Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Dorothy Parker Question

by Ellen Meister

When I wrote Farewell, Dorothy Parker, people often asked me why I was inspired to bring the famous wit back to life as a character in a novel. And now that I have a second Dorothy Parker novel coming out, I'm sure I'll be asked again.

I have lots of answers for that question: She was one of the most audacious and outspoken wits of the 20th century. With just a few words, she could cut so close to the bone of heartache with so much humor that her poems are as relevant today as they were almost a hundred years ago. Her reviews are still as fresh and as clever as anything ever written, even if you never heard of the play or book she was critiquing. She never gave a damn about political correctness. And she has a lot to teach us about finding the humor in pain.

But the best person to answer the question is Dorothy Parker herself. I think a few of her poems and quotes will do the trick ...

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Roumania.

Two-Volume Novel
The sun's gone dim, and
The moon's turned black;
For I loved him, and
He didn't love back.

Indian Summer
In youth, it was a way I had
To do my best to please,
And change, with every passing lad,
To suit his theories.
 But now I know the things I know,
And do the things I do;
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you!

• Regarding an educated female acquaintance with a liberal attitude toward sex, Dorothy Parker said: “That woman speaks eighteen languages, and can't say 'No' in any of them.”

• Along similar lines, she said, “If all the girls attending the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be at all surprised.”

• When Parker found herself pregnant from a cad who wanted nothing more to do with her, she terminated the pregnancy and remarked, "It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard."

• When asked to use the word "horticulture" in a sentence, she said, “You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think.”

• When an editor interrupted her honeymoon to ask why she had missed a deadline, Parker said to her husband, “Tell him I was too fucking busy-- or vice versa.”

• Regarding her love life in general she said: “Take me or leave me; or, as is the usual order of things, both.”

• As a young staff writer for Vogue, she was charged with providing a caption for a skimpy negligee and offered Brevity is the soul of lingerie.

• On being asked the most beautiful words in the English language, she said, "My favorites are 'cheque' and 'enclosed.'"

• When shopping for a Manhattan apartment, Parker remarked, “All I need is room enough to lay a hat and a few friends.”

• Regarding an early stage performance by a young Katharine Hepburn, Dorothy Parker said, “She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.”

• She also observed, “You can't teach an old dogma new tricks.”

• Regarding her profession she said, “I hate writing, I love having written.”

• And also: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

After reading this, I hope you'll agree that the question isn't why I chose to resurrect Dorothy Parker as a character in my novels, but what took me so long?

Ellen Meister has written five novels--including Farewell, Dorothy Parker (Putnam 2013) and The Other Life (Putnam 2011)—as well as numerous short stories and essays. She teaches creative writing at Hofstra University Continuing Education, and does public speaking about her books and other writing-related issues. Ellen's next book, Dorothy Parker Drank Here, will be published in February. More more information, visit her website at To follow Dorothy Parker on Facebook, click here.


  1. Fabulous post, Ellen, Your novels are a delight to those who remember the great Dorothy Parker and to a new legion of fans who are meeting her through your great stories. I'm sure she's smiling from the heavens!

    1. Thanks so much, Saralee! It's pleasure speaking for Dorothy Parker ... and letting her speak for herself! xx

  2. I knew nothing about Dorothy Parker, but now I want to change that. Fabulous!

  3. Love this! Off to tweet.

  4. I know only a little about DP but now I'm definitely intrigued to learn more, through her words and yours, thank you!

    1. So delighted to introduce you to Dorothy Parker, Dana!

  5. I love Dorothy Parker - off to buy the book! BTW - my favorite DP quote is:
    I'll have a martini...
    Two at the most...
    Three, I'm under the table...
    Four, I'm under the host.