Dorothy Parker: The audacious author
"Mrs. Parker's published work does not bulk large. But most of it has been pure gold and the five winnowed volumes on her shelf - three of poetry, two of prose - are so potent a distillation of nectar and wormwood, of ambrosia and deadly nightshade, as might suggest to the rest of us that we write far to much" (Woollcott 149). Alexander Woollcott, a respected author himself, is correct in his summation of the works of Dorothy Parker. Parker's works are a blend of an incredible writing style and a poison so deadly that the reader can only breath a sigh of relief that these clever barbs are not being slung in her direction. It is very fortunate for devotees of Parker's writings that she came of age in a literary climate just right for a strong female to take control and change the way things were. Dorothy Parker's sharp biting wit and caustic writing style changed the way women were viewed and treated in literary circles.
Throughout her life, Dorothy Parker endured trials and tribulations that could have been disastrous to a budding writer, but instead created a genius belonging solely to her. At the tender age of five, Parker lost her beloved mother (Meade 9-10); at the age of nine, Parker's despised stepmother died and as a parting shot, left her precious jewelry to her equally reviled stepdaughter (16-17). Now Parker felt responsible for the deaths of two mothers. This guilt was eventually transformed into a loathing for mothers, which, in turn, transferred into characters in many of Parker's short stories (17). Parker was forced to attend a strict Presbyterian high school. Parker left school at the age of fourteen and never returned, which caused her some embarrassment later in life (Silverstein 12-13). As an adult, Parker went through numerous failed love affairs, before, during and after her multiple failed marriages. Parker began to drink heavily (27), had several abortions and attempted suicide on at least four occasions (29). The suicide of husband number two and three (she married Alan Campbell twice) after their second reconciliation, left Parker with more pain and rage inside (Random vii). Despite, or perhaps because of, all the tragedies that she faced, Parker grew as a writer.
Parker came into her own at a time when women writers were expected to write nothing more than harmless drivel. A pioneer in women's lib, Parker wrote what she wanted to write and lived how she wanted to live, undaunted by society's conventions. Parker spearheaded the legendary Algonquin Round Table (Silverstein 10), and hobnobbed with such celebrated authors as Hemingway, Faulkner, Lardner, Fitzgerald, Woollcott, George Kaufman, Heywood Broun and Harold Ross (Gill xv); many of which the liberated author took as her lovers. Parker's skill at writing has oft been compared to that of her paramour Ring Lardner (Voss 284) and her close friend Hemingway (Kinney 129-130). Irving Berlin, Tallulah Bankhead, and Harpo Marx also numbered among her most famous and influential friends (Meade xvii).
In the 1920s, women's roles in the world were severely limited. A woman could be the editor of a magazine; and as such set rules of dress for the staff but in actuality have little to do with the running of the magazine. Edna Woolman Chase, the chief editor of Vogue while Parker worked there, decreed that the women come to work in white gloves, hats, and black silk stockings (Meade 36). Parker did not much like the state of womanhood in America and announced her true feelings about the way women conformed to traditional roles in her poem Women: A Hate Song. "There are the Domestic ones. / They are the worst," (Parker, Women; lns. 3-4). Parker also intensely disliked the current state of manhood and boldly declared her dislike in her poem entitled Men: A Hate Song. "I hate Men; /.... They talk about Humanity / As if they had invented it;" (Parker, Men; lns. and 8-9). Anything that bothered her was fair game for her to write about including, but not limited to: actors, actresses, bohemians, books, bores, movies, parties, relatives, and slackers.
In addition to her numerous diatribes of hate, Parker found other ways to express her dislike of the barriers and to help dismantle them. She threw many lavish parties in her hotel rooms (Meade 30-31); not something most women of her time would have done. She had no concern for propriety, called herself a slut, and was quoted as exclaiming "I am cheap - you know that," to Edmund Wilson (xvii). Parker was blunt in both her criticisms of others and of herself. She stated the following on one occasion when asked about her "type" of man. "I require only three things of a man. He must be handsome, ruthless, and stupid," (Silverstein 17). Parker was completely open about her nature and was respected for it.
Despite her reputation as the wittiest woman of her time and of an all around partier, Parker was not only about entertainment and frills. At the age of seventy, and dying of numerous ailments, Parker wrote out her will. It bequeathed all her worldly goods, including her numerous and valuable copyrights, to Martin Luther King, Jr. And in the event of his death, the will would transfer Parker's estate to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in honor of Dr. King's dream and of his memory. Parker had never met Dr. King, but his cause was the cause that she, herself, most fervently believed in (Silverstein 59). Despite their different social strata and backgrounds -Parker was white high school dropout raised with servants in a Scottish-Presbyterian and Jewish household who had a hard earned party-hardy reputation (12); while Dr. King was a well-educated black man raised by a Baptist minister to be a Baptist minister and leader of a peaceful social revolution - Parker was determined to support the cause she believed in.
