22 November 2010

Marilyn Monroe's books - updated

When I saw this photo, I zoomed in to see what books were on the shelf.  I can see War and Peace, and Dostoyevsky's The Idiot.  I can't make out other titles, but the imprint of the "torchbearer" on the spines of several of them indicate I think the Modern Library series, which are quality books.

My first thought was that these would be Arthur Miller's books, but I had heard stories of her intellectual curiosity, and a quick check revealed that she didn't marry Arthur Miller until 1956 (this photo from a shoot conducted in 1951).  Another search led me to "Marilyn Monroe and her literary loves" in The Independent:
...Marilyn Monroe was no stereotypical intellectual lightweight, according to a collection of her own private writings that will paint an alternative picture of the cinematic icon when it is published this autumn.

The film star reveals her passion for literary giants including James Joyce, Walt Whitman and Samuel Beckett in previously unseen diary entries, musings and poems, challenging the popular myth that blondes are supposed to be dumb...

Monroe, whose death at the age of 36 remains a mystery, was an avid reader and something of a culture vulture while she lived in New York, frequently visiting museums and attending plays. Not that she got any credit for her intellect...

She had a vast library, which included works by George Bernard Shaw, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, D H Lawrence, F Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck, as well as Joyce, which she took with her whenever she moved house... While in Hollywood, she briefly took evening courses in art appreciation and literature at UCLA before withdrawing after her presence proved too distracting for the other students.
Interesting. More at the link.

Addendum:  Items on the bookshelf identified by readers of this blog - Miller's Death of a Salesman,  Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, Steinbeck's The Red Pony, The Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Zola's Nana. (Thanks, Steve and Chatterly)

Second addendum:  GalleyCat, a website devoted to the book publishing industry, had an article in October discussing this same new book about Marilyn Monroe's literary interests.   From the text (and photos?) they compiled this list of books that were on her bookshelf:  Conrad's The Secret Agent, Flaubert's Madame Bovary, Beckett's The Unnamable, Paris Blues by Harold Flender, Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, Dreiser's Sister Carrie, Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises, Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat and Once There Was a War, Kerouac's On the Road, The Fall by Albert Camus, and Ellison's Invisible Man.

The new book is entitled Fragments (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010).  I'm now fifth in line for a copy from our library, so I should be able to post a review early in this coming year.

Third addendum Dec 10:   I've just finished the book, and found it to be, shall we say, "underwhelming."  I'm not sure what I was expecting, but what I found was a presumably chronological accumulation of jottings and notes Marilyn had written, including recipes, a few letters, and her attempts at poetry.  There was no discussion of her literary interests, although the book was illustrated with many photos of her reading (and I suspect it's true that no other actress/model of her time would have been photographed so often with books.)  I've not added this to the recommended books category.

Update 2013:  The original photo link underwent linkrot.  I've inserted a new photo from this tumblr (don't know if it's the same as the original, but it's from the same photo session).


  1. Don't forget that she wasn't a blonde.

  2. Marilyn was a highly intelligent woman who got swept up, like many in Hollywood, in the social/drug scene and it ruined her. She was never dumb and was an avid reader-have read several biographies - all claiming the same thing. She had many abilities and talents other than being a dumb blonde sex queen - that was Hollywood's rendition of Marilyn.

  3. Protip: most women who play dumb characters in movies/TV etc usually aren't.

  4. Sue, here she is at age 19 as a natural brunette -


  5. I think it's interesting to see "Death of a Salesman" up there on the right...

  6. Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People"

  7. Also:

    The Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (next to Actors on Acting)
    Steinbeck's The Red Pony next to it.
    A dictionary on top of the clock.

    That's about all I can see.

  8. Thanks, Steve. I've added your observations to the post.

  9. I also see Nana by Émile Zola and something that looks like "Beloved Stranger". It's driving me mad now that I can't see them all!

    Also, I'd like to add that she didn't come from a great place, so I wouldn't necessarily say that Hollywood ruined her. She grew up surrounded by women who made nothing but bad decisions.

  10. Appended. Tx, Chatterly.

    I wonder if there are other pix from the photoshoot that might offer better resolution of the bookshelf...?

  11. AHA!! Found this -


    It's late now. Will add to post tomorrow.


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