Megan Mayhew Bergman’s column is about naturalism. This week, she discusses how women, often excluded from adventure narratives, carve out their own heroic space.
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. Simone de Beauvoir wrote that “all oppression creates a state of war”—and living in a state of war is depleting, as one tries to negotiate what she owes herself against what the world wants to collect. Read More