This sample Dorothy Parker Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Dorothy Parker was a literary celebrity whose often quoted witticisms were as well-known as her poetry and short fiction. Her verse, modeled on such traditional forms as the lyric, ballad, and sonnet, frequently addressed women s issues and the starkness of urban life through irony, parody, and hyperbole. Her short stories examine the social mores of the middle-class, often through bitterly cynical portrayals of stagnant marriages and unhappy love affairs. Despite her flamboyant reputation, Parker regarded herself as a social satirist rather than a humorist and often wrote from a liberal sensibility alternating between outrage and sentimentality.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Born Dorothy Rothschild in 1893, in West End, New Jersey, she was the daughter of J. Henry Rothschild, a wealthy Jewish clothier, and his Protestant Scottish wife, Eliza A. (Marston). Her mother died when she was four. Her father later remarried, and Parker was raised by her father and her devoutly Catholic stepmother. Parker had issues with both parents, resenting her father’s authoritarian personality and disliking her stepmother, whom she considered a religious fanatic. She also grew up ashamed of her mixed ethnic and religious background, and later stated that if she had written an autobiography, she would have entitled it “Mongrel.”
Parker also detested her stepmother for sending her to Blessed Sacrament Convent—a convent school in New York City—in order to save Parker’s soul from her “Jewish upbringing.” While at the convent, Parker began writing poetry, but her education among the nuns ended early. Already showing signs of a rebellious streak, Parker described the Immaculate Conception as ”spontaneous combustion” and was expelled.
Began Literary Criticism Career
In 1907, Parker’s father and stepmother sent the young girl to an exclusive finishing school, Miss Dana’s School, in Morristown, New Jersey, where she graduated in 1911. During her time at the finishing school, Parker began developing as a writer. Her persistence paid off in 1915 when one of her poems captured the attention of a Vogue editor, who hired her to write captions for the magazine’s fashion illustrations. She worked there from 1916 to 1917.
In 1917, an editor hired her at Vanity Fair as a drama critic. Parker’s acerbic wit again brought trouble, and she was fired from this post in 1920, after writing a blistering review of a play starring the wife of one of the magazine’s financial backers. Parker continued writing as a literary critic for The New Yorker’s book review column under the pseudonym, ”Constant Reader.”
As Parker’s literary career blossomed, she married Wall Street broker, Edwin Pond Parker II, in 1917. He spent two years in military service at the end of World War I. This conflict began in Europe in 1914 after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. Because of political tensions and entangling alliances, nearly the whole of Europe soon became involved in the conflict. The United States joined the war on the side of Great Britain and France in 1917 after Germany’s naval fleet began sinking American merchant ships in British waters. Ultimately, ten million soldiers died and twenty million were wounded during the course of the ”Great War.
During the 1920s, Parker became well-known in New York literary and theatrical circles as a member of the Algonquin Round Table. The group, which included other prominent writers such as Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman, and Franklin Pierce Adams, met regularly at the Algonquin Hotel and became famous when newspaper columnists reported their activities and quoted their conversations. Many of Parker s derisive Round Table remarks, such as ”Men seldom make passes / At girls who wear glasses were often quoted and achieved catchphrase status.
Published Acclaimed Poetry
As she achieved literary fame, however, Parker s life was punctuated by unhappiness, which was mirrored in her poetry. She published two collections of poetry in the 1920s, the bestseller, Enough Rope (1926), and Sunset Gun (1928). Both collections achieved widespread acclaim, and featured poems which explored the threat of losing love and unveiling the hypocrisy and mawkishness of romantic jargon. After gaining such laudatory reviews, Parker retired from magazine work to focus on writing verse and short stories, and later expanded into other genres. By the end of the 1920s, however, Parker was also drinking heavily, had a string of affairs, an abortion, and had attempted suicide three times.
As Parker s personal life degenerated, the United States and, indeed the world, was mired in an economic crisis. In 1929, a stock market crash launched the Great Depression. The failure of the stock market caused the economy, first in the United States, then the world, to fall in a dramatic and sustained depression which lasted through the 1930s.
