Marilyn Monroe, Lincoln Steffens, James Baldwin, Carl Sandberg, Abraham Lincoln…No, this is not a game of One of These Things Is Not Like the Other.
One of James Wolcott’s few weaknesses as a writer and blogger is his ability to summarize something he’s read, a book, an essay, a blog post, or something he’s watched, a movie, a TV show, a dance, in such a way that you feel you’ve read it or seen it yourself and don’t need to follow his link.
Yes, of course, I’m being a wiseguy. That’s one of his great strengths. But you should still follow the links. For instance, the link to this article in the London Review of Books, A Rumbling of Things Unknown, by Jacqueline Rose.
It’s been fairly widely accepted that Marilyn Monroe was much smarter than her onscreen persona, that in fact her onscreen persona was much smarter than her onscreen persona was taken to be by those who took it at face value. It’s also well-known---at least I think it is---that Monroe was a voracious reader and something of an aspiring intellectual and that she was both before she met Arthur Miller, who used to be given credit for “educating” her. But in her essay Rose makes the case that Monroe was better than smart and something more interesting than a would-be intellectual.
She was thoughtful.
And she was studious and not just of books, of life and people.
And one of the subjects she thought hardest about and studied most intently was the affinity between her personal unhappiness and the unhappiness of most people.
Wolcott gets to the heart of the matter:
It's as if Monroe instinctively, empathetically practiced the liberalism that husband Arthur Miller grandly professed. It isn't that Miller didn't practice what he preached when it came to liberalism, but that everything with him seemed to emanate from his mountain brow; with her, injustice seemed to resound metabolically, her own inner bruising and estrangement.
Rose’s essay is a long-read but worth the time, even after you’ve read Jim’s post.
So why don’t I just send you straight to London Review of Books and skip the middle-Jim?
Because then you’d miss lines like this:
[Rose’s essay] makes a fine antidote to the candy-shop sentimentality of My Week with Marilyn, in which the best performance was given by Michelle Williams' right eye between strategically drooped blonde curls as everyone else fussed about in several coats of Masterpiece Theatre furniture polish.
And that’s all you need to know about that movie.