Complete Stories (Penguin twentieth century classics) Mass Market Paperback – 30 Nov 1995
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About the Author
Dorothy Parker was born in West End, New Jersey, in 1893 and grew up in New York, attending a Catholic convent school and Miss Dana's School in Morristown, New Jersey. In 1916 she sold some of her poetry to the editor of Vogue, and was subsequently given an editorial position on the magazine, writing captions for fashion photographs and drawings. She then became drama critic of Vanity Fair and the central figure of the celebrated Algonquin Round Table.
Famous for her spoken wit, she showed the same trenchant commentary in her book reviews for The New Yorker and Esquire and in her poems and sketches. Her collection of poems included Not So Deep as a Well and Enough Rope, which became a bestseller; and her collections of stories included Here Lies. She also collaborated with Elmer Rice on a play, Close Harmony and with Arnaud d'Usseau on the play the Ladies of the Corridor. She herself had two Broadway plays written about her and was portrayed as a character in a third. Her cynicism and the concentration of her judgements were famous and she has been closely associated with modern urbane humour.
Her first husband was Edwin Pond Parker II, and although they were divorced some years later, she continued to use his name, which she much preferred to her own of Rothschild. Her second husband was an actor-writer Alan Campbell. They went to Hollywood as a writing team and went through a tempestuous marriage until his death in 1963, when Dorothy Parker returned to New York. She died in 1967.
Regina Barreca is a professor of English and feminist theory at the University of Connecticut. She is the editor of seven books, including The Penguin Book of Women's Humor, and the author of four others. She writes frequently for the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and the Hartford Courant. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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To these I can now add Dorothy Parker--whom I discovered only last month after enjoying the above social-critics for decades. A sharp-tongued journalist, Parker wrote in New York City in the 1920's through the 1950's. She's a key addition to the "fruit salad" of these writers--call her a lime, perhaps--small, tart, acid but somehow quenching our thirst for the truth however tangy?
Parker precisely pinpoints interpersonal shipwrecks. Marriage is--what happens. Often it's like this:
In "New York to Detroit," on the telephone, a man mechanically shoves a desperate woman out of his life. The bad connection aids his "misunderstandings" of her frantic pleas.
In "Here We Are," a just-married couple travel by train to their New York City honeymoon hotel. But we see already the stress-fractures of immature overreactions, and how out of them starts to ooze the lava of hatred which will surely melt down (or burn out) the marriage soon.
In "Too Bad," women are perplexed, even astonished, that the Weldons separated. Such an ideal couple! Except Parker eavesdrops us into the couple's typical evening at home. Its genteel vacancy, polite non-communication, and quiet distancing tell the tale.
Is Parker too crude a caricaturist? Heavy on the satire, too bitter personally? True, her women seem simplified: helplessly-hysterical, nice-nice faceless patseys or creampuffs, captives of bland routines--and of men. Her men similarly seem generic males-of-the-species, "blunt bluff hearty and...meaningless," conventionally-whiskered and all, chauvinistically-insensitive if not cruel. Okay... But if it's overdone, why do I feel I have known and seen these people, or traces of them, often, and not in New York of the 1920's-1950's either?
The Elaine Stritch readings of seven of these stories are also tremendously entertaining and worthy of separate purchase. The delight of sitting in a darkened room, listening to a master actress reading Mrs. Parker, sipping from a tumbler of whiskey, must be experienced to be believed.
Dorothy Parker: a phenomenally talented short story and verse writer, and one of the most powerful feminists of her time. She fought racism and sexism--unlike some of her contemporaries like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, who abetted it--and was one of few during the 20's and 30's to write about such taboo topics as abortion ("Mr. Durant"). In 1929, she won the first place O. Henry Award for her short story "Big Blonde," and her story, "Here We Are," has been duly collected in The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike. Also notable: her poetry collections Enough Rope and Sunset Gun were both bestsellers, an unprecedented accomplishment for poetry in general.