Tom Ripley

Tom Ripley is a fictional character in a series of crime novels by Patricia Highsmith, as well as several film adaptations. The series of five novels based around Ripley's exploits is collectively called "the Ripliad."[1]


In the novels

Highsmith introduced Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) as a young man making a meager living off his "talents": forgery, impersonation and lying. The novel reveals that he was orphaned at age five when his parents drowned in Boston Harbor, and was raised in Boston by his aunt Dottie, who repeatedly mocked him and his father as "a sissy". After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to run away from his aunt's home, he left for New York City at 20.

In The Talented Mr. Ripley, he is paid to go to Italy by shipping magnate Herbert Greenleaf to convince his son Dickie (a half-remembered acquaintance) to return to the family business. Ripley befriends the younger Greenleaf and quickly finds himself infatuated with the rich young man's indulgent, carefree lifestyle; he also becomes obsessed with Greenleaf himself. He eventually murders Greenleaf after the playboy grows tired of him and spurns his friendship. He then assumes Greenleaf's identity, forging the signatures on his monthly remittances from a trust fund. He rents an apartment in Italy and enjoys the good life, as well as the feeling of pretending to be someone other than himself. He does the latter to perfection, imitating Greenleaf to the point that he virtually becomes him. Eventually, however, this charade gets him in trouble whenever he is confronted by people who know both him and Greenleaf.

After murdering Greenleaf's suspicious friend, Freddie Miles, Ripley forges Greenleaf's will, leaving himself the dead man's inheritance. The novel ends with Ripley, having narrowly evaded capture, sailing to Greece and rejoicing in his new-found wealth. However, the book's final passages hint that he will pay for his freedom with a lifetime of paranoia, as he wonders whether "he was going to see policemen waiting for him on every pier that he ever approached."

As revealed in the sequel, Ripley Under Ground (1970), set six years later, Ripley eventually settles down into a life of leisure in Belle Ombre, an estate on the outskirts of the fictional village of Villeperce-sur-Seine, which is stated as being "some forty miles south of Orly",[2] "some twelve miles" from Fontainebleau,[3] and "seven kilometres" from Moret.[4] By now, he has added to his fortunes by marrying Héloïse Plisson, a rich socialite who has suspicions about how he makes his money, but prefers not to know. He avoids direct involvement in crime as much as possible in order to preserve his somewhat shady reputation, but he still occasionally finds himself involved in criminal enterprises, often aided by Reeves Minot, a small-time fence. Ripley's criminal exploits include a long-running art forgery scam (introduced in Ripley Under Ground and consistently mentioned in later books), an entanglement with the Mafia (in Ripley's Game), and several murders. While he comes perilously close to being caught several times, he is never arrested for any of his crimes.


Highsmith characterizes Ripley as a "suave, agreeable and utterly amoral" con artist and serial killer who always evades justice. Film critic Roger Ebert describes Ripley as "charming, literate, and a monster".[5] Book magazine ranks Ripley #60 on its list of the 100 Best Characters in Fiction since 1900.[6]

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 and friendly, and when the Pritchards appear in Ripley Under Water, their poor taste and manners immediately offend him.


Ripley is portrayed as devoid of conscience — in The Boy Who Followed Ripley, he admits that he has never been seriously troubled by guilt — and capable of cold-blooded violence. Though he sometimes feels "regret" about his earliest murders — he liked Dickie Greenleaf, and called the murder of Freddie Miles "stupid" and "unnecessary" — he can't remember the number of his victims.[7] He has his own code of ethics, however; in Ripley's Game, Highsmith writes that Ripley detests murder, and often tries to reason with his victims to see things his way. It is only when he is threatened with violence or the police that he does what he thinks is "necessary". He has typically been regarded as "cultivated," and as an "agreeable and urbane psychopath."[8]


Across the five books, Ripley commits homicide nine times, and indirectly causes an additional four deaths.

Novel Direct Murder Causes Death Indirectly
The Talented Mr. Ripley Dickie Greenleaf Freddie Miles
Ripley Under Ground Thomas Murchison Bernard Tufts
Ripley's Game Vito Marcangelo
Angelo Lippari
Fillipo Turoli
Jonathon Trevanny
The Boy Who Followed Ripley "the Italian type kidnapper"
Ripley Under Water David Pritchard
Janice Pritchard


Highsmith's first three Ripley novels have been adapted into films several times. The Talented Mr. Ripley was filmed as Purple Noon in 1960, starring Alain Delon as Ripley, and under its original title in 1999, starring Matt Damon. Ripley Under Ground was adapted to film in 2005, 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,[9] 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.[10][11] In 2009, BBC Radio 4 adapted the complete Ripliad with Ian Hart as Ripley.[12]

Of the Ripley portrayals that Highsmith saw in her lifetime, she praised Delon's performance in Purple Noon as "excellent"[13] and described Jonathan Kent as "perfect."[11] She initially disliked Hopper's Ripley in The American Friend but later changed her mind, feeling that he had perfectly captured the soul and essence of the character.[14]


  1. Ripliad (written work) - Texts and Documents Research Guide
  2. Ripley Under Ground, Chapter 1
  3. Ripley's Game, Chapter 3
  4. The Boy Who Followed Ripley, Chapter 1
  5. . Retrieved 2010-12-30. 
  6. Christine Paik (2002-03-19). . NPR. Retrieved 2010-12-30. 
  7. Dirda, "This Woman is Dangerous", New York Review of Books, Vol. 56 No.11
  8. . Retrieved 2010-12-30. 
  9. "Studio One" The Talented Mr. Ripley (1956) The Internet Movie Database (IMDb)
  10. "The South Bank Show" Patricia Highsmith: A Gift for Murder (1982) - The Internet Movie Database
  11. a b Andrew Wilson 12:01AM BST 24 May 2003 Comments (2003-05-24). . Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-12-30. 
  12. . 2009-02-28. Retrieved 2010-12-30. 
  13. Interview with Patricia Highsmith by Gerald Peary
  14. The American Friend DVD - Commentary by Wim Wenders, Dennis Hopper - Starz / Anchor Bay, 2003