Negative Statements in Book and Play Reviews by Dorothy Parker

By Richard H. Williams

I recently re-read the published works of Dorothy Parker. I was once again impressed with her short stories and poems, but found her reviews most entertaining. The negative comments in the book and play reviews struck me as being hilarious, but perhaps this makes me appear to be a sadist.

The book reviews originally appeared in a section of The New Yorker called "Constant Reader," and the play reviews were published in Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. All of them, as well as her short stories and poems, are collected in The Portable Dorothy Parker (Revised and Enlarged Edition). Penguin Books: New York, 1976. In the following list of 23 direct quotations only the last four are from play reviews. The page numbers in the above mentioned volume are given.

1. In the last sentence of a review of A. A. Milne's The House At Pooh Corner she said, "And it is that word 'hummy,' my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader Fwowed up." (page 518)

2. In reviewing Dawn, by Theodore Dreiser, she remarked that "When one is confronted by Theodore Dreiser's latest museum piece, it is necessary to ask 'What writes worse than a Theodore Dreiser?' Loudly crow the answer, 'Two Theodore Dreisers.'"(page 540)

3. Reviewing Ford Madox Ford's The Last Post, Dorothy Parker said, "There are grave hardships for the reader in the long interior monologues which make up much of the book. It is a novel to be read with furrows in the brow. You must constantly turn back pages to ascertain inside which character's head the author is writing." (page 489)

4. Review of Dodsworth by Sinclair Lewis: "Aldous Huxley once said that industry can never substitute for talent. .Anyway, the industry of Mr. Lewis is not short of marvelous. When properly hitched up, say, it might supply heat, light, and power to the entire Middle West. .To my own admittedly slanted vision, industry ranks with such sour and spinster virtues as thrift, punctuality, level-headedness, and caution." (pages 522-523)

5. Mrs. Parker didn't care for Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation. "Doubtless my absence of excitement over Mr. Kerouac's characters [in The Subterraneans] is due to a gaping lack in me for, and I regret the fact, I do not dig bop..I think, as perhaps you have discerned, that if Mr. Kerouac and his followers did not think of themselves as so glorious, as intellectual as hell and very Christlike, I should not be in such a bad humor." (pages 558-559)

6. In reviewing the rather small book, Happiness, authored by William Lyon Phelp, Dorothy Parker said, "Anyway there is this to be said for a volume such as Professor Phelps's Happiness. It is second only to a rubber duck as the ideal bathtub companion. It may be held in the hand without causing muscular fatigue , it may be neatly balanced back of the faucets, and it may be read through before the water has cooled. And if it slips down the drain pipe, all right, it slips down the drain pipe." (page 462)

7. "On this day there first fell into these trembling hands The Book, The Ultimate Book. There is grave doubt that I shall ever be able to talk of anything else. Certainly I have read my last word. Print can hold for me nothing new but anticlimaxes. It, the chef d'ouevre of Madame Elinor Glyn, has come into my life. And Sherman's coming into Atlanta is but a sneaking, tiptoe performance in comparison." (page 464)

8. Parker's comments on O'Brien's The Best Short Stories of 1927 are: "I don't see how Mr. Edward O'Brien stands the strain. Season after season, as inescapable as Christmas, he turns out his collection of what he considers to be the best short stories of their year. To do this, and he does it conscientiously, he must read and rate every short story in every American magazine of fiction. Me, I should liefer adopt the career of a blood donor."(page 474) She goes on to praise Hemingway's "The Killers" and Anderson's "Another Wife." She then says, "But in the other stories I can find only disappointment." (page 475)

9. "Emily Post's Etiquette is out again, this time in an enlarged edition, and so the question of what to do with my evenings has been all fixed up for me. There will be an empty chair at the deal table at Tony's, when the youngsters gather to discuss life, sex, literature, the drama, what is a gentleman, and whether or not to go on to Helen Morgan's Club when the place closes; for I shall be at home among my book. I am going in for a course of study at the knee of Mrs. Post." (pages 475-476)

