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Literary Women of the Left Bank

Written by eastern writer on Thursday, July 22, 2010

On-line magazine on early Modernism, especially women in Paris, 1900-1940, but with broader coverage than the title suggests.

First Quarter, 1999: Volume 2
Dorothy Parker (American 1893 - 1967)

Dorothy Rothschild was born in West End, New Jersey, to a Jewish father and a Scottish mother. Her mother died less than one year later. This ancestory would, three decades later, provide an opening for one of George Kaufman's better moments. Feigning anger at an anti-Semitic remark, Kaufman threatened to abandon the assembled company, then added: "And I'll expect Mrs. Parker to accompany me halfway."

Dorothy would later mine the misery of her adolescence spent with her detested stepmother and her uncaring father in numerous poems and stories. Here is one of her most quoted examples:

Guns aren't lawful
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful
You might as well live

In 1916, after an education absorbed at a convent boarding school, she landed her first job, writing captions for Vogue. A year later she was taken on as a drama critic at Vanity Fair , where she shared an office with the humorist Robert Benchley and the playwright-to-be Robert Sherwood, two charter members of the midtown Manhattan Hotel Algonquin's legendary Round Table. The Round Table was a daily lunch time exercise in one-upmanship whose off-and-on participants included Kaufman, Frank Crowninshield, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun, Marc Connelly, Edna Ferber, Franklin P. Adams (F.P.A.), George Jean Nathan, Ernest Hemingway, Ring Lardner and William Faulkner.

In her mid-twenties Dorothy Rothschild married a man named Edward Pond Parker II, from whom she was divorced several years later. During this period of her life, she drank excessively and contemplated suicide. "What fresh hell is this?" she asked in one famous poem. In the mid-1930's, Parker married again, this time to Alan Campbell with whom she collaborated on the 1937 script for A Star is Born. Parker and Campbell divorced, remarried, separated, and then lived together until his death in 1963.

In a way, Dorothy Parker epitomized the transition between the Twenties and the Thirties, between romanticism and reality, between boom and bust. Her best work incorporates the sentimentality of the Twenties and the rude awakening in the Thirties, a decade when the world was willing to forego the beau geste for tangible assets.

A single flow'r he sent me,
since we met.
All tenderly his messenger
he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew
still wet--
One perfect rose.

Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine,
do you suppose?
Ah no, it's always just my luck
to get
One perfect rose.

During the Forties she was an ardent supporter of left-wing causes, and in the Fifties was blacklisted as a Communist supporter. Her last project, The Ladies of the Corridor (1964) is a play about the loneliness of female hotel residents. Dorothy Parker died in a New York hotel in 1967. She left her estate to the civil rights leader, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Works by Dorothy Parker: Portable Dorothy Parker, Not Much Fun : The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker, Complete Stories, The Poetry and Short Stories of Dorothy Parker

Works about Dorothy Parker: Dorothy Parker: A Bio-Bibliography, Dorothy Parker, What Fresh Hell Is This?, You Might As Well Live : The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker

Online Review of Not Much Fun

Information compiled from Women of Words: A Personal Introduction to Thirty-Five Important Writers and The American Heritage History of the 1920's and 1930's; article written by Paula DiTallo

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