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Dorothy Parker

Fascinating stuff from a Paris Review interview with Dorothy Parker:

PARKER: I knew a lady—a friend of mine who went through holy hell. Just say I knew a woman once. The purpose of the writer is to say what he feels and sees. To those who write fantasies—the Misses Baldwin, Ferber, Norris—I am not at home.

INTERVIEWER: That’s not showing much respect for your fellow women, at least not the writers.

PARKER: As artists they’re not, but as providers they’re oil wells; they gush. Norris said she never wrote a story unless it was fun to do. I understand Ferber whistles at her typewriter. And there was that poor sucker Flaubert rolling around on his floor for three days looking for the right word. I’m a feminist, and God knows I’m loyal to my sex, and you must remember that from my very early days, when this city was scarcely safe from buffaloes, I was in the struggle for equal rights for women. But when we paraded through the catcalls of men and when we chained ourselves to lampposts to try to get our equality—dear child, we didn’t foresee those female writers. Or Clare Boothe Luce, or Perle Mesta, or Oveta Culp Hobby.

INTERVIEWER: You have an extensive reputation as a wit. Has this interfered, do you think, with your acceptance as a serious writer?

PARKER: I don’t want to be classed as a humorist. It makes me feel guilty. I’ve never read a good tough quotable female humorist, and I never was one myself. I couldn’t do it. A “smartcracker” they called me, and that makes me sick and unhappy. There’s a hell of a distance between wisecracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words. I didn’t mind so much when they were good, but for a long time anything that was called a crack was attributed to me—and then they got the shaggy dogs.

(Via TNC [1], who says Dorothy Parker would kill on Twitter).

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5 Comments To "Dorothy Parker"

#1 Comment By leahpold On May 29, 2012 @ 11:05 am

To go by Alexander Pope’s definition, wit = “what oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.”   I’m not sure wit always has truth in it.  People often think things that aren’t true at all, but someone will come along and express it cleverly and be much admired.

The “Norris” woman Parker disparages above was novelist Kathleen Norris (not to be confused with the Kathleen Norris who now writes spiritual books.)  The original Kathleen Norris was akin, in popularity, to Danielle Steele–but it seems to me there is truth, even in fantasies.  Parker says she’s a feminist, I’m just not exactly sure what sort.

#2 Comment By BenSix On May 29, 2012 @ 1:09 pm

It’s a shame that Parker is going to be remembered for her lunching and her one-liners. She was a serious woman and a serious writer – someone who had the potential for a significant work but never enough inspiration to set it to paper. Her stories are great to read but always leave me wanting more and despite what endless critics would have us believe that isn’t always meritous.

Her appearances among screenwriting credits are worth looking out for. I suspect she wrote the classier scenes in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur.

#3 Comment By Charles Cosimano On May 29, 2012 @ 1:16 pm

I have always regretted that I was not born early enough to trade one liners with her.  There is no idea so well stated, no argument so perfect, that it cannot be destroyed by a well-placed wisecrack.  No one reads anything she wrote in fits of seriousness now, but her jokes live forever.

#4 Comment By Erin Manning On May 29, 2012 @ 1:29 pm

Dorothy Parker is one of my great heroes.  The woman never wrote a wasted word.

And I defy any woman to read the short story “The Waltz” without relating instantly.  Men sometimes have no idea of the sort of internal dialog we’re capable of even when they think we’re pleased and flattered and quite happy…

And some of her other stories are dark and serious and relevant.  Her own life experiences, her unhappy marriages, her abortion and the subsequent depression and increasing alcoholism–all of that is reflected in her more serious stories, which still have the characteristic Parker sting.

Take the story “Mr. Durant,” for instance.  In this story, a middle-aged professional man scolds his wife for letting the children think they can keep a stray dog–a female–they have found.  The dog will be trouble; she will get pregnant and have puppies, and they can’t have that.  Eventually he gets rid of the dog while his children sleep…

…but in the meantime, he’s angry with his secretary, with whom he has been committing adultery, because she has gone and “gotten herself” pregnant; he contacts the secretary’s older sister who “knows a man” and arranged the abortion.  Considering that Parker herself first attempted suicide after her abortion the whole story with its focus on the ugly lack of character of Mr. Durant takes on a vivid and haunting hue.

Parker is well worth reading. 

#5 Comment By Philoponus On May 30, 2012 @ 12:48 am

Leahpold: ”
Parker says she’s a feminist, I’m just not exactly sure what sort.”

The sort who marches in the street and chains herself to lampposts, I’d suppose.

But to my point:

Given the above Wodehouse post, I’ll mention that this reminds me of one of his stories about a Mulliner nephew who meets his fiancee while on a holiday he takes to recover from a nervous breakdown suffered after interviewing too many “lady novelists” for his gig at a literary mag. The conflict comes when his fiancee herself turns to lady-novel-writing, with material based on their own relationship.

Good stuff, as always.