Well-Received Short Stories
In this atmosphere, Parker published a more morose book of poetry, Death and Taxes (1931), followed by her collected poems, Not So Deep as a Well (1936). By the mid-1930s, she was writing more prose and poetry. Parker put out three collections of short stories—Laments for the Living (1930), After Such Pleasures (1933), and Here Lies (1939). Many of these stories had originally appeared in other publications, including The New Yorker, beginning in the 1920s. One story, ”Big Blonde,” won the O. Henry Award for best short story in 1929.
After the dissolution of her first marriage in 1928, Parker married the actor, Alan Campbell, in 1933. The relationship was also far from happy, and was marked by bickering, divorce in 1947, remarriage in 1950, separation in 1953, and reuniting again in 1956 until Campbell’s death in 1963. The couple lived in California for much of their married life and collaborated on twenty-one screenplays in the 1930s and 1940s. Their most notable effort was the script for A Star is Born (1937), which was nominated for an Academy Award.
Despite the success, Parker disliked what she considered Hollywood superficiality, and became increasingly involved with such organizations as the fledgling Screen Actors Guild (which she helped organize in 1934) and the Anti-Nazi League in 1936. Her association with these left-wing groups impelled the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to investigate her as a possible Communist subversive in the 1950s. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, HUAC investigated charges of Americans working in government, Hollywood, and other professions about alleged Communist activities, beliefs, and leanings. Approximately 6.6 million people were checked by a security program implemented by President Harry S. Truman, and several hundred lost their jobs and/ or were jailed as a result of the hearings. Parker refused to cooperate with the investigation. Though no charges were filed against her, she was blacklisted, or kept from receiving work from the major Hollywood studios.
During this time period, Parker also wrote two plays—The Coast of Illyria (1949) and Ladies of the Corridor (1954)—though neither were particularly popular successes. Finding it increasingly difficult to write because of ill health, Parker only published an occasional book review during the 1960s, and adapted a few of her short stories for television. She died of a heart attack on June 7, 1967, at the Hotel Volney in New York City.
Works in Literary Context
As a writer, Parker was witty, sardonic, elegant, and often profound. In her poetry and short stories, she used her wit and a highly developed sense of humor to attack hypocrisy and intolerance, and to express sympathy towards victims of sexual and racial oppression. As a poet, Parker favored primarily traditional forms. She packed caustic sarcasm into sonnets, lyrics, ballads, Horation odes, epigrams, and epitaphs. Her early short fiction was marked by precise, economical language and simple plot structures, though later stories were longer, more involved, and demonstrated a deeper understanding of interpersonal relationships. Thematically, Parker favored gender roles, failed love, false promises, communication problems, and emotional isolation, among other topics in both poems and short stories. As an author, Parker was greatly influenced by her personal background and unhappiness; the era in which she lived and its morals; and such authors as James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ring Lardner.
Wit, Humor, and Ridicule
In her poetry, short stories, quips from the Algonquin Round Table, and criticism, Parker’s sharply witty voice is considered one of the most memorable of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Her use of scorn, bitterness, and acerbic wit was molded into a profoundly moving art. Beginning her career as a skillful reviewer and critic, Parker developed a scathingly epigrammatic style, best displayed in using wit in demolishing inept or pretentious literary or dramatic productions. Humor-charged ridicule punctuates most of Parker’s poetry and prose, allowing her to lance through the hypocrisy of social customs, vows, and the inconsistency of love (”Scratch a lover and find a foe.”) Parker’s writing is often an attempt to use her wit as a defense— first against pain, then despair. In all her works, she also employs a complex use of irony and satire to explore the contradictory nature of human behavior. Parker’s sense of wit is on display in such stories as ”The Little Hours,” in which an insomniac invokes La Rouchefoucauld (one of Jonathan Swift’s masters), and a horde of half-remembered literary citations in lieu of counting sheep. Stories such as ”Big Blonde,” ”Mr. Durant,” ”The Waltz,” and ”A Telephone Call” document with both humor and sadness the realities of being a woman in a male-dominated world.
