Marilyn Monroe’s Literary Life

Marilyn Monroe’s Literary Life


Beyond the movie magic and bleach blond waves, it is now well known that Marilyn Monroe had an intellectual side - a love of literature and a deep yearning for knowledge. As she matured, her collection of books grew into a huge library. Her favourite book was reportedly Ulysses by James Joyce.


Marilyn in Amagassett, reading her favourite book


Typecast by Hollywood, Marilyn lacked true fulfilment in the superficial and sometimes brutal world of celluloid. The movies had cemented her status as a beautiful blonde with few brains. To this day, her image is mostly associated with a kind of vapid beauty: bleach blonde hair, porcelain skin and big doe eyes. But this was merely a star persona. The real Marilyn was soulful, intelligent and read extensively in order to educate herself.


Marilyn and Arthur

In 1956, she married her third husband, playwright Arthur Miller. Their relationship was met with some derision. Miller was a left-wing, blacklisted playwright and screenwriter, a member of the intelligentsia. To most, this pairing seemed in direct opposition to Marilyn’s image. While their pairing might seem odd, it was evident that Marilyn loved Miller very much - even standing by him as he was investigated by the FBI due to his alleged communist ties. They later divorced after six years of marriage.


W.B Yeats Poem Print, shop here

She had a special fondness for poetry, one of her principal favourites being W.B. Yeats, the Irish poet. She frequently quoted him in her letters, and clearly inspired her own writing too.


Ernest Hemingway Quote Print, shop here

Her collection included many of the great American authors of the 20th century, including John Steinbeck (Tortilla Flat), Jack Kerouac (On The Road) Ernest Hemingway (Farewell to Arms), and F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby).


Marilyn at home, reading

Marilyn also partook in intensive psychoanalysis, even briefly working with Anna Freud whilst filming in London for several months. She struggled with depression and chronic pain for most of her life. This is also visible on her bookshelves, such as The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm, a prominent psychoanalyst and philosopher. She had also read Sigmund Freud, and believed psychoanalysis could help her escape the mental ilness that both her mother and grandmother suffered from, as well as the scars from her unhappy childhood.


An excerpt of Marilyn's personal writings


She wrote prolifically - poetry, letters, free association, records of dreams and surfaced memories. She filled many notebooks with short fragments, an attempt to bring her unfiltered thoughts and feelings to the surface.


Truman Capote quote print, shop here


She became close friends with writer and humorist, Truman Capote. He was captivated by her wit, her naive beauty as well as her deep sadness. They met through writer Carson McCullers in New York,  bonding over their equally awful childhoods and their love of the city. The character of Holly Golightly in his novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s was based on her and their raucous adventures around Manhattan.


The 1999 Christie's auction

Her personal collection was sold in its entirety in 1999 at Christie’s auction along with the bulk of her estate, which fetched $13 million in total.



Some say the photographs of her reading, such as the one above, were staged. Her expansive personal library is a pretty big rebuttal to that. But critics cannot imagine that a woman so universally praised for her physical beauty could also have a rich interior life as well. Even now, her work is analysed for signs that a thoughtful and intelligent woman was present beneath the blond curls. But what we do know for sure is that she loved to learn, and never stopped - either through reading, through her circle of writer friends,  or the night classes she took at UCLA. Marilyn deserves a full legacy that reflects who she was, and who she wanted to be - a person who loved life, literature and the endless journey of self-discovery.

 Marilyn Monroe Quote Print, shop here


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