Monday, August 23, 2010

A toast and a tear for Dorothy Parker, writer and poet, for her 117th birthday

Project Elegance celebrated Dorothy Parker’s birthday yesterday with a bouquet of quotes. Our favorite: “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

In “A Toast and a Tear for Dorothy Parker,” his 1944 review of The Portable Dorothy Parker, Edmund Wilson reflected on the close connection between Parker’s work and her era:
. . . the thing I have particularly felt is the difference between the general tone, the psychological and literary atmosphere, of the period—the twenties and the earlier thirties—when most of these pieces of Mrs. Parker’s were written, and the atmosphere of the present time. It was suddenly brought home to me how much freer people were—in their emotions, in their ideas, and in expressing themselves. In the twenties they could love, they could travel, they could stay up late at night as extravagantly as they pleased; they could think or say or write whatever seemed to them amusing or interesting. There was a good deal of irresponsibility, and a lot of money and energy wasted, and the artistic activities of the time suffered somewhat from its general vices, but it was a much more favorable climate for writing than the period we are in now.
And on Parker in particular:
When one has bought Dorothy Parker . . . one has really got a book. She is not Emily Bronte or Jane Austen, but she has been at some pains to write well, and she has put into what she has written a voice, a state of mind, an era, a few moments of human experience that nobody else has conveyed.
Laurence Senelick echoed Wilson in his introduction to “The Jest,” his selection of one of Parker's drama reviews from Vanity Fair for The American Stage:
In the age of disillusionment that followed the Great War, the wisecrack best conveyed the fashion for cynicism. No wonder that the “Round Table” at the Algonquin Hotel, the journalists’ luncheon club she frequented with Robert Benchley, Robert Sherwood, Franklin Pierce Adams, Alexander Woolcott, and George S. Kaufman, was commonly known as the Vicious Circle. The bon mots of these mauvais langues—such as the barb that Katherine Hepburn “ran the gamut of emotions from A to B”—were made public in their columns the next day.
Parker would not have been happy being characterized as a wisecracker, since she once wrote: “Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.”

The Dorothy Parker Society website contains a great deal of material about Parker’s life and work. The society has a newsletter; it conducts an Algonquin Round Table walking tour, and the site has a page filled with audio of Parker reading her poems (requires RealPlayer).

Related LOA works: Edmund Wilson: Literary Essays of the 1930s and 1940s; The American Stage: Writings on Theater from Washington Irving to Tony Kushner

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