Mrs. Monroe & Mme. Bovary
To the Editor:
I have not yet had a chance to read the whole of Norma Jean, the new biography of Marilyn Monroe, but the sections I have read . . . tend to confirm Michael Wood’s negative opinion of it in his review [“Books in Review,” September 1969]. Unfortunately, Mr. Wood does not seem to be aware of an earlier book about her (Marilyn Monroe, by Maurice Zolotow, published by Harcourt Brace in 1960) which answers pretty directly most of his objections to the more recent book. Eight years ago, before her divorce from Arthur Miller, when she could still have sued her unauthorized biographer for libel, Mr. Zolotow exploded the myth of Miss Monroe’s innocence, simplicity, and naiveté and stressed her cleverness in getting protectors and in ruthlessly promoting her own career.
In fact, so perceptive was Mr. Zolotow’s understanding of his subject (an understanding which a serious reviewer later on was to contrast to that exhibited by Arthur Miller in his play, After the Fall) that he risked a prophecy in the epilogue to the French edition of his book (published by Gallimard in 1961) which was unfortunately destined to be fulfilled. For reasons that cannot be gone into here, he had compared her with Madame Bovary and then added these words: “En fin de compte les Madames Bovary du monde réel sont toujours seules. Si elles n’acceptent pas le compromis avec les rêves impossibles, elles finissent par l’accepter avec la solitude, comme Garbo. Ou alors, il ne leur reste que la mort.”
Newton Centre, Massachusetts