Icon of a Troubled Time; Magnificent Obsession: Arthur Miller's Attachment to Marilyn Monroe Was Doomed
Byline: NICHOLAS DE JONGH
Arthur Miller: The Definitive Biography by Christopher Bigsby (Weidenfeld,[pounds sterling]30)
WHAT a strange experience it is to read Christopher Bigsby's fascinating biography of Arthur Miller, from which I emerged understanding pre- and post- Second World War America and this historic playwright far better than when I went into it. The strangeness relates to Bigsby's reverence for his subject, who he boldly claims in his introduction changed the world and continues to do so. It is from this perspective that he approaches the author of Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, works which he valuably reminds us were not received as masterpieces when they were first performed, either in America or over here.
If only it were true that playwrights of Miller's liberal, humane sort were agents of transformation in the 20th century. Unfortunately and it is a hypothesis Bigsby does not choose to challenge the best modern playwrights may illuminate the world but they do not change it. Ibsen, whom Bigsby stresses Miller used to regard as a model and source of inspiration, did not even change attitudes to sexually transmitted disease, although Ghosts ceased to be banned in Britain when the First World War broke out: the powers that were comically imagined soldiers would read it and be suitably warned of the dangers of syphilis.
Bigsby's estimate of Miller's potency explains why this professor of American studies at East Anglia, who knew, wrote about and regularly recorded interviews with Miller for more than two decades, treats the playwright almost as if he were examining an icon rather than a fallible human being. The biographer does, admittedly, consider Miller's complex, ambiguous sense of his Jewishness: he was born of immigrant stock, was given a bar mitzvah, registered his profound horror of anti- Semitism in a never completed novel and, with his third wife Inge, visited Mauthausen concentration camp, which reopened his mind to the horrors of those industrial death chambers: they exerted inspirational influence on three late plays.
Yet in Death of a Salesman, whose chief character, Willie Loman, owed plenty to the life of his businessman father, who lost his wealth and status in the …
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Publication information: Article title: Icon of a Troubled Time; Magnificent Obsession: Arthur Miller's Attachment to Marilyn Monroe Was Doomed. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: The Evening Standard (London, England). Publication date: December 8, 2008. Page number: 42. © Not available. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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