Marilyn Monroe Reads Joyce’s Ulysses at the Playground (1955)

During the 1950s, the pioneering photojournalist Eve Arnold took a series of portraits of Marilyn Monroe. The now iconic photos generally present Monroe as a larger-than-life celebrity and sex symbol. Except for one. In 1955, Arnold photographed Monroe reading a worn copy of James Joyce’s modernist classic, Ulysses. It’s still debated whether this was simply an attempt to recast her image (she often played the “dumb blonde” character in her ’50s films), or whether she actually had a pensive side. (Her personal library, catalogued at the time of her death, suggests the latter.) But, either way, Arnold explained years later how this memorable photo came about:

We worked on a beach on Long Island. She was visiting Norman Rosten the poet…. 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.

You can find more images of Marilyn reading Joyce over at The Retronaut. Of course, you can download your own copy of Ulysses from our Free Ebooks collection. But we’d recommend spending time with this finely-read audio version, which otherwise appears in our list of Free Audio Books.

Related Content:

Remembering Eve Arnold, Pioneering Photojournalist

Stephen Fry Explains His Love for James Joyce’s Ulysses

Henri Matisse Illustrates 1935 Edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses


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  1. afeman says . . . | November 8, 2012 / 11:32 am
  2. Peter says . . . | November 8, 2012 / 12:26 pm

    like x n, where n -> inf

  3. Manasseh says . . . | November 8, 2012 / 7:58 pm

    Well done folks always enlighten by your posts!

  4. Some guy says . . . | March 10, 2013 / 5:46 pm

    She’s obviously reading the end: Molly Bloom’s soliloquy. She should have done an audio reading of it.

  5. Martyn Turner says . . . | March 11, 2013 / 1:00 am

    I was going to mention the fact that she’s reading “the dirty bit” it gives depth to the photograph. She makes for a perfect Molly Bloom, actually.

  6. Fra says . . . | May 28, 2013 / 4:29 am

    Love it. Readers united in joy

  7. PANCHO says . . . | June 16, 2013 / 5:40 pm

    Some like it hot and there is nothing hotter than a mind on a beautiful woman!

  8. fred says . . . | September 16, 2013 / 2:37 pm

    she got further than i did

  9. eric says . . . | September 17, 2013 / 8:27 pm

    por leer eso,era tan cachonda!

  10. Amy Hillgren Peterson says . . . | October 3, 2013 / 5:15 am

    Too bad there is no audio of Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses.

  11. Jokie X Wislon says . . . | December 4, 2013 / 6:29 pm

    I found this interesting from the article: “She said she loved the sound of it and would read it aloud to herself to try to make sense of it”. My understanding is that James Joyce advised people to do just that. I think there is even a quote of his where he suggests that if you can’t understand it to read it aloud. I think JJ would have loved Marilyn. <3

  12. Krishna Pachegonker says . . . | December 5, 2013 / 1:22 am

    interesting words from you

  13. Peter Andersen says . . . | December 5, 2013 / 7:36 am

    Marilyn was not only a pretty girl, but high IQ

  14. GEAH says . . . | December 5, 2013 / 5:06 pm

    That explains why she made so many good decisions in her lifetime.

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