The Portable Dorothy Parker

by Dorothy Parker

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 681

Arthur F. Kinney, in his superb analysis of Parker’s works, points out the author’s familiarity with Horace’s Satires. Kinney believes that through her studies of Horace, Parker learned about “compression” in verse and the point of view of studying human follies. Like Horace, Parker was writing for an inner circle, and her puns, use of irony, and twists and turns, so similar to the great classic writer’s technique, confirm Kinney’s theory as essential in understanding Parker’s creative process. The poems are carefully carved, however flip and casual they may seem. Her stories are anything but lighthearted, and it is in her short stories that Parker is at her finest.

She admitted that it could take her six months to write a story. She worshipped Hemingway and tried, as he did, to bring an economy of words into these stories. Because she was known for her verbiage, this seems inconsistent with her persona, but Parker viewed her stories as her serious efforts and put her ego aside in order to reveal even her own hypocrisies.

Although she kept up a pretense that she was blissfully married to the young soldier Ed Parker, Dorothy in fact found that their brief times together were awkward and was happier when he was away. He, too, could be found avoiding their apartment on a drinking binge during the furlough time he had to visit his wife. Dorothy, an emotionally demanding woman, was often too intense for Ed, who wanted to maintain superficial conversations and drink liquor.

“The Lovely Leave” recounts the story of a couple in just such a situation. Both characters emerge as simultaneously sympathetic and irritating. Parker focuses on each character’s expectations. The woman, Mimi, has carefully planned a special romantic weekend that goes sour because she is not aware that her husband’s leave will be for only a few hours. She has purchased lingerie and flowers. He arrives and wants to take a bottle of scotch into the bathroom and take a hot bath—simple luxuries for one living in army camps. Intimacy is revealed with such verisimilitude of dialogue that the reader feels voyeuristic in the middle of this scene. Endearments and insults reveal the couple’s frustration with each other and their untenable predicament of having only moments together every now and then. Instead of focusing on romance, the soldier asks for brass polish so that he can shine his belt buckle. Mimi is devastated that her plans are dashed. Parker’s modern woman, who has set the stage for seduction, has failed. This story is about the risks one takes when falling in love. All through the story, Mimi reminds herself not to become too emotional, because he doesn’t like it. The repetition of this self-censorship causes the reader to realize that these are two very different people who, in fact, are strangers. This is a sad love affair. These people, who seem to communicate effortlessly, repeat and repeat and repeat behavioral patterns that cause each other pain.

Parker delineated many of her unhappy experiences with men in her stories. Although she seemed very unlike the uneducated protagonist in “Big Blonde,” she was, in fact, a kindred spirit. She herself became an alcoholic. The young secretary in “Mr. Durant” may seem unlike the urbane and fashionable Dorothy Parker, but her experience as a young woman who becomes pregnant by a man who will never marry her was the same one that Parker experienced when she, too, decided to have an abortion. The techniques of colloquial dialogue, repetition, and attention to tiny details are used in these two stories to cover the same themes Parker chose to explore in “The Lovely Leave.” The search for love, the impossibility of, yet the constant hope for, love is made all the more impossible and painful by the inability of two people to communicate. They speak intimately to each other yet cannot convey their innermost feelings. Like Parker and her group, her characters often hide behind quips, drugs, and alcohol to conceal their true natures.

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