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:

The 430 Books in Mar­i­lyn Monroe’s Library: How Many Have You Read?

Stephen Fry Explains His Love for James Joyce’s Ulysses

Hen­ri Matisse Illus­trates 1935 Edi­tion of James Joyce’s Ulysses

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