Your basic Dwarf+Giant Overview is a comprehensive survey of an author or series. It is not an in-depth analysis, nor is it a summary. Think of it as a buying or reading guide, telling you what’s out there, what’s essential, what to avoid and so forth.
I was first introduced to the inimitable Miss Parker in the library of my high school where I worked in the mornings before classes began. Opening the library’s copy of The Portable Dorothy Parker I randomly flipped to the middle and found her poem entitled “Résumé”:
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
A bleak little poem for sure and one that, in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s suicide (this was 1994, mind you) resonated with my teenage ideals of mortality and loss. Enraptured by her words, I was hooked and spent the rest of the morning devouring her poetry before moving on to her short stories.
Author, poet, screenwriter and critic, Dorothy Parker lived several lives: one as a glamorous and fashionable New York City flapper and founding member of the infamous literary group known as The Algonquin Round Table, another as a frustrated and blacklisted writer in Hollywood, and the yet another as a champion of civil rights who upon her death bequeathed her entire estate to Dr. Martin Luther King. Like countless other great writers, Dorothy loved to party and would struggle with alcoholism and depression until her death in 1967 from a heart attack. Today would have been her 123rd birthday. So here’s to you Dorothy, and in your own words:
Drink and dance and laugh and lie
Love, the reeling midnight through,
For tomorrow we shall die!
(But, alas, we never do.)
One of the outstanding things about reading Dorothy Parker is that you can pick up an anthology of her work and have pretty much everything in one volume, as her short stories, poems, letters, criticism, essays and articles are usually all included. Parker predominantly wrote about the everyday lives of women and their relationships during an era long gone but entertaining to read about.
1.Enough Rope – Published in 1926, Parker’s first collection of poetry made her a literary celebrity and an icon of the roaring twenties. This collection is hard to find individually. However, every anthology I’ve encountered always includes the poems found in Enough Rope. Love, loss, heartbreak, desire, drink… it’s all here in her biting prose. Enough Rope was followed by two more poetry collections one entitled Sunset Gun. and another Death and Taxes both of which are also included in portable and complete editions of her writing.
2.The Portable Dorothy Parker (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) – Edited by Marion Meade (who also wrote a great biography of Dorothy entitled Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell is This? – see below), this is the ultimate collection of Parker which was updated in 2006 to include even more content.
3. Complete Stories (Penguin Classics) – The title is pretty self explanatory… her complete stories all in one volume. My favorite in the collection is also probably her most famous story: “Big Blonde”, a somber tale about a fading beauty who finds solace in the bottle.
4. Complete Poems (Penguin Classics) – Another pretty self explanatory anthology… her complete collection of poetry. Penguin Classics really are the best (and they have those iconic covers).
5. The Poetry and Short Stories of Dorothy Parker (Modern Library) – Modern Library editions are great if you’re looking for a nice hardcover collection to add to your book shelf (or if you’re looking for a gift for a Dorothy Parker devotee). The vintage Modern Library edition comes in two volumes, poetry in one and short stories in the other. Personally, I’d love to have a vintage Modern Library Dorothy Parker edition (good thing I work at a used bookstore).
6. Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker – This collection includes poems written between 1926 and 1933 that didn’t make the cut for Enough Rope, Sunset Gun and Death and Taxes, but were added later to her Complete Poems.
7. Dorothy Parker Complete Broadway, 1918-1923 – A slightly snarky collection of reviews which were published in Vanity Fair magazine, where Parker worked as New York City’s only female theater critic. This collection is edited by Dorothy Parker Society president Kevin C. Fitzpatrick who also wrote the introduction.
8. The Coast of Illyria: A Play in Three Acts – Dorothy collaborated on several plays during her lifetime, (here with researcher Ross Evans) including this creepy little drama based on the life of Mary Lamb, an unstable 19th century writer who stabbed her own mother to death (yikes)!
9. The Ladies of The Corridor – Written in 1953 by Dorothy and B-movie screenwriter Arnaud d’Usseau, The Ladies of the Corridor had a short life on Broadway and was one of the last projects that Dorothy ever worked on. The play had been out of print for nearly 50 years when Parker biographer Marion Meade approached her editor about reissuing the book, resulting in a 2008 Penguin Classics edition. Set in the 1950’s, the drama revolves around the lives of oppressed women living on their own in a New York residence hotel and was loosely based on Parker’s life.
At the time of it’s production the play was reviewed as “Brilliant – and, I may say blood-curdling” by The New York Herald Tribune.
FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
1.Dorothy Parker, What Fresh Hell is This? by Marion Meade – A definitive and exhaustively researched biography of Dorothy Parker. This is a great book full of rare photographs, anecdotes, and interviews with Parker’s family. Of the three Parker biographies out there, this is the best one.
2. Under the Table: A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick – Did I mention Dorothy liked to drink? Founder and president of the Dorothy Parker Society, Kevin C. Fitzpatrick has compiled and intoxicating array of Parker’s favorite cocktails, as well as a history of cocktail culture and some of her past favorite drinking dens. A beautiful little book filled with interesting vintage photographs and elaborate Art Deco design work.
3. A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York By Kevin C. Fitzpatrick, Foreword by Marion Meade – Kevin C. Fitzpatrick and Marion Meade are the two most prolific Parker historians, and here is another one of their outstanding collaborations. It’s written like a tour guide which takes you through a forgotten New York City, including it’s theaters, bars, and hotel rooms in which Dorothy Parker sharpened her wit, polished her writing, and captured the edgy mood of her times.
4. Bon Mots, Wisecracks, and Gags: The Wit of Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, and the Algonquin Round Table by Robert E. Drennan – A collection of witty quips and sayings which originated from the legendary Algonquin Hotel Round Table. Besides Parker, it includes Franklin Pierce Adams, Robert Benchley, Heywood Broun, Edna Ferber, Ring Lardner, George S. Kaufman, Harpo Marx, Harold Ross, Robert Sherwood, Alexander Woollcott and others “completing the circle.”
5. Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties by Marion Meade – Parker biographer Marion Meade does it again with an amusing read about the ten most exciting years of Parker’s life. Along with Parker, you’ll find stories about such influential women such as Edna Ferber, Zelda Fitzgerald and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Highly recommended.
6. Farewell, Dorothy Parker and Dorothy Parker Drank Here by Ellen Meister – Two clever novels about the ghost of Dorothy Parker and her adventures haunting the modern day Algonquin Hotel. I’ll admit I was a bit suspicious of the concept, but I ended up enjoying both books and they were light and easy reads.
DOROTHY ON THE WEB
1.The Dorothy Parker Society. Parker scholar Kevin Fitzgerald has created the ultimate site devoted to Dorothy Parker and her life and times. The site takes you to her homes and apartments, the hangouts where Mrs. Parker and the Algonquin Round Table met, and even to a few places you may not have heard about. Have you ever heard Mrs. Parker’s voice (it’s gravely and slightly unsettling)? Listen to Dorothy reading more than 30 poems. The aptly-named Constant Reader Book Shop carries books by Dorothy Parker and about her. Autographs and interviews are in The Gallery for Parkerites; visitors can explore Dorothy’s days in Los Angeles, when she was a screenwriter.
2. Robert Gottlieb former editor of The New Yorker wrote a terrific recent article about Parker which you can read here.
3.You Must Remember This. My favorite podcast You Must Remember This did an excellent episode on Dorothy’s experiences during the Hollywood Blacklist; it’s pretty awesome. Highly recommended!