1 June 2014

Was Marilyn actually reading "Ulysses"?

Photographer Eve Arnold is perhaps best known for the photos she took of Marilyn Monroe. From 1951 onwards, Arnold photographed Marilyn many times, and amongst those photos are the famous images of Marilyn reading James Joyce's "Ulysses", a novel that has often been labelled unreadable. 

Marilyn Monroe photographed by Eve Arden, Long Island, New York, 1955
Richard Brown, a Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Leeds with a special interest in James Joyce, was intrigued by Eve Arnold's photos of Marilyn. Curious to know if Marilyn was indeed reading Joyce's novel or if she was merely posing for the photo, Brown wrote Arnold a letter, which she replied on 20 July 1993. Unfortunately, I don't have Arnold's complete letter to show you, just a fragment (and it's not an original image either). In any case, the excerpt from Arnold's letter is interesting as she was telling Brown exactly what he wanted to know:

Via: zuihitsu
Excerpt taken from Richard Brown's essay "Marilyn Monroe Reading Ulysses: Goddess or Postcultural Cyborg?".


We worked on a beach on Long Island. She was visiting Norman Rosten the poet. As far as I remember (it is some thirty years ago) I asked her what she was reading when I went to pick her up (I was trying to get an idea of how she spent her time). She said she kept Ulysses in her car and had been reading it for a long time. She said she loved the sound of it and would read it aloud to herself to try to make sense of it- but she found it hard going. She couldn't read it consecutively. When we stopped at a local playground to photograph she got out the book and started to read while I loaded the film. So, of course, I photographed her. It was always a collaborative effort of photographer and subject where she was concerned- but almost more her input.

Left photo: Eve Arnold; right: Richard Brown

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