Dorothy Parker Parker, Dorothy (Poetry Criticism)

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Dorothy Parker 1893–-1967

American poet, essayist, and short story writer.

As a poet, Parker is best known for three slender volumes of verse, Enough Rope (1926), Sunset Gun (1928), and Death and Taxes (1931). She also achieved widespread acclaim for her short stories and frequently quoted witticisms. Though she penned prose and poetry throughout her life, Parker's literary reputation rests mostly on poetry and short stories she authored prior to 1938. Mostly traditional in form, Parker's verse packs caustic sarcasm into sonnets, lyrics, ballads, Horatian odes, epigrams, and epitaphs. In her poetry, Parker most often addresses women's issues, soured love relationships, and vacuous, superficial lives of upper-crust society women who lived during the 1920s. In her characteristic burlesque style, Parker lampoons cloying women who depend too much on men for emotional and economic well-being, as well as the types of men who twist these female traits to their advantage. Following its publication in 1926, Parker's first collection of poetry, Enough Rope, rose to best-seller status. Nevertheless, Parker was self-deprecating when assessing her own poetry, once referring to it in an interview with the Paris Review as light verse that was “no damn good.” In recent years, contemporary themes throughout Parker's poetry have received renewed critical acclaim. Today's readers continue to find deeper meanings in Parker's work than many of her contemporaries were able to appreciate—particularly in the poems and short stories that center on women's issues.

Biographical Information

Parker was born in West End, New Jersey, in 1893 to Jewish clothier J. Henry Rothschild and Eliza Marston Rothschild. Her mother died shortly after her daughter's premature birth. Following her mother's death, Parker was raised by her father and stepmother, who Parker described as a “religious fanatic.” Parker grew up ashamed of her mixed ethnic and religious background, aspiring to write an autobiographical tale entitled “Mongrel,” which she never penned. Parker detested her stepmother for sending her to a convent school in New York City, an action taken to save Parker's soul from her “Jewish upbringing.” While at the convent, Parker began writing poetry, but her education among the nuns was short-lived. Already showing signs of a rebellious streak, Parker described the Immaculate Conception as “spontaneous combustion” and was expelled. Parker's father and stepmother sent the young writer to an exclusive finishing school in Morristown, New Jersey, where she graduated following a year of study in 1911. During her time at the finishing school Parker began developing as a writer. Parker's persistence paid off in 1915 when one of her poems captured the attention of a Vogue editor, who hired her to write captions for the magazine's fashion illustrations. Two years later, an editor hired her onto Vanity Fair as a drama critic. Parker's acerbic wit again invoked trouble, and she was fired from this post after writing a blistering review of a play starring the wife of one of the magazine's financial backers. Parker continued writing as a literary critic for the New Yorker 's book review column under the pseudonym, “Constant Reader.” During the 1920s, Parker became well-known in New York literary and theatrical circles as a member of the Algonquin Round Table. The round table, which included other prominent writers such as Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman, and Franklin Pierce Adams, became famous when newspaper columnists reported the activities and discussions at the famed Algonquin Hotel debates. Many of Parker's derisive Round Table remarks, such as “Men seldom make passes / At girls who wear glasses” were often quoted and achieved catchphrase status. In 1917, Parker married Wall Street broker Edwin Pond Parker II. While her husband was away for two years' military service, Parker's whirlwind social life led her to speakeasies and parties in uptown apartments...

(The entire section is 10,789 words.)