Writing About Writers

Attention Must Be Paid

A new Arthur Miller biography goes beyond the Marilyn stuff. But thankfully includes the Marilyn stuff.

Book Cover Merce Cunningham's recent death at the age of 90 reminded me that--except for the New York Times and colonial outposts of New Yorkers--the passing of nonagenarians (save Walter Cronkite) of great accomplishment rarely receives much attention in our brave new 24/7 world. Arthur Miller, the great 20th century American playwright (Death of a Salesman, All My Sons) and Pulitzer Prize winner, who died at the age of 89 in 2005, may be the answer to the trivia question "Who was Marilyn Monroe's last husband?" but his body of work stands tall. To quote the quintessential American drama Death of a Salesman, "Attention must be paid."

With Arthur Miller (Harvard University Press), scholar Christopher Bigsby is the first to offer a serious biography since Miller's death. Among other things, the book celebrates Miller's refusal in the 1950s to name names before the witch-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee--which led to his great allegorical drama The Crucible. Miller's marriage to Monroe, an additional point of great interest, resulted in another triumph, After the Fall.

Bigsby was given access to previously unpublished works and notes that are no doubt of value to academics and fans who will treasure such minutiae and details. Jeremy McCarter, in the New York Times Book Review, sums up the biography:
"Thanks to Bigsby's research, particularly into previously unseen material, his account of Miller trying to hang on to his soul in mid-century America shows that he was large not least in his contradictions...What the book makes newly clear, though, is how much of Miller's work reflects his own personal struggles."
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