WTF Fun Fact 13171 – Patricia Highsmith’s Snails

Patricia Highsmith was the author of psychological thrillers centered on the duplicity and morality of their main characters. In modern times, her best-known novel is The Talented Mr. Ripley. And while there are many interesting facets of her life one may want to know about, today we’re looking at Patricia Highsmith’s snails and their enduring legacy as a “fun fact” about her.

What’s the story about Patricia Highsmith’s snails?

Highsmith was a complex person and journaled extensively about the highs and lows of her emotions as well as the questioning of gender and sexuality. She was also highly enamored with snails. Highsmith kept them as pets because of their ability to be self-sufficient as well as their lack of sexual dimorphism (any difference between males and females).

She refused to take on any stereotypical female gender role. For example, since women were tied to the home at the height of her career in the 1940s and 50s, she took up traveling.

Highsmith died in 1995, and in 2021 no less than three biographies came out about her life. All of them recount her love of snails and the story of her taking 100 of her pet snails to a cocktail party in Suffolk, England. They were stashed in her handbag, much to the delight of guests. Also shoved inside her bag was a large head of lettuce for them to chew on. It must have been a large bag!

As the New York Times Style magazine T recounts, her love of snails started in the 1940s:

“In 1946, while walking past a New York City fish market, Highsmith spotted two snails locked in a loving embrace. Intrigued, she took them home, placed them in a fishbowl and watched their wriggling copulation, spellbound. As was typical of Highsmith, she was riveted by what others found repulsive or nauseating. ‘They give me a sort of tranquility,’ she said of the gastropods. ‘It is quite impossible to tell which is the male and which is the female, because their behavior and appearance are exactly the same,’ she wrote elsewhere.”

Stowaway snails

Highsmith wanted to make it big in America, but never quite broke through during her lifetime, even though Alfred Hitchcock adapted her novel Strangers on a Train for the screen. She spent most of her career in Europe.

When moving from England to France, Highsmith insisted on bringing her pet snails along (at one point she had 300). But the law prohibited her from bringing them into the country. As a result, she stowed them away by tucking them under her breasts. As the story goes, she could get around 10 under each.

In 1947, she began including snails in her writing. In a short story titled “The Snail-Watcher,” “a snail enthusiast named Peter Knoppert finds his study has been overwhelmed by the creatures due to their copious breeding, and he is grimly smothered and consumed by them.”

Highsmith’s agent refused to show it to editors because the main character chokes on a snail in a graphic way that he deemed “too repellant.” But her friends got a kick out of it.

There’s no telling what influenced her love of snails or her desire to bring them wherever she went. But it does make a good cocktail party story.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Many Faces of Patricia Highsmith” — T – The New York Times Style Magazine

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