as The American Friend , starring Dennis Hopper, and under its original title in 2002, starring John Malkovich.

The Ripley novels have also been adapted for television and radio. The Talented Mr. Ripley was adapted for a January 1956 episode of the anthology television series Studio One , [11] and Jonathan Kent played Ripley in a 1982 episode of The South Bank Show titled "Patricia Highsmith: A Gift for Murder", dramatizing segments of Ripley Under Ground. [12] In 2009, BBC Radio 4 adapted all five Ripley novels with Ian Hart as Ripley. [13]

Of the Ripley portrayals that Highsmith saw, she praised Delon's performance in Purple Noon as "excellent" [8] and described Jonathan Kent as "perfect". [12] She initially disliked Hopper's Ripley in The American Friend , but changed her mind after seeing the film a second time, feeling that he had captured the essence of the character. [14] [15] In Joanna Murray Smith's 2014 play, Switzerland, Tom Ripley comes to life and visits Highsmith planning to kill her. In the 2014 Sydney Theatre Company premiere production, he was portrayed by Eamon Farren. [16]

In 2015, The Hollywood Reporter announced that a group of production companies were planning a television series based on the novels. [17] The following year, Deadline Hollywood announced that the series would be written by Neil Cross, having been in development at Endemol Shine Studios for over a year. [18] In 2019, the show was ordered to series at Showtime, with actor Andrew Scott playing the lead role and writer-director Steven Zaillian replacing Cross. [19] In 2023, the series had moved to Netflix. The series will premiere in April 2024. [20]

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List of works by or about Patricia Highsmith, American novelist.


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  15. Wim Wenders (director), Dennis Hopper (actor) (2003) [1977]. The American Friend (DVD). Beverly Hills, California: Starz/Anchor Bay.
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