The Feminine Heroic

Mccullers-monroe-dinesenMegan Mayhew Bergman at The Paris Review:

It’s February 1959. Marilyn Monroe and Isak Dinesen have joined Carson McCullers for lunch at her home on the Hudson River in Nyack, New York. A photograph from that day shows Marilyn and Carson leaning into each other. Isak, invited to America by the Ford Foundation for what would be her first and last visit, toasts Arthur Miller, who’s nearly out of the frame.

Carson wears all black and a depressed demeanor. Marilyn, in fur and a plunging neckline, tells a story about finishing pasta with a blow-dryer. Isak’s cheekbones announce themselves underneath the hem of her turban; she recalls the first time she killed a lion and ingests little more that day than oysters, grapes, and amphetamines. In eight years they will all be dead.

For me, the picture is like looking at the fractal nature of womanhood: something carnal, intellectual, and willful existing inside of one body. Internal conflicts shaped Monroe, McCullers, and Dinesen as creators. Marilyn aspired to make her own films and control her image while negotiating a growing dependence on pills and fear of abandonment. McCullers, broken down by seizures, divorce, and addiction, continued to write in the shadow of the masterpiece she wrote at twenty-two. Dinesen, brave enough to face down a lion and manage a coffee farm outside of Nairobi, began to starve and diminish herself.

more here.