10. "Well, Aimee Semple McPherson has written a book, and were you to call it a little peach, you would not be so much as scratching its surface. It is the story of her life, and it is called In the Service of the King, which title is perhaps a bit dangerously suggestive of a romantic novel. It may be that this autobiography is set down in sincerity, frankness, and simple effort. It may be too that the Statue of Liberty is situated in Lake Ontario. I have never heard Mrs. McPherson preach---a record which, Heaven helping me, I pur- pose keeping untarnished---but from her literary style, I get the idea." (page 497)

11. "There has been but one sweet, misty interlude in my long stretch of white nights. That was the evening I fell into a dead dreamless slumber brought on by the reading of a book called Appendicitis [which] is the work of Thew Wright..The view of the Peritoneum induces waking dreams, but not slumber. In his preface Dr. Wright observes that 'The chapter on anatomy, while it may appear formidable, will, it is believed, well repay the reader for his effort in reading it.' Ever anxious to be well repaid, I turned to the chapter. It did appear formidable; as formidable as all get-out." (pages 504-505)

12. "Upton Sinclair cannot keep himself out of his writings..His Money Writes is far less the collected accusations against American authors that, according to rumor, he in- tended it to be, than it is a running record of personal woes." (page 468)

13. "I think Mr. [Sinclair] Lewis's latest work, [The Man Who Knew Coolidge] is as heavy-handed, clumsy, and dishonest a burlesque as it has been my misfortune to see in years." (page 509)

14. "The Cardinal's Mistress was written when [Signor Benito] Mussolini was a cunning little shaver of twenty-six, at which time he was secretary to the Socialist Chamber of Labor..There will be little kidding out of me on the subject of the Mussolini master- piece, for I am absolutely unable to read my way through it..I couldn't make head, tail, nor good red herring out of the business." (pages 514-515)

15. "So I got a book [by Frank Nicholson] called Favorite Jokes of Famous People.. [Out of this book] comes one ray of light, one breath of strange, new fragrance, one cool and silver star. That is the selection given by Mr. Ring Lardner." (pages 520-521)

16. "I acquired a book [by Mrs. Doris Moore] called The Technique of the Love Affair..I have thought, in times past, that I had been depressed.. But until I read that book, depression, as I knew it, was still in its infancy..Despite its abominable style,.[this book] makes, I am bitterly afraid, considerable sense." (page 522)

17. "Mr. Lou Tellegen has recently seen fit to write his memoirs; and, though it is at least debatable that it would have been more public-spirited of him to have sent the results to the zoo, he has caused them to be bound within costly blue covers and has entitled them Women Have Been Kind." (page 531)

18. "[Mr. Tiffany Thayer, who has recently authored An American Girl] is beyond question a writer of power; and his power lies in his ability to make sex so thoroughly, graphically, and aggressively unattractive that one is fairly shaken to ponder how little one has been missing." (page 549)

19. "[It is, alas, the mention] of dullness which brings up the matter of Mabel Dodge Luhan's Background, the entering volume of a proposed series that will comprise her Intimate Memories..It may be in her forthcoming volumes, when she gets into her stride of marrying people, things will liven up a bit. But Background is to me as dull, and with that same stuffy, oppressive, plush-thick dullness, as an album of old snapshots of some- body else's family group." (pages 549-550)

[The following four are reviews of plays by Dorothy Parker.]

20. "I cannot feel that the dizzy whirl of modern life had anything to do with my intense suffering during the performance [of Edward Knoblock's play] Tiger! Tiger!. I hold the play itself directly responsible..The whole play was absolutely unconvincing to me." (page 422)

21. "I regret to say that during the first act of [George Bernard Shaw's Getting Married I] fell so soundly asleep that the gentleman who brought me piled up a barricade of over- coat, hat, stick, and gloves between us to establish a separation in the eyes of the world." (page 448)

22. "[William Doyle's Lady Beyond the Moon] was a dull, silly, dirty play." (page 449)

23. "[Roy Davidson's Right of Happiness] was a crude, bad, strangely furious play." (page 450)

[The End]

Copyright 2006 Richard H. Williams

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