Dorothy Parker

The Portable Dorothy Parker, Dorothy ParkerDorothy Parker
The Portable Dorothy Parker 

Celebrated wit Dorothy Parker was a virtuoso who could play every instrument in the literary orchestra. Her humorous essays are classics of the genre. Her theater reviews, with their devastating one-liners (”The House Beautiful is the play lousy”), could make or break a production. Her biographical sketch of Ernest Hemingway introduced his well-known definition of guts as “grace under pressure.”

Piece after piece in this wide-ranging anthology astonishes not only with its sharp insight, but with its sheer perfection; not a word could be improved on. Somerset Maugham, who contributed the book’s afterword, marvels at “all Dorothy Parker’s enviable gifts” as evidenced in the short story “Big Blonde.”

The quality and abundance of Parker’s output are the more amazing given her status as the token female member of the Algonquin Round Table, where she matched drink for drink with Alexander Woollcott, Robert Benchley, and other well-lubricated scribes of the day. All of them outweighed her physically; none outshone her talent.

And there was no one more quotable. “I’ll stay off Verlaine,” she grumbles during a sleepless night; “he was always chasing Rimbauds.” Her New Yorker book reviews, collected here under the byline Constant Reader, were legendary for their incisiveness, as when she skewered The House at Pooh Corner with “Tonstant Weader fwowed up.”

Every aspect of Parker’s troubled personal life became fodder for her art. Even her suicide attempts wound up on public display in the famously grim “Résumé”: “Guns aren’t lawful / Nooses give / Gas smells awful / You might as well live.”

Parker always did get the last word.

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