Parker, Dorothy (Rothschild)

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PARKER, Dorothy (Rothschild)

Born 22 August 1893, West End, New Jersey; died 7 June 1967, New York, New York

Also wrote under: "Constant Reader," Dorothy Rothschild

Daughter of Henry and Eliza A. Marston Rothschild; married Edwin P. Parker, 1917 (divorced 1928); Alan Campbell, 1933

Dorothy Parker was the only daughter of a Jewish father and a Scottish mother who died while Parker was still an infant. After a very restricted youth and adolescence, Parker entered the publishing world in a minor editorial position at Vogue in 1916. A year later, she became drama critic for Vanity Fair and married Edwin Parker, whose name she retained even after their divorce in 1928.

Parker became the acknowledged leader of the (Hotel) "Algonquin Round Table," surrounded by such notables as Edna Ferber, Robert Benchley, and Alexander Woollcott. She left Vanity Fair in 1926 after her first volume of poetry, Enough Rope, became a bestseller.

The opening poems of Enough Rope are composed of love lamentations and reiterate the desire for death in a dismal, often dirgelike tone. However, the tender lovers and passive victims soon give way to the carefree adventuress and the jaundiced "flapper." The poems are characterized by regular lines of alternating rhyme and lapidary verse. Romance is often countered by a satiric thrust: "All of my days are gray with yearning. / (Nevertheless, a girl needs fun.)"

Sunset Gun (1928) achieves a solidarity through alternating voices of melancholy and seriousness. The cavalier tone often reveals the comic dimensions of sorrow, but various poems, such as those concerning Mary's pain at the loss of Jesus, touch on the universal nature of tragedy. Death and Taxes (1931) emphasizes the artistic integrity of the poetry by moving even further into the realm of the dramatic monologue. The usual caustic verse alternates with statements by various historical and literary figures. The contemplative verse shows a fine mastery of mood and tone and a manipulation of public myths, which places Parker far above the level of light entertainer. Poems from all three volumes were collected in Not So Deep as a Well (1936).

In 1927 Parker began writing stories and a book review column signed "Constant Reader" for the New Yorker. Parker wrote for many popular magazines, but her most sustained critical endeavor was the "Constant Reader" column. Like her play reviews of the same period, the 46 pieces are characterized by an easy conversational tone that seems to effortlessly interweave epigrams, puns, and personal anecdotes. Notwithstanding the subjective mode of approach, sound literary commentary and insightful critical evaluations distinguish most of Parker's work.

Parker published stories in Laments for the Living: Collected Stories (1930, reprinted in 1995) and After Such Pleasures and collected them in Here Lies (1939). The stories reveal her as a master of cutting, ironic fiction.

"Big Blond," won the O. Henry Prize for 1930. Hazel Morse works hard at being a "good sport." However, when near thirty, she marries Herbie and delights in being able to relax and give in to her moods. Unfortunately, he tires of her and leaves. The need to be a "good sport" again prevails. Hazel is provided for by a succession of men, but always in a mist of alcohol, depressed and longing for peace. The four-part presentation traces the progressive disintegration from contentment through despair over a number of years with an admirable unity of effect. The analogy made between the nonintrospective, passive victim and a "beaten driven, stumbling" horse struggling "to get a footing" is the heart of the narrative and is all the more vivid for the stark rendering of the background details.

"A Telephone Call" (1930) provides a striking example of Parker's proficiency in the modified stream-of-consciousness technique. As a woman futilely awaits a promised telephone call, the shifting phases of desperation and pain are revealed through a superb rhetorical display that encompasses rushing prayers, meandering introspections, and angry threats. "Clothe the Naked" (1939) concerns Big Lannie, a stoic black laundress whose only surviving daughter dies in childbirth leaving her with a blind grandson. The distanced narrative tone imparts a sense of sustained suffering throughout.

Although Parker's reputation has at times suffered a sharp decline (though she was the subject of a major film, Dorothy Parker and the Vicious Circle in 1995), the literary merit of her short stories and much of her poetry can scarcely be contested. The perennial concerns of alienation and loss of love are treated with an irony that only barely masks the sense of deep tragedy beneath. The economy of language, flawless dialogue, and sharp eye for detail that characterize the short stories is directly attributable to Parker's poetic sense. The crystalline, concise sentences set the tone and sum up the characters as aptly as the measured, polished verse.

Other Works:

Dorothy Parker (1944). The Best of Dorothy Parker (1952, reissued in 1995, 1997). The Coast of Illyria: A Play in Three Acts (1990). The Poetry and Short Stories of Dorothy Parker (1994). Big Blonde and Other Stories (1995). Complete Stories (1995). Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker (1996). The Sayings of Dorothy Parker (1996). Complete Poems (1999).


Babbitt, R. J., "Puffs and Pans: The Lives and Works of Three American Theatre Critics from the Algonquin Round Table " (thesis, 1994). Breese, C., Excuse My Dust: The Art of Dorothy Parker's Serious Fiction (dissertation, 1992). Buck, P. R. Dorothy Parker: Playwright (dissertation, (1997). Calhoun, R., Dorothy Parker: A Bio-Bibliography (1993). Carpenter, M., "Double-Burning Candles: A Close Look at Three Women Humorists of the 1920s" (thesis, 1995). Carr, L. P., Humor as a Rhetorical and Cognitive Strategy in the Work of Three 20th-Century Women Poets: Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, and Anne Sexton (dissertation, 1995). Cowley, M., Writers At Work (1957). Dana, M. W., "Working Women in Depression-Era Short Fiction: The Short Stories of Tess Slesinger, Dorothy Parker and Marita Bonner" (dissertation, 1999). Frewin, L., The Late Mrs. Parker (1986). Keats, J., You Might As Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker (1972). Kinney, A. F., Dorothy Parker (1978). Kinney, A. F., Dorothy Parker, Revised (1998). Mead, M., Dorothy Parker (1988). Melzer, S., The Rhetoric of Rage: Women in Dorothy Parker (1997). Miller, N., Love Poetry and the New Woman: Literary Negotiations in Edna St. Vincent Millay, Genevieve Taggard, and Dorothy Parker (dissertation, 1993). Wilson E., Classics and Commercials (1950).

Reference works:

Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). Twayne's Women Authors (CDROM, 1995).

Other references:

EJ (1934). Esquire (1968). Horizon (1962). Paris Review (1956). Poetry (1927, 1928, 1931). Rendezvous (1968). Revue de Paris (1947). The Infamous Dorothy Parker (video, 1995).


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Parker, Dorothy (Rothschild)

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