Dorothy Parker was born as Dorothy Rothchild on August 22, 1893, to Jacob Henry Rothschild and Annie Eliza Maston, the fourth child in the family. After her mother died, she was raised by her father and a stepmother. Her father, brother and stepmother died while she was still in her teens. Her uncle, Martin Rothschild and his wife Lizzie were aboard the Titanic in 1912 and he did not survive which is said to have speed up her father's death. To support herself, Dorothy began giving piano lessons. She had been given an excellent education for her time and began writing poetry early in life. Dorothy Parker Rothschild represented one of the most accomplished feminist and successful literary writers in women's history. Existing from 1893-1967, she became known as one of the most brilliant writers from the early 1900s. Brilliant, unrelenting, and fiercely clever, Dorothy Rothschild Parker came to signify the urbane and irreverent sensibility of New York City in the 1920s. As an adult, Parker rarely spoke of her family and Upper West Side upbringing, although she often hinted that her past had been tragic.
As a young girl, she attended, and despised, a Catholic school in Manhattan, later transferring to Miss Dana's, a boarding school. Henry Rothschild told the school authorities that his daughter was Episcopalian, but her dark Jewishness marked her as an outsider. She would always maintain this image of herself, and in the face of early alienation and many disappointments, she developed a biting and irreverent sense of humour. Late in life, she described herself as "one of those awful children who wrote verses," but despite her writer inclinations, she left school abruptly at age fourteen, never to return, to take care of her ill father, who was once again a widower. When he died in 1913, the twenty-year-old Dorothy made a living by playing piano at a Manhattan dance school.
'Dorothy Parker was known for her drinking and suicidal tendencies while being one of the most accomplished female writers of poetry, prose and screenplays of her time'.
Dorothy was very young when she had her first experience with death. Her mother fell ill when Dorothy was five, and died a month into their annual vacation to the Jersey Shore. Dorothy Parker, who once called herself "a little Jewish girl trying to be cute," is perhaps best remembered for remarking that "men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses"or for reacting to the news that Coolidge had died with, "How they can tell?" Then too, Parker's most famous poem, "Résumé" is often quoted to attest to her matter-of-fact view of life and death.
This little eight-line poem, rhyming 'ababcdcd', is one of Parker's most famous, based on her first experience in attempting suicide when she cut her wrists in 1923. The last line ("You might as well live") is exactly what her friend Benchley said to her at the time. It serves as the punch line or the reversal "point" of the classical epigram, with a switch to a resigned or unconcerned tone of voice which contrasts with the methodical catalogue of suicide methods. Addressing a "you" which may be herself or the reader, the speaker casually lists various methods she has tried in committing suicide. After an affair with a married reporter led to an unwanted pregnancy and an abortion, she began to drink heavily, became increasingly sarcastic and tried to kill herself twice.
John Keats once described Dorothy's childhood by saying, "It was quite a childhood: a terrifying father hammering her wrists; a rather lunatic stepmother hammering her mind; a sister and a brother too remote in age for any communion; the servant put out of reach by social convention She hated being a Jew and began to think her mother had deserted her by dying. She began to hate herself". This statement sums up Dorothy's own version of her childhood. In her own reality, Parker preferred to depict herself as a deprived child, an innocent victim of a heartless father, a wicked stepmother, and a dysfunctional family. This imbalanced reality is portrayed in her short story "The Wonderful Old Gentleman." Parker's short stories became autobiographical sketches in which the reader got a quick look into what it was like to be Dorothy. As she matured as a writer and became increasingly dissatisfied with her life, Parker often would use people she knew as characters for her stories. The short story "The Wonderful Old Gentleman" was written in 1926 and seemed to owe much of its tone to Parker's perception of her childhood by addressing the death of the patriarchal character, the child that lives under the tyrannical rule of the parent, and the self-righteous sibling. The main character in "Mr. Durant" is as emotionally crippled, and as prejudiced and unconcerned about the feelings of the women in his life as Dorothy felt Charles MacArthur was after her affair with him ended due to abandonment and lack of concern for Dorothy's state of mind following a terminated pregnancy.
