Presence: Collected Stories of Arthur Miller

A great American playwright’s non-dramatic work is given a patchy representation in a new anthology of his stories

By David Herman, October 29, 2010
Miller (centre, back row) on the set of The Misfits with, from top left, Eli Wallach, John Huston, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift

Miller (centre, back row) on the set of The Misfits with, from top left, Eli Wallach, John Huston, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift

By Arthur Miller
Bloomsbury, £9.99

Arthur Miller's stock remains high. Two much-acclaimed new productions in London - All My Sons, which recently closed after a successful West-End run, and Broken Glass, with Antony Sher at the Tricycle - have confirmed his reputation as one of the great post-war playwrights. But he was more than just a dramatist.

Over a long career, he wrote a fascinating memoir, Timebends; a novel written in 1945 about antisemitism in America, Focus; several books of essays, mostly about drama; and a number of short stories that, at their best, put him up there with Bellow and Roth.

Unfortunately, Presence is a misleading and sloppy introduction to Miller's stories. Subtitled, Collected Stories of Arthur Miller, it consists of his first collection of stories, I Don't Need You Any More (1967), a long story, Homely Girl, A Life (1992) and a handful of disappointing late efforts when Miller was way past his sell-by date. Missing are a number of early stories from the 1930s and '40s and several later stories.

Even worse, there are no notes and no bibliographic information. You have to look elsewhere to work out that the first stories cover an almost 20-year period in Miller's career and that there is then a huge leap of a quarter-of-a-century to the next batch, which might explain the falling off in quality.

It is not clear who has edited this posthumous collection; and an unhelpful introduction, written by Miller for the first edition of I Don't Need You Any More has been used as a "Foreword".

In a mixed bunch, half a dozen early stories are real gems

The stories themselves are a mixed bunch, but half-a-dozen of the early ones are real gems. Only one, The Misfits, is well-known, on account of the famous film with Miller's wife Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. The best by far are Fitter's Night (1966), about a tough Italian-American working in the New York Naval Shipyard, which will be familiar to anyone who has seen A View From the Bridge, and Monte Sant'Angelo (1951), in which a GI in Italy confronts his Jewish identity. These are powerful pieces about loneliness, male comradeship and identity.

In fact, a number of the most interesting stories feature Jewish characters trying to come to terms with their identity as Jews in mid-20th-century America, something evident in the character of Phillip Gellburg in Broken Glass, but the stories pre-date by some years those stage-plays in which Miller wrote overtly about Jews. For these stories alone, this collection is worth buying - and hoping for a better edition one day.

David Herman is the JC's chief fiction reviewer

Last updated: 3:16pm, February 18 2011