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I bought this book, Fragments, edited by Stanley Buchthal and Bernard Comment, as a gift for my mother who is obsessed with Marilyn Monroe but after she read it I started to browse through it and couldn't stop. This is a book containing poems, intimate notes and letters written by Marilyn Monroe throughout her life. There are also some amazing photographs which are presented in high quality glossy form. It's the perfect collection for any Marilyn fan but it is equally as intriguing for me to read.
The book is beautifully presented in hardback style. The sleeve is printed with two rich colour photographs of Marilyn which both show her in reading and posing a look of intelligence. Whether Marilyn really did reach the end of James Joyce's 'Ulysses' as one picture suggests or whether she was just posing they are beautiful photographs which are obviously chosen to justify the idea that Marilyn was far more intelligent than her 'dumb sexy blonde' image suggested. The book is 235 pages long and within it are actual photographs of the notes she wrote along with the editor's best translation of the notes. There are also some printed segments such as interviews or letters. There is also an explanatory editors note at the beginning of the book. At the end of the book there are pictures of the books found in Marilyn's library after she died which include things like Hemingway's 'Farewell to Arms' and Kerouac's 'On The Road'.
Most of the book contains these little notes which look like they were written on a pocket notebook. Marilyn was apparently encouraged to write by a friend of her playwright husband Arthur Miller although she had written a little before this. Studying the actual notes is more interesting than reading the opposite page of the book where the editor's translation is printed. Marilyn's handwriting isn't always legible and what she writes is almost always scribbled over with corrections or random thoughts. Most of the notes remind me of the way I myself write when I'm composing a poem, although much of the time Marilyn's lines of poetry, random thoughts or affirmations are never structured or organised into anything that makes sense. However, the jumbles of words and ideas are stark enough to make a deep impression and real enough to reveal hidden layers of Marilyn's personality.
Many of the poems and notes contained here make for uncomfortable reading as they reveal the insecurities and traumas that afflicted Marilyn throughout her life. Her public persona was so obviously very different to the woman she was in private. Marilyn's disordered words often seem to reflect her disordered mind. The standard of her writing, her spelling mistakes and scribbling, suggest that she was muddled, drug addled or lacking basic education although the actual content of her writing suggests she craved education, was an extensive reader and was deeply philosophical in nature. There are also letters she wrote to her psychiatrist which are also quite frank when it comes to her describing her personal relationships and emotions which are upsetting to read. There are a few items included in the book which I feel were unnecessary to show the public though, such as a recipe for a chicken based meal or a 'to do' list.
Many of the writings refer back to her public persona and reveal the terrible doubts and fears related to that. Lines like "how will I cope when I am even less youthful" and "my body is my body, every part of it" make you realise the kind of pressure this woman must have been under whilst in the public eye. Most of these written lines such as: "Alone!!!!!! I am alone - I am always alone no matter what" feel like utterances that she couldn't say to anyone aloud and so had to write them down.
There are also some interesting revelations about the working life of Marilyn since much of what she writes relates to her work as an actress. There is an obvious desire to improve her ability and refine her art and she often re-writes her lines from scripts, instructs herself to behave in a certain manner whilst working, or remembers instructions or quotes from acting teachers or directors. It's a fascinating insight into her thought processes.
Reading Marilyn's notes, poems and letters gives you a real sense of who she really was and what her life was like from an early age until just before her death. The notes reflect on feelings she has as a child at an orphanage and also how she worries about losing the love of her third husband. Although many of the notes don't make sense or read like abstract poems I found myself drawn to aspects of how they were written and the random, fragmented thoughts she captured. I also found myself fascinated by things like a page where Marilyn had doodled 21 faces which all had Marilyn style eyelashes. Overall this collection feels like the echo of a human soul and it's very curious and very moving.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone although I think it would appeal most to anyone who has a mild interest in Marilyn Monroe to begin with. It costs around £10 and it's certainly worth that.
