Saturday, September 22, 2007

Complete Stories

Of Dorothy Parker

I have been quite surprised to discover most of my avid reading friends are completely unfamiliar with Dorothy Parker. Sure, they've heard of her, but few can offer much in the way of anything about her or her writings. Somehow they had missed out on her wonderfully sarcastic wit, her scathing remarks and her tireless timeless humor. (For my tirade on why I think she has been somewhat ignored see * below, otherwise read on) Parker was a master of word play. Once, when dining with friends, she was challenged to make a pun out of the work "horticulture", without missing a beat she replied, "You can lead a 'whore to culture' but you can't make her think." Parker stories are scathing and are peppered with characters you'll recognize as people you've come into contact in your own life. She mocks the small of mind, the racist, the vapid and the self-absorbed. I stretched out her short stories reading a few here and there. I thoroughly enjoyed the bite of her wit and while I didn't laugh out loud, I definitely smirked almost constantly.

*Now for my tirade. When reading about Dorothy Parker's life, it seemed oddly reminiscent of Helen Keller's. Keller was big fighter for women's suffrage, worker's rights and the rights of the poor. She was also a radical Socialist. The same people who praised her for surmounting being deaf, mute and blind later claimed she was at the mercy of her disabilities. She was no longer an amazing intelligent little girl they could write perky little pieces about, she had explored her world and had definite opinions about it. Keller continued her powerful writing and fighting for women's right to vote, but she now held opinions the conservative majority did not. Enter modern day, all that seems left of Keller's legacy is a sappy play mostly performed by high schools and a handful of nasty little Helen Keller jokes. So, I come to Dorothy Parker, another outspoken female. In addition to being a critic, a writer and a humorist, Parker was an outspoken civil libertarian, civil rights advocate and she helped found the Anti-Nazi League in Hollywood. That's quite impressive, especially for a woman during the 1930's. Upon her death in 1967, she bequeathed her estate to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Foundation. For brevity, I'm only mentioning a few bits of this amazing woman's life. To sum up, amazing women with strong opinions tend to slip out of our country's historical social consciousness. To quote Parker, "What fresh hell is this?"