Some years ago, a collection of Marilyn Monroe‘s letters and papers was published in a lovely book called Fragments and since I have always had a soft spot for her, I of course needed it. My favourite part of it was seeing her handwriting; a bit weird perhaps but I love handwriting and lament the loss of it. So much personality goes into it and you can make up stories just by the subtle and not so subtle changes in it. My second favourite part of the book was the small appendix featuring some of the books she owned and that is where I will dive in today on her 90th birthday.
Isn’t it odd to think of Marilyn Monroe as 90? The same age as the Queen of England! Just as odd as thinking of Audrey Hepburn, Anne Frank, and Martin Luther King whom all was born in 1929. They seem part of so different eras that you forget how much overlap history does. We tend to think of the English Queen as a static figure who has always been there and looked more or less the same. Marilyn Monroe however, is caught in time at her death in 1962. Due to the circumstances of her death and being to the general public an enigma of garded privacy and like an open book (no pun intended!), she continues to dazzle, inspire, and provoke us. What shaped her story? What did she eat, drink, wear, listen to, buy? We want to know it all and more, but for me, I always wonder what shaped her personality and decissions and I think the answer lies close to what she read. Maybe because reading and certain books have had such profound influence on me, I cannot imagine someone else not being shaped by books either.
The books in the first picture is my collection of book titles mentioned or shown in Fragments that Marilyn Monroe owned plus a couple extras. Most have seen the pictures of her snuggling up with books on her couch and in libraries (Joyce‘s Ulysses for instance!). Many think they are staged, perhaps they are, but I think she staged them to show more of who she was than what the public thought and wanted. There is a lot of contemporary American literature as well as some literary and philosophical classics (Camus!!!). I for one can easily picture Marilyn Monroe as Emma Bovary in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary! I have yet to read The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky from which she famously stated she wanted to play Grushenka, but I can easily see her having the same longing for a better life like Emma echoing the quote, ‘She wanted to die but she also wanted to live in Paris.’
One book of my extras for this post is my Danish edition of Arthur Miller‘s said wedding present for Marilyn Monroe, the screenplay to The Misfits, her last completed movie – and my favourite aesthetic of her’s (I mean, ‘Hello, cherry print dress!’). The book is not set up like a usual screenplay, it is a mix of that and a regular novel. Much has been said about whether the movie strained their marriage but I like the story and think she was wonderful in it. Also, Clark Gable is always a gem!
Pictured here alongside the book appendix in Fragments are Truman Capote and Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen). Capote was a good friend of Marilyn’s and supposedly he had wanted her to portray Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in stead of Audrey Hepburn. If you have ever read the short story, I think you can understand why. The melancholia and internal horror vacui in the story would have suited Marilyn better than Audrey. Please have in mind that the movie also changed the ending A LOT and diminished the feministic approach Holly Golightly (and Capote) had.
From a Danish point of view, we cannot get around Karen Blixen’s lunch date with Carson McCullers, Arthur Miller, and Marilyn Monroe, when she toured the US in the late 1950s. Later, she famously compared Marilyn to a lion cub she had seen in Africa, and that phrase has always resonated with me. A raw vivacity and yet fragile. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall at that meeting!
A book which was not featured in her library according to the appendix but somehow always reminds me of Marilyn Monroe, is Vladimir Nabokov‘s Lolita. Both the aesthetics of the movie versions and the book itself could easily be a story about Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn as Dolores, or should I say Norma Jeane as Dolores, and the press and public as Humbert Humbert hunting Marilyn/Lolita. Heart-shaped sunglasses and a cheery-print dress (Lana del Rey aesthetics?). A young girl at the mercy of older men and yet she tries to fight back. However, I am not sure if any of the two, Marilyn or Lolita, had a happier ending.
On its own, Fragments is a wonderful book and to see her papers shattered and torn, with fragmented notes and poems, gives a beautiful glimps into her mind and life. People continue to make up all sorts of things about her but here is a small peak behind the curtain. The layout is beautiful as you can see in the pictures above, with her handwritten notes on one side and transcripts and translations on the next. If you are interested in one of the most captivating personalities of the 20th century, then I highly recommend.
The books listed in the first photo are:
Vladimir Nabokov Lolita * Ralph Ellison Invisible Man * John Steinbeck Of Mice and Men * Arthur Miller The Misfits * Gustave Flaubert Madame Bovary * Ernest Hemingway The Sun Also Rises * Albert Camus The Stranger/The Fall/Exile & The Kingdom * Heinrich Heine Poems * Truman Capote Other Voices, Other Rooms * James Joyce Dubliners * Karen Blixen Shadows on the Grass
(The cherry-print used as background is an old dress from H! by Henry Holland)
Marilyn Monroe ville idag være fyldt 90 år og det får mig til at tænke på de bøger, som minder mig om hende og som hun selv har læst. Udgangspunktet er den fine bog Fragmenter udgivet for nogle år siden og som indeholder hendes håndskrevne noter, digte og et fint efterskrift med både talen til hendes begravelse samt en smagsprøve på hendes private bogsamling.
Mange husker billederne af Marilyn, som slænger sig i sofaen med tykke bøger og det er nok én af grundene til at jeg selv blev fascineret af hende foruden de smukke kjoler og hendes fine hår. Så her har jeg samlet mine egne udgaver af de bøger, som er nævnt samt et par ekstra som af forskellige årsager altid minder mig som Marilyn, specielt Lolita af Nabokov og selvfølgelig Arthur Millers The Misfits (på dansk: De frigjorte), som hun også indspillede med Clark Gable.
Jeg tænker også på hvordan filmen Pigen Holly (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) ville have været med Marilyn som Holly i stedet for Audrey Hepburn. Filmen har ændret en del ved den oprindelige slutning og selvom jeg holder meget af filmen, så forestiller jeg mig altid Holly mere ala Marilyn når jeg læser novellen, hvilket Truman Capote også eftersigende selv gjorde. Der er den samme udlængsel, og længsel generent, som i klassikeren Madame Bovary, som hun selv ejede, og jeg kan sagtens se hende som Emma deri.
Om man kan lide hendes film (det er ikke kun komedier, prøv Don’t Bother to Knock) eller ej, så kan jeg for mit vedkommende kun anbefale de nævnte bøger. Den eneste jeg har det svært med er Hemingway, men den forklaring må blive en blogpost for sig, så tag gerne udgangspunkt i Marilyn Monroes bogsamlig hvis du mangler læseinspiration.