Thursday, December 3, 2009

Who Is Dorothy Parker? Women Writers

Dorothy Parker was a poet, an activist and a bitch. She wasn’t an easy woman to get along with and she didn’t care that she was difficult. Born in 1893 in New Jersey, she lost her mother at an early age and she detested her Roman Catholic stepmother. Her stepmother passed on three years later. Her father became incapacitated and Dorothy cared for him until his death when she was twenty.

She married briefly in 1917 to a alcoholic drug-addicted stockbroker. She divorced him in 1919. Setting her pattern of loving men who were incapable of loving her. In all other parts of her life she was a woman of unflinching confidence but when it came to men, she just couldn’t get it right. She had several well-known affairs, an abortion and several suicide attempts. Even when she married her second husband (both times), Arthur Campbell, she still had affairs. She drank too much and the alcohol use aggravated her depressive episodes.

For all her flaws, she was a witty, brilliant woman. She wrote for Vanity Fair from 1916 to 1920. Her play on words made the public squeal and beg for more. Her mouth got her fired in 1920, when she insulted some very important people. Dorothy embroiled herself into the Jazz Age and began turning out poetry and short stories in earnest.

Her first volume of poetry, Enough Rope published in 1926. Several other books followed including Death and Taxes and Sunset Guns. Her commentaries on society, her dark humor and her intelligence won her critical and public attention. By the end of the 1920’s, she started getting more involved in social causes. She involved herself in protests and even got herself arrested for her beliefs.

After the stock market crash of 1929 and the demise of the Jazz Age, Parker became increasingly disturbed by the growth of fascism in Europe. Although, she never joined the Communist Party, she declared herself a communist in the 1930’s. This statement would cause her to be blackballed in Hollywood during the McCarthy Era and the red scare of the 1950’s.

During World War II, she tried repeatedly to be allowed to be a war correspondent but she couldn’t get permission from the government. Her work also became more political. She involved herself in civil right issues and became increasingly vocal about her views.

As her life evolved so did her work. Her poetry is rather ordinary in rhyme and form. Its her voice that captures the audience. Her conversational tone and rebellious views on both society and love hit a respondent in the audience. Yet, many miss the underlying rage of her poems. The dark laughter of her pieces conceal the anger against her expected role in society, in the uselessness of it all, and of the lack of meaning in her life.

This rage against societal expectations is another reason her work is different from the other feminist writings of the 1920’s. Where Hemingway and Fitzgerald’s women refuse to be boxed by society, Parker’s women are trapped by those expectations. This is perhaps why her work has fallen into disfavor since the 1950’s. Her women can’t seem to save themselves. They can’t seem to use the rage they feel to make any real changes in their world

Yet, during the 20’s and 30’s, Dorothy won numerous awards and was published constantly. Her story, “The Big Blonde” won the O award. She worked on the revised script for “A Star is Born” as well as many other films. It is a pity that for many years, her was forgotten. It has only been recently that critics have once again began exploring her body of work.

After the death of her second husband by accidental overdose in 1963, she spent the last four years of her life deserted by everyone she knew. Alone, she died of a heart attack and was discovered by a maid at her hotel. She left the bulk of her estate to Martin Luther King Jr. She believed strongly in civil rights and hoped that what little she had would aid that effort.

My favorite poem of Dorothy Parker’s is Resume. The sound of the poem is upbeat, in contrast to the subject matter which is suicide. All the ending words are about the effect of suicide attempts except two words: live and give. The noose gives and you live and if suicide is so difficult and painful, is the pain of life any worse? Perhaps, its just easier to live than to bother to kill yourself. What intriguing about this poem is that she manages to make the poem truthful, funny and discussion of life’s meaninglessness in less than two sentences.


Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.







  1. Absolutely fascinating!! I love reading about author's lives, especially woman authors from the twenties era.

    Thanks for sharing!!

    Corra :)

  2. A hand-made trackback since I can’t figure out how to do it the auto way. :)

    I linked this article at my blog: in corra’s words

  3. Cool Corra, you should check out the one on Nikki Giovanni as well. Another woman writer.