The Wonderful Old Gentleman," the long-suffering Griselda figure, Allie Bain, is contrasted with the domineering bitch, Hattie Wittaker. These sisters share a vigil at the deathbed of their father, the "wonderful old gentleman."The reader soon discovers from the sisters' dialogue that Hattie is a self-assured schemer, quite conscious of appearances: "Mrs. Whittaker always stopped things before they got to the stage where they didn't look right." She has arranged for their father to live with the poorer Bains rather than with her husband and herself, and she has persuaded her father to leave her his entire estate. Hattie Whittaker, the stereotypical bitch, dominates everything and everyone around her. Allie Bain, by contrast, is timid and submissive. Her life has not been happy, but she never complains. In fact, she seems to revel in her sorrows. Her father and sister use her because she allows herself to be used. Although Allie's situation is wretched, the reader cannot completely pity her, because she is such a Griselda figure. Nor can the reader completely hate the cold and proud Hattie, whose life consists of manipulating others. Despite her bad qualities, Hattie remains a forceful, assertive woman who knows exactly what she wants and exactly how to get it. Both characters evoke mixed reactions from the reader, which indicates that Parker does not merely intend these figures to be ridiculed but that her criticism goes beyond mocking specific satiric types.
By send up the Griselda and the Bitch, Parker criticizes the American society which has produced these stereotypes and forced women into them. "The Wonderful Old Gentleman" is a serious reflection of American society, not an amusing portrayal of a sado-masochistic relationship between sisters.
'Her professional pursuits were matched by her quest for two things: love and a new last name. Both came by way of Edmund Pond Parker II'.
Dorothy was delighted and fell in love with Edmund Pond Parker II over a short period of time. World War I sped up their courtship, and they were married shortly before he was shipped overseas. Dorothy Parker married Edmund Pond Parker in 1917. He was soon stationed overseas during WWI and returned home with a drinking problem. Dorothy enjoyed her single life during his absence and after frequent separation, they were divorced in 1928. In 1934, at age 40, Dorothy married Alan Campbell who was twenty-nine-years-old. After moving to Hollywood they became a successful screenwriting team. She divorced him in 1947 and later remarried. Alan Campbell died in 1963. Dorothy was known to have had an affair with the playwright Charles McArthur, who was also having multiple affairs with other women.
So, the poem 'A Certain lady' is well suited for her marriage life. The speaker in this poem is a lady who reflects on how she interacts with a man she loves. She puts on a gay pretence to make the man feel that she loves and eats up every word he says. She acts physically flirtatious (lines 4, 22), uses her body language to please and entice him with looks and smiles (1-3, 6, 13), and she laughs and "marvels rapturous eyed "as he "rehearses his lists of love" and tells "tales of fresh adventuring". The problem is, the whole time he's telling her about his exploits and his experiences with women, which is causing her great pain (8, 11, 23), but she knows her part so well (meaning she's acting, playing a role) that he believes that she is delighted by his stories and continues, oblivious to her pain.
Throughout her life, Dorothy displays the boldness and sarcasm to deal with and hide from her own emotional weaknesses. Broken love affairs that led to a string of suicide attempts, failed marriages, a traumatic abortion, depression and drinking, were evidence to the terrible despair of her private hell a place of insecurity, loneliness and fragility. Only when she was at the end of a relationship did she produce her best writing. She published books of verse, Enough Rope and Sunset Gun, at particularly difficult emotional and financial times in her life. Her short stories were often a reflection of the moments she lived and she had no qualms writing them in. Parker undercut her own ascension to muse or loved object through her irony, which became the trait most synonymous with the Dorothy Parker name.