Dorothy Parker was made to face the repercussions of her lifestyle and her beliefs. She was secretly hated and feared by many people because of her sharp tongue and unapologetic demeanor. She took delight in verbally attacking those that offended her. But despite being extremely caustic, her attacks were enjoyed by all those around her due to the supremely witty way in which she phrased them (Woollcott 150). Though many men were drawn to her beauty and openly sexual nature, Parker's relationships never lasted for very long and almost always ended badly (Silverstein 30). Parker's first husband, Edward Pond Parker II, was completely overshadowed by his vivacious wife. Mr. Parker was remembered only as "a quiet, pleasant young man who was out of his element," who "couldn't keep up with Dottie," (23). Except for a few men famous in their own rights, all of Parker's romantic partners were eclipsed by her and faded into the background at social events. Subsequently, these relationships disintegrated into constant fights and the eventual abandonment of Parker.
Parker also faced problems in her professional life as a result of her attitude. So many playwrights of the time used her as a model for characters in their plays, that Parker was reported to have claimed that if she wanted to write an autobiographical play, she would be sued for plagiarism (Silverstein 10-11). In an attempt to get back into Parker's good graces and into her bed, Alexander Woollcott devoted eleven pages of one of his books to fawning over her. This caused the opposite of his desired reaction; instead of adding to his ladylove's reputation as a great writer, his review turned her into a novelty item. Parker had to contend with being famous for being Dorothy Parker instead of being famous (and respected) for her celebrated poetry, snappy reviews, and prize-winning short stories (9-11). In the thirty remaining years of her life, Parker was never able to overcome the damage that Woollcott had innocently inflicted upon her. Luckily for Parker fans, the aforementioned damage to her professional reputation only caused her to write more and better works. Unlike Parker's status as a novelty item, her works have stood the test of time and are still beloved by millions.
Dorothy Parker's influence can be seen in much of today's modern literature, if one takes the time to look. And not only has literature been vastly changed by the "little Jewish girl trying to be cute" as Parker considered herself (Meade xix), but all of dark and\or sarcastic comedy has been reborn under her guidance as well. Comedy and literature have combined in the often poetic musings of author\comedian George Carlin. Carlin's irreverent attitude towards that which is normally taken to be extremely serious, and his frequent use of the "f-word" are reminiscent of the words and writings of Dorothy Parker. Parker led her literary circle, and it was her literary circle that led the revolution of what was okay and what was not okay to joke about. In Carlin's second book, he states, "I enjoy watching reruns of Saturday Night Live and counting all the dead people," (46). Decades earlier Parker had cracked a joke about getting together with her friends periodically to see which of them had died since she had last seen them (Silverstein 21). Parker has had a tremendous influence of the world of today.
Dorothy Parker has effected major changes in gender equality in the literary world. In her day, most writings by women were in some way or another connected to the glories of love. Parked did not subscribe to this policy. Though she loved many and frequently; the lament echoed in every high school across America, the same philosophy that has been espoused by everyone at one time or another, can sum up her view of love - love 'inhales!' It was also unheard of for a woman author to write of unpleasant things. In addition to the changes made viewing love, Parker also made it acceptable for a woman to write about anything a man can write about. The modern author Patricia Cornwall gets as detailed in her descriptions of murder, mayhem, and gore as Robin Cook. The women who write romance novels get as graphic as any male writer, and a woman runs the top pornographic magazine in America. Parker, in large part, bridged the gap from the Victorian themes of most women writers of her time to the anything-goes themes of current women writers.
Dorothy Parker changed the world. If one cares enough to dig into modern literature and on a larger scale, modern American culture as a whole, Dorothy Parker's elegant handwriting will be found upon its pages. Although she is not part of the mainstream, Dorothy Parker has amassed quite a cult following. Her work, her life, and her self are an example to women and girls everywhere. She was who she was and she made no apologies about it. She was not always cheerful. She unashamedly enjoyed men. She admitted that girls are not always the most fun to be around. She was real. For those reasons and others too numerous to mention, Dorothy Parker struck a chord with all those around her and left and indelible mark upon womanhood and the literary world.