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Cantina Quote o’ the Week: Dorothy Parker

 Every year, back comes Spring, with nasty little birds yapping their fool heads off and the ground all mucked up with plants.

-Dorothy Parker

I like spring, I do, but you have to admit this is an excellent description of spring. Birdsong is lovely – except outside your window when you’re trying to sleep. Plants are beautiful and new life bursting out all over is gorgeous – except it covers up the delicious geology. Yes, this quote works for geology. It really does.

Dorothy Parker was a fascinating person. I’ve heard of her vaguely for years – people are in awe of her wit (which was sharp as flaked obsidian, just as beautiful and cruel). She’s this great writer etc. But I’ve not read her, a sad state of affairs I’ll have to remedy soon.

There was evidence Dorothy was going to be a person to watch out for even in her early years, when she was a half-Jewish girl with a Protestant stepmother attending a Catholic school. She said she was kicked out because she persisted in her assertation that the Immaculate Conception was actually spontaneous combustion. She went on to a stellar career in writing. She wrote for Vanity Fair until her obsidian wit cut powerful people too deeply; she worked as an editorial assistant for Vogue; she wrote for The New Yorker from its beginning in 1925. She published poetry, wrote plays and screenplays, achieved success in Hollywood until her politics got her blacklisted. She fought for civil liberties and civil rights for unpopular people; founded the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, worked for left-wing relief organizations, wrote for New Masses magazine (which was probably partly responsible for her getting branded a Communist and ending up with a thick FBI file). She struggled with depression and suicidal tendencies, bad relationships and injustices, kept writing through it all. And even in death, she helped her causes, leaving her estate to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. foundation, and through this to the NAACP.

And she left us glittering words, sharp and shining, that haven’t dulled a bit with time.

Comments

  1. Stacy says

    Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
    Love, the reeling midnight through,
    For tomorrow we shall die!
    (But, alas, we never do.)

    –The Flaw in Paganism (1931)

  2. Ulysses says

    A couple of Dorothy Parker quotes:

    I don’t care what is written about me so long as it isn’t true.

    I’m never going to accomplish anything; that’s perfectly clear to me. I’m never going to be famous. My name will never be writ large on the roster of Those Who Do Things. I don’t do anything. Not one single thing. I used to bite my nails, but I don’t even do that any more.

    And what is possibly Parker’s most famous poem “Enough Rope”:

    Razors pain you,
    Rivers are damp,
    Acids stain you,
    And drugs cause cramp.
    Guns aren’t lawful,
    Nooses give,
    Gas smells awful.
    You might as well live.

  3. says

    She is, indeed, quite quotable: it is surprising how many aphorisms are sourced to her:

    “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”
    “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”
    “Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common.”
    “Brevity is the soul of lingerie.”
    “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”
    “Women and elephants never forget.”
    “She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.”
    “Living well is the best revenge.”
    “Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.”

  4. coragyps says

    Read her New Yorker review of Winnie the Pooh. I’m a WtP fan, but brilliance is, after all, brilliance.

  5. stever says

    Also attributed to Dorothy, in a book review:

    “This is not a book to be lightly tossed aside. It should be thrown, with great force!”

    I don’t know which book that referred to, but I’ve seen several like it.

    • lockwooddewitt says

      That quote refers to “Atlas Shrugged,” and was the one I was going to post. She was definitely a person I would have enjoyed.

      • bad Jim says

        There’s a worse remark, from an era in which toilet paper, instead of a commodity, was whatever came to hand. “Sir: I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. I have your review before me. Soon it will be behind me.”

  6. bad Jim says

    I like to have a martini,
    Two at the very most.
    After three I’m under the table,
    after four I’m under my host.

    and in the same vein:

    Ducking for apples — change one letter and it’s the story of my life.

    She used to write short reviews for the New Yorker under the byline “Constant Reader”, most famously concerning “Winnie the Pooh”:

    Tonstant Weader fwowed up

    There’s a watchable movie about her, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh.

  7. rq says

    This is slightly off-topic, but here’s a short profile of a Mexican nun from the 1600s who might be suitable for your non-male, non-white (and possibly non-straight!) list.
    Dorothy Parker has my approval, not that she needs it at all!! :)

  8. Acolyte of Sagan says

    The one quote that always springs to mind whenever I hear of Dorothy Parker is one I heard all too many moons ago when I was about 10; I didn’t understand it then, and it took a fair few years of puzzling (I’m like that, I can never leave a puzzle unsolved) to finally get the punchline, which is why it’s always the first to leap to mind;
    “If all the girls at Harvard were laid end-to-end, I shouldn’t be surprised”.