#Dorothy Parker On Fiction

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American writer Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

American writer Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

In researching the 1950’s for my novel ‘Under the Bed’ , Dorothy Parker’s name came up as one of the Hollywood writers black-listed. It is also 45 years ago this week since her death.Dorothy Parker was renowned for her wit, being a keen critic, her poetry, short stories, plays and her left wing politics. When she died of a heart attack in 1967, her estate was left to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. foundation. Following King’s death, her estate was passed on to the NAACP. In 1988 the NAACP dedicated a memorial garden to her in Baltimore and erected a plaque. She’d suggested her tombstone should read ‘Excuse my dust’. They didn’t argue.

 

But first, let’s have some fun and see if you can complete three of Parker’s famous quotes.

 

No.1 is my favorite and was the name of the lunchtime theatre play in London where the wit of Dorothy Parker finally came into my life, a decade after her death.

 

Answers are at the bottom of this post!

  1. Men seldom make passes,

At girls…………………..

2.     Guns aren’t lawful;

Nooses give;

Gas smell awful;

You…………………….

3.     You can lead a whore to culture,

But ………………………

 

The following is taken from a Paris Review interview she gave in 1956, on the Art of Fiction.* If you’re not already familiar with them, the archives of Paris Review have some incredible interviews of literary figures  – thoroughly enjoyable and a fantastic writer’s resource.

On how she started writing:

“I fell into writing, I suppose, being one of those awful children who wrote verses. I went to a convent in New York—the Blessed Sacrament. Convents do the same things progressive schools do, only they don’t know it. They don’t teach you how to read; you have to find out for yourself. At my convent we did have a textbook, one that devoted a page and a half to Adelaide Ann Proctor; but we couldn’t read Dickens; he was vulgar, you know. … But as for helping me in the outside world, the convent taught me only that if you spit on a pencil eraser it will erase ink. And I remember the smell of oilcloth, the smell of nuns’ garb. I was fired from there, finally, for a lot of things, among them my insistence that the Immaculate Conception was spontaneous combustion.”

On whether her reputation as a wit interfered with her acceptance as a fiction writer:

“I don’t want to be classed as a humorist. It makes me feel guilty. I’ve never read a good tough quotable female humorist, and I never was one myself. I couldn’t do it. A “smartcracker” they called me, and that makes me sick and unhappy. There’s a hell of a distance between wisecracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words. I didn’t mind so much when they were good, but for a long time anything that was called a crack was attributed to me—and then they got the shaggy dogs.

On contemporary writers:

“…as for living novelists, I suppose E. M. Forster is the best, … at least he’s a semifinalist, wouldn’t you think? … He once wrote something I’ve always remembered: “It has never happened to me that I’ve had to choose between betraying a friend and betraying my country, but if it ever does so happen I hope I have the guts to betray my country.” Now doesn’t that make the Fifth Amendment look like a bum?

On her own writing practice:

“It takes me six months to do a story. I think it out and then write it sentence by sentence—no first draft. I can’t write five words but that I change seven.

On whether her political views made any difference to her professionally?

“Oh, certainly. Though I don’t think this “blacklist” business extends to the theater or certain of the magazines, in Hollywood it exists because several gentlemen felt it best to drop names like marbles which bounced back like rubber balls about people they’d seen in the company of what they charmingly called “commies.” You can’t go back thirty years to Sacco and Vanzetti. I won’t do it. Well, well, well, that’s the way it is. If all this means something to the good of the movies, I don’t know what it is. Sam Goldwyn said, “How’m I gonna do decent pictures when all my good writers are in jail?” Then he added, the infallible Goldwyn, “Don’t misunderstand me, they all ought to be hung.” Mr. Goldwyn didn’t know about “hanged.” That’s all there is to say. It’s not the tragedies that kill us, it’s the messes. I can’t stand messes. I’m not being a smartcracker. You know I’m not when you meet me—don’t you, honey?

 

If Dorothy Parker was alive today, what issues do you think she’d be writing about?

 

 

English: Portrait of Art Samuels, Charlie MacA...

English: Portrait of Art Samuels, Charlie MacArthur, Harpo Marx, Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

*From Dorothy Parker, The Art of fiction No 13,

Interviewed by Marion Campion

To read this interview in full, go to:

http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4933/the-art-of-fiction-no-13-dorothy-parker

 

Endings of Dorothy Parker quotes above:

1.At girls who wear glasses. 2. You might as well live. 3. But you can’t make her think.

 

 

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Related articles

 

Time and Place: 1950?s USA (akandrew.com)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Parker

http://onetrackmuse.com/2012/06/11/a-year-in-booksday-154-the-portable-dorothy-parker/#more-3123

http://www.npr.org/2012/06/07/154148811/how-dorothy-parker-came-to-rest-in-baltimore

http://www.dorothyparker.com/wordpress/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Oh, I only knew the answer to the first quote. In this era of contact lenses, perhaps it has outlived its utility. Dorothy would have come up with something else. She would have had lots to write about now, from cyber networking, to cell phones and text messages, to the flattening of this world, not to mention global warming. Come to think of it, we authors have a much wider array of subjects to talk about.
    Lubna recently posted..This Mobius Strip of IfsMy Profile

    • Thanks so much for your comment. Being a ‘specky’ one myself it’s stayed a favorite with me. Annoying as it is. Good points about what she’d write about – I can imagine her thrashing the overuse of cell phones & the general obsession we have now for connectivity. I’m not sure we have a broader range of subjects, but we focus on a broader world. The issues as individuals might be skirted over a little more. Good to see you here again.:-)

  2. Crap, I missed all the quotes and didn’t remember any of them ….Sigh.

    Dorothy certainly would not be in lack of subject matter in our current times. In fact, she might be in ah of the social media aspects of information and opinion flow. It would have been fascinating to see what she would write about and make of this brave new world of ours. It certainly would be entertaining; don’t you think? :-), Susan Cooper
    Susan Cooper recently posted..SeaGlass Riesling: WineMy Profile

    • Hi Susan – I think I may have got 2 if I hadn’t looked, so not far behind you. In going through her quotes it’s amazing how many were familiar. How wonderful to have seen what she would have written today – i can’t think of a contemporary who has her wit, although it was of a period. But I think it’s a style that could translate if it were the right person. Thanks so much for the comment.

  3. Oh no I only knew the answer to the last one! What on earth does that make me? lol
    She would be spoiled for choice on what to write on now if she was alive!
    But then there was a lot happening back then too, think about it. She went through the depression , prohibition and women’s right to vote, those would be pretty big topics to cover alone!

    • Hi Claire -nice to see you again. Oh, missing the quotes just makes you someone who’s not into minutiae that’s all! Who can possible remember all the quotes from forever? You make a good point about what was happening in her day. I think as a society we can get too focussed on thinking now is the time of the most change scientifically, sociologically and other ways too. For some issues that’s true, but certainly for her life span there was an awful lot of really big issues. The ones you mention are pretty vast. I enjoy looking at history from that perspective – what other generations dealt with and what we can try and glean from the way past generations dealt with both adversity and celebration. Thanks so much for your comment 🙂

  4. Have to admit that although I read some of her work at university I am unable to remember those quotes.

    Am however certain that she would be outraged about how Milton Friedman’s ideas are being implemented all over the world. She would team up with Joseph Stiglitz and write about robber capitalism.
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    • Hey Catarina – quotes aren’t everyone’s thing. Robber Capitalism is certainly a topic she would have written about. Globalization could work, but a lot of countries are being left behind, not to mention the poor in both the US & UK. I love the fact that in both your comments and your posts that you bring up issues that I know a little about , but you make me want to learn more. I immediately looked up the policies of Friedman & Stiglitz and agree which side of the fence she would have been on. Thank you for the comment.

  5. My mother used to say that quote about girls and glasses – I had no idea it was Dorothy Parker. A friend had a quote about Dorothy Parker struggling with writing – it sounds like she really did struggle (my friend was working on a proposal and hating the process).
    Leora recently posted..Search In WordPressMy Profile

    • I had a great poster for many years from the play of that name – muted tones of a back view of a woman’s legs in seamed stockings in high, but not too high, heels. One of the heels stood on the lens of a pair of black framed women’s glasses. Wish I’d kept it. I think she did struggle , especially in later years – she said her reputation as a wit was so bad people would laugh before she even opened her mouth. So I can imagine that being taken seriously as a writer for work that was not satirical was a constant challenge for her, even in her heyday. I think she also struggled with drinking before she died , which doubtless lost her a few friends too.
      Good to see you here again – thank you for the comment.

  6. Really enjoying reading your work!
    Thanks!

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  1. […] In researching the 1950’s for my novel ‘Under the Bed’ , Dorothy Parker’s name came up as one of the Hollywood writers black-listed. It is also 45 years ago this week since her death.Dorothy Parker was renowned for her wit… Read more… […]

  2. […] This high level of wit and insight is perhaps on a par with Dorothy Parker . […]