In "One Perfect Rose," Parker mimics the frilly language of romantic greeting card verse, rambling about a rose from a suitor. But Parker adds an unexpected twist in the last stanza:
"Why is it no one ever sent me yet / One perfect limousine, do you suppose / Ah no, it's always just my luck to get / One perfect rose."
In "Unfortunate Coincidence," vows exchanged between two lovers are cynically dismissed:
"By the time you swear you're his, / Shivering and sighing, / And he vows his passion is / Infinite, undying- / Lady, make a note of this: / One of you is lying."
Parker's second volume of poetry, Sunset Gun, which was published in 1928, also brings together widespread appeal. In Sunset Gun, Parker continued to expand on the themes of lost love and hollow promises.
The story, "Big Blonde" contains allegories of Parker's "failed relationships with men, her drinking problems, and her loneliness and suicide attempts.
'Dorothy Parker was known for her simple ditties'.
However there are deeper degree and slight ironies expressed in fewer words than this critique. But despite her growing fame and the endless parties where she always took centre stage, Parker was miserable. Lurking behind her quest for fun was a growing sense of desperation, as her short poem "The Flaw in Paganism" indicates.
The poem is about a pleasure-seeking enjoyment of life! Being a free spirit, which Mrs. Parker was. The Flaw in Paganism is that death never comes. Dorothy liked to write about suicide, perhaps she was drawn to the self-indulgence of Paganism, yet torn by the fact that Paganism would conflict with one of her escapes, suicidal ideation. In the poem, "The Flaw in Paganism," Parker encourages readers to practice hedonistic behaviour.
"Drink and dance and laugh and lie, / Love, the reeling midnight through, / For tomorrow we shall die!"
Parker then adds sarcastically: "(But, alas, we never do.)"-an ironic remark perhaps referring to her own suicide attempts.
'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'.
In keeping with her purpose as satirist, Parker's poems and short stories criticize the status quo rather than define new, three-dimensional female roles. As a result, her women characters generally evoke mixed reactions from the reader: they seem pitiable, yet they grate on the reader's nerves. They appear to be victimized not only by an oppressive society but also by their inability to fight back against that society. It would be easy to conclude that Dorothy Parker is hostile toward the "simpering spinsters" or "rich bitches" she portrays in her poems and stories, but to do so would fail to take into account her satiric purpose and technique.
In "Men," Parker uses line such as "safe and sound" and clever rhymes such as "curse on/person" to establish a cheerful tone which she then destroys in the poem's final line. Despite the poem's generally light-hearted tone, its message is quite serious. Men put women in an impossible situation, first encouraging them to exhibit certain types of "appropriately feminine" behaviour and then punishing them for that behaviour by insisting they change.
Parker died of a heart attack at the age of 73 in 1967. Her memorial ceremony was held at the Frank E. Campbell funeral home, on the corner of East 81st Street and Madison Avenue, just seven blocks from the Volney. Campbell's is the funeral home to the famous and infamous, others who have passed through the doors there are Judy Garland, Lou Gehrig and John Kennedy Jr. and his wife. Her will was plain and simple. With no heirs, she left her literary estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She'd never met the civil rights activist, but always felt strongly for social justice. She named the acerbic author Lillian Hellman as her executor. Within a year of her death, Dr. King was assassinated, and the Parker estate rolled over to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. To this day, the NAACP benefits from the royalty of all Parker publications and productions.
She was cremated, and this is where the story takes a sharp right turn. Parker was cremated June 9, 1967, at Ferncliff Crematory in Hartsdale, New York. Hellman, who made all the funeral arrangements, never told the crematory what to do with the ashes. So they sat on a shelf in Hartsdale. Six years later, on July 16, 1973, the ashes were mailed to Mrs. Parker's lawyer's offices, O'Dwyer and Bernstein, 99 Wall Street. Paul O'Dwyer, her attorney, didn't know what to do with the box of ashes. It sat on a shelf, on a desk, and for 15 years, in a filing cabinet.