Dorothy Parker’s poems, stories, and reviews, wisecracking and wary, were the toast of New York in the 1920’s and early 1930’s. She presented a brittle, world-weary, cynically urban view of life appealing to pseudosophisticates—who, indeed, were the subjects of many of her writings. Her literary coterie, the verbally glib, self-promoting journalists of the Algonquin Round Table, were minor writers in relation to their major contemporaries, such as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and Eugene O’Neill, and later estimates see her work as flashy but not penetrating. Although many of her characters seem superficial, her women being “self-absorbed snobs, her men philanderers, scoundrels, or subservient husbands” (Arthur F. Kinney, Dorothy Parker, 1978), Parker’s stories have remained perennially popular. Critics have noted that the repeated themes of Parker’s poetry and prose are ever contemporary: anxieties, social hypocrisy, waning or unequal love between the sexes, failures of human sympathy and communication.
A few poems and various bons mots continue to be anthologized (“Men seldom make passes/ At girls who wear glasses”), though since the advent of World War II, Parker’s poetry, itself highly derivative, has had little or no influence on subsequent writers of verse, light or otherwise. Today, as the poetry of the contemporaries with whom she was most often compared, Elinor Wylie and Edna St. Vincent Millay is being treated with renewed critical respect, Parker’s reputation continues to languish. To call her, as Kinney does, “the most accomplished classical epigrammatist of her time” is praise of very limited scope. Some feminists perceive Parker as a kindred spirit in her concern for the chronic, debilitating, and also demeaning dependence of women upon their husbands or lovers.