You know those little books, 'The Little Book of Insults', or, 'A Collection of Witticisms', or, 'The Century's Greatest Wits'? You would win money betting there'd be some Dorothy Parker in there. Her soft and vicious murmurs go down in history, whether she actually said them or not.
"If, with the literate, I amIronically, this is now accurate of her; any witticism, barbed comment or just plain bitchery is now, if the author is unknown, credited to Dorothy Parker. Like 'Beam me up, Scotty' and 'Play it again, Sam', a lot of print is taken up in insisting that Dorothy Parker never actually said x, y or z. It is a tribute to her wit and reputation that, as well as the (simply fabulous) things she did say, we attribute much more to her.
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never try to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it."
A Brief Biography
Dorothy Parker was born in 1893, in New Jersey. Her first regular writing job was for 'Vogue' in 1915, when she declared, "Brevity is the soul of lingerie". She was married twice: to Edwin Parker and to Alan Campbell. She was, at one point, pregnant by the latter, but miscarried in the third month. She was on McCarthy's blacklist of communist sympathisers in the 1940s; she was left wing, and generally supported striking workers. She published three poetry collections, 'Sunset Gun', 'Enough Rope' and 'Death and Taxes', between 1926 and 1931. During the 1930s, she published three books of short stories: 'Laments for the Living', 'After Such Pleasures' and 'Here Lies'; Brendan Gill credits her with inventing the genre of the New York short story. She also wrote a Broadway play, 'Ladies of the Corridor' and, before being blacklisted, several film scripts (with Alan Campbell). Despite being an alcoholic, and despite having several suicide attempts to her name, she managed to die of natural causes: a heart attack on 7th June, 1967. An excellent biography of her, 'You Might As Well Live: the Life and Times of Dorothy Parker', was written by John Keats (no, not that Keats).
Her short stories are amazing. They are generally dialogue-driven, sometimes consisting solely of dialogue or monologue. She is always absolutely spot-on with her characters (caricatures?) and words. Her hand never, ever slips. Her characters are instantly recognisable, and her dialogue is perfect. Her stories are sometimes funny, sometimes tragic and always truthful. I fear it would be too much of a copyright breach to link them below (and do you want me to get RSI from all this typing?), but I particularly recommend 'Big Blonde' (which seems a little autobiographical), 'The Custard Heart', 'You Were Perfectly Fine' and 'Arrangement in Black and White'.
Her poems, too, are stunning. My favourites are probably the four-line verses (which are also done well by Wendy Cope), but the longer poems are also great. Dorothy Parker's bitter wit generally comes through in the last line, or last couplet, leaving the reader grinning wryly. They scan perfectly without ever sounding contrived; after being forced to study Thomas Hardy for two years, who couldn't manage scansion if you held a gun to his head, this is a great relief. My favourites should be left to speak for themselves, and so here they are: