This blond bombshell has an iconic legacy – but did you know she was also a deeply reflective writer?
By Judith Brown
Marilyn Monroe’s powerful image has been depicted by the likes of Andy Warhol, yet her iconography responds to her caricature, rather than the idea of her as a multifaceted individual. This might have put a great deal of pressure on Monroe, creating the need to conform to what the world wanted her to be, as opposed to who she truly was.
Her personal battles, stemming from trauma and abandonment, are no longer hidden knowledge. However, in her lifetime they created a dichotomy between the glamorous image that she had to sustain and her embedded insecurities. To outsiders, she seemed to have everything but in reality, she was deeply misunderstood and never received the acceptance she craved. This irreconcilable gulf between her public and private persona must have been extremely frustrating, expressed by her statement written in My Story (1974) that “people had a habit of looking at me as if I were some kind of mirror instead of a person.”
One outlet that Monroe found for her conflicted feelings was writing poetry. Although these cannot be labelled as poems in the ‘conventional’ sense, there is nonetheless a fluidity to her words. Her notes reveal an individual who was deeply reflective – more than she has ever been given credit for. These can be found in various books on Monroe, including Marilyn Monroe: My Story (1974). Due to the fact that this book is based on recordings of Monroe speaking about her life, it is considered an authentic biography. However, there has been some controversy over other Monroe books, due to the act of publishing personal reflections that were not known to be intended for public view.
Monroe had a rich inner life, in which she contemplated the world, its meaning, and delved deeply into her own memories and feelings. She writes, for example:
“I’m finding that sincerity
And to be simple or direct as I’d like Is often taken for sheer stupidity
But since it is not a sincere world
It’s very probable that being sincere is stupid” – Marilyn Monroe
Her words are lyrical and form a free verse pattern. When read alongside her numerous witty, but also profoundly meaningful quotations, she takes on the role of a philosopher, with a mastery of ironic humour. It is a fact, as many of the most accomplished writers know, tragedy and comedy are one and the same. That is to say that if we don’t cry, we laugh. Monroe understood this implicitly.
What is touching about Monroe’s personal writings is that they are straightforward, which reflects the person she was. She makes no attempt to gloss over the sad details of her life. Her incredible fame did not equate with personal happiness and the vulnerability within her is expressed in one of the most poignant parts of My Story (1974): “The only One who loved me and watched over me was Someone I couldn’t see or hear or touch.” In her innocence of heart, she has also been said to echo William Blake:
I am both of your directions
Somehow remaining hanging downward
But strong as a cobweb in the wind
I exist more with the cold glistening frost
But my beaded rays have the colours
I’ve seen in paintings – ah life they
Have cheated you” – Marilyn Monroe
And she shows irony:
“I could have said I loved you once
And even said it
But you went away
When you came back it was too late
And love was a forgotten word
Remember?” – Marilyn Monroe
An appreciation of simplicity shines through in her writing. While a practiced poet would use their pen to guide the words, she allowed the words to form their own autonomous language.
She was an avid reader with a huge personal library. Yet, she was fearful of being judged and did not reveal her creative work to many people. Amongst her shelves were books by Aristotle, Proust, James Joyce, and Oscar Wilde. It is known that Marilyn liked to be photographed reading and there are countless examples of her expressing this version of herself to the world, although this was no ploy to combat her stereotype – it was merely that she loved books.
Part of her desire for knowledge stemmed from her limited education. This makes it even more admirable that she took literary classes. However, ultimately the public would never see nor take interest in this dimension of her character, because both a Hollywood star and a tragic Norma Jeanne make more ‘interesting’ reading – or viewing as the case may be.
It is clear that behind the surface, she led an introspective and creative life, in which she sacrificed strongly for her art. If anything serves as a testament to Monroe’s legacy, it is less her beauty and talent (although she had these both in spades) and more her writing, which is where her authentic voice survives.
Her battle against objectification pervaded her life. Perhaps having to conform to what others wanted of her prevented this fine writer from being given the water she needed to bloom?