Marilyn Monroe: Fragments was published in 2010 and compiled by Stanley Buchthal and Bernard Comment. The book consists of many photographs of the ill-fated icon (Monroe died in 1962 at the age of 36 from an overdose of sleeping pills) and various poems, letters, thoughts and general scribblings she left behind that have never been published before. Was Marilyn as ditsy as the characters she often played and her image suggested? The answer is no although this slightly mysterious star is never quite fully revealed by the collection of thoughts, poems, letters and fears that appear here. The content by Monroe is very scattered and sparse, even a bit obtuse at times, and there are constant notes from the authors helping us to make a bit more sense of it throughout the book and drag it all together into some sort of modest coherence. They believe that she wrote in 'free association in continuation of a kind of self-analysis' and used torn sheets of paper, diary planners and hotel paper, generally anything to hand as she traveled around. I don't have a particular fascination with Marilyn Monroe myself and would have treasured a book like this on Jean Seberg more but I received this as a gift for free and found it very interesting on the whole. It's an attractive volume with plenty of images of the star and a lot of colour and anyone interested in Monroe should definitely consider taking a look if they ever see it at a good price.
The notes and scribblings are taken from the years 1943 to 1962 and although they never completely reveal who Marilyn Monroe really was they do reveal some of her ambitions and worries, a bit about her marriages and friends, and also give you the impression that she was a lot more intelligent than she was given credit for when she was alive. I think the fact that Monroe still remains something of an enigma even after reading the book is something that fans of the icon would probably like to be honest. Part of the appeal of Marilyn Monroe is never quite knowing who she was and ever tying up up the loose ends of her life. The book runs to well over 200 pages and is lavished with wonderful photographs of Monroe, this alone making it a nice book to own as many on display here are apparently very rare. The unpublished materials make it sort of like a cross between a poem and an autobiography - albeit a very cryptic and random one where you sometimes aren't sure what she is talking about.
One thing that is quite interesting is that you get the strong impression that Monroe wanted to be regarded as a serious actress and dedicate herself to this and take on more challenging roles. She was never though taken as seriously as she wanted to be, even, you learn here, by the swanky friends of her husband Arthur Miller (author of Death of a Salesman etc). She was devastated when she found out he was embarrassed by their lowly opinion of her. Her thoughts on films she is about to do are often very interesting. She has a constant fear that she won't be good enough when the camera starts running but writes a lot about parts she is about to play, trying to work out what the best approach should be. I think Monroe is generally regarded to have been underrated as an actress and on the evidence here she thought a great deal about acting whenever a part in a film loomed and took it very seriously.
There are letters here too from Monroe to her analyst expressing her emptiness and feelings of alienation and she displays a black sense of humour at times in some of these dialogues. 'I indicated if they didn't let me out I would harm myself--the furthest thing from my mind at that moment since you know Dr Greenson I'm an actress and would never intentionally mark or mar myself, I'm just that vain.' I'm not a great expert on her life but I gather she was exploited in her younger days as a model and a certain wariness with new people she meets is detectable in the book. The authors suggest there was always a tension between the public and private Monroe because she had this flawless glamour girl image to maintain and people saw her in a certain way, even if it wasn't the real person.
There is a lot of poetry in the book which is sometimes interesting and sometimes self-indulgent. 'I can't really stand Human Beings sometimes. Trying to understand/making allowances, seeing certain things/that just weary me,' she declares in one revealing poem. The punctuation and spelling in the poems is a bit hit and miss but these were private impromptu scribblings I suppose. Arthur Miller is the subject of an interesting angry poem ('oh silence you stillness hurt my head') and the book does reveal that she was distraught when their marriage hit the rocks. They made an odd couple but Monroe was fascinated by writers and liked to be in their company. Let's be honest, if Miller had pushed bins around in a depot for a living he probably would have had as much chance of marrying Marilyn Monroe as Audley Harrison does of winning the world heavyweight title!
Despite her fame she always seemed to feel like an outsider who was never quite sure of where she was going. One other interesting thing about Monroe is that she loved reading and there are some great photographs of her with heavyweight volumes from writers and poets like Rilke and Joyce in the book and even a photograph of her bookshelf. Monroe used to read a lot on the sets of her films apparently but a lot of people didn't seem to notice her serious and thoughtful side.
Marilyn Monroe: Fragments is an interesting book on the whole and worth considering by fans of the star for the photographs alone. The material gleaned from the late star's letters and jottings is sometimes rather incoherent but does contain some fascinating thoughts and musings from the enduringly famous and doomed icon. This is an attractive book on the whole and worth a look if you think it sounds interesting.