Gender Roles and Failed Love
In her poetry and short stories, Parker often addressed women’s issues, soured love relationships, and the vacuous, superficial lives of upper-crust society women who lived in the 1920s and 1930s. In her characteristic burlesque style, Parker lampoons cloying women who depend too much on men for emotional and economic well-being, as well as the types of men who twist these female traits to their advantage. In poems like ”One Perfect Rose” from Enough Rope, Parker mimics the frilly language of romantic greeting card verse, rambling about a rose from a suitor. But Parker adds an unexpected twist in the last stanza: ”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.” Parker’s short stories addressed similar themes, with a number of them focusing on the emotional idiosyncrasies of anxious, self-involved women in the midst of crises. Such stories demonstrated her belief that self-absorption hampers communication and leads to emotional isolation. For example, many of the female characters in Laments for the Living and After Such Pleasures are socialites who attempt to hide their insecurities behind fancy language and pompous behavior.
Works in Critical Context
While Parker’s literary reputation rests on her ability to see humor in the most bitter human tragedies, as well as her incisive wit, sense of pathos, and her more serious attempts at satire, most critics found her explorations of gender roles and romantic relationships the most significant and lasting facet of her short fiction. Parker’s skill in packaging modern issues into classical poetic forms also won the praise of many critics, who noted that her lilting verse is often deceptively airy, which allows her to explore the contradictory nature of human behavior. Other critics have described her work as melodramatic, sentimental, and trivial because of the witticisms that thread throughout her poetry. In recent years, critics have found deeper meanings in Parker’s work than many of her contemporaries were able to appreciate—particularly in the poems and short stories that center on women’s issues.
Not So Deep As a Well
This collection of poems by Parker—which included verse from her first three volumes as well as a few other works—was well-received by contemporary critics. Writing in the Saturday Review of Literature, William Rose Benet comments, ”Here is a lively plenty. . . . Here is also an exquisitely distilled bitterness that improves with age. Tenderness, bravado, the arrantly colloquial inimitably made use of, and Dorothy Parker’s own version of the Voice of Experience.” Monica Redlich of the Spectator was similarly impressed, calling her stories ”a perennial delight” and noting, ”No other writer can so perfectly portray not only sophistication but the obverse of sophistication—the knotted back of the canvas, the tangle of emotion and passion and fear that shall never be seen in public.” Louis Kronenberger of The New York Times concludes, ”After ten years Mrs. Parker strikes me as having achieved . . . a kind of historical signficance.” He also notes, ”One comes back to Mrs. Parker’s light verse with the greatest pleasure: with its sharp wit, its clean bite, it’s perfectly conscious—and hence delightful—archness, it stands re-reading amply.”
After Such Pleasures
Like her poetry, Parker’s short story collections, such as After Such Pleasures, were also generally well-received. A reviewer for The New York Times Book Review found that the source of the stories’ power lay in their combination of humor and emotion. The critic notes that ”Dorothy Parker at the present moment finds herself at the very front of the movement which for years last, especially in America, has been tending toward the comedy of character and away from the comedy of situation.” The reviewer also declares, ”She has the inestimable gift of jeering at sentimentality without utterly destroying it …” Similarly, a reviewer for The Nation comments that ”she is an authentic wit and an excellent satirist and she is just enough surprised to find that love descends to boredom to make her description of it passionate as well as pointed.”
- Frewin, Leslie. The Late Mrs. Dorothy Parker. New York: Macmillan, 1986.
- Keats, John. You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970.
- Meade, Marion. Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? New York: Penguin, 1988.
- Melzer, Sondra. The Rhetoric of Rage: Women in Dorothy Parker. New York: Peter Lang, 1996.
- Barranger, Milly S. ”Dorothy Parker and the Politics of McCarthyism.” Theatre History Studies (2006): 7-30.
- Benet, William Rose. ”Deep, At That.” Saturday Review of Literature (December 12, 1936): 5.
- ”Dorothy Parker’s Stories and Other Recent Works of Fiction.” The New York Times Book Review (October 29, 1933): 6.
- Kronenberger, Louis. ”The Rueful, Frostbitten Laughter of Dorothy Parker.” The New York Times (December 13, 1936): 2, 28.
- Redlich, Monica. Review of Not So Deep a Well. The Spectator (April 16, 1937): 726.
- Review of After Such Pleasures. The Nation (December 20, 1933): 715.
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.