Marlene Dietrich’s Marginalia


I love marginalia so much that I created an entire “tag” for it on my site.

I love to read about the marginalia of famous people.

The tiny markings Thomas Jefferson would place beside lines of text that … interested him, that he agreed with, that he wanted to investigate further – who knows why, but they’re intriguing nonetheless.

Medieval monks copying manuscripts – years on end – bored out of their minds – filled the pages of these Tomes with marginalia, sometimes critiquing what they were copying (“This is a very poor translation”), sometimes, though, they’re little diary entries (“O God it is cold.” “My hand hurts.” Or, my favorite: “St Patrick of Armagh, deliver me from writing.” I hear ya, monk, I hear ya on that.)

Elvis was a big marker-upper-of-books sometimes underlining practically every sentence on the page. (My favorite example of Elvis marginalia was a note he wrote in the margins of one of his religious spiritual books: “GOD LOVES YOU BUT HE LOVES YOU BEST WHEN YOU SING.” Marginalia can be golden.)

I woke up this morning to a text from my cousin Mike, that had only had a URL in it. The URL led to this article in The New Yorker: Marlene Dietrich’s Marginalia.

This is what O’Malleys do, we supportively text one another articles about marginalia at 3 o’clock in the morning. Sometimes Dietrich’s marginalia was to correct information in this or that biography where her name was mentioned (my favorite is “SHE WAS LANG’S MISTRESS. NOTHING TO DO WITH ME!”) – but sometimes it’s a critique of the writing itself, as in the image above.

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12 Responses to Marlene Dietrich’s Marginalia

  1. Helena says:

    Completely lost it at her ‘That’s when I stopped reading’ comment.

  2. Abigail says:

    It’s very interesting to read the inner thoughts of famous people, but I work in a library and we take a dim view of that sort of behaviour. ;(

    • For that very reason I’ve never been able to write in books. Seems like sacrilege. It is fun to read, though.

    • sheila says:

      As a librarian’s daughter I hear you, but the appeal for me is not just famous people – the Book of Kells monks were anonymous. One of my favorite sites on the Net is the Book Inscriptions Project – I don’t like to buy second-hand books that have underlinings or highlighter-pen all over the place – but I love it when I find one with a particularly good inscription. A bit of history, a glimpse of those who owned the book before. There are some really good examples there – people send them in to the proprietor of the site.

      • sheila says:

        and I have always wished that there would be a digitized library of Elvis’ marginalia – since he wrote all OVER his books. I’ve only seen glimpses of what he would write, but they are a goldmine for contemplation on what he was thinking about, what interested him. He would talk to himself through these little notations. It’s as close to a diary as we’ll ever get (with him anyway).

  3. By the way, have you read Maria Riva’s book about her mother? I read it a long time ago and thought it was good; I’d be interested in your take on it. I didn’t read it as a Mommy Dearest kind of thing; it didn’t make me wish Dietrich had been my mother, but I came away from it even more fascinated by the woman than before. She was very, very complex and not really knowable.

    • sheila says:

      wow – I have not read it. It sounds great.

      She and John Wayne had a steamy mutually-satisfying affair – no “bad blood” between them – and at the very end of his life, when people he knew/loved were asking him questions about his career and life – and he was in a state to be a bit more open because he was very ill and knew his days were numbered – someone asked him what was the best sex he ever had. (He was a gentleman – never kissed and told – but in this case …) He didn’t even hesitate. He said, “Had Marlene, standing up in a stairwell.”

      That image will be emblazoned hotly into my brain until the end of my days.

      But yes: a mysterious woman. So so talented!

  4. Brooke A L says:

    I saw this on December 27th, her birthday, simply because I googled her and looked under news hoping someone would write something for her birthday. This was better.

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