I Discover Dorothy Parker

By Bernie Bell 

It’s always good to discover a good writer, someone that you haven’t read before – it doesn’t happen often, but it’s good when it does!

I didn’t know much about Dorothy Parker. I’d come across her poem …


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.

And thought it was a corker – just so – the ways of ‘exiting’ are so uncomfortable – “might as well live”.

I had an impression of her as a brittle wit – sharp as a box o’ knives. Maybe a bit too sharp, not sure if I’d want to make her acquaintance.

Then, Mike brought home a copy of ‘The Penguin Dorothy Parker’, from a charity shop.

Dorothy Parker credit Bell

This was in the good old days, when he was out and about, and going to charity shops, before we became ‘confined to quarters’.

The book stayed in my ‘to be read’ heap for a while – other things to read, other things to do, other naps to be taken.

Eventually, I started to read the first section – her short stories – and it was a revelation.  She writes very well, very well indeed. She has a deep understanding of people and their ways. She writes of how, when someone is hurt, they will sometimes hurt others.  Not meaning to, not wanting to, but lashing out – sharp and hurtful.

The first story  ‘The Lovely Leave’ is a perfect example of this.   A young soldier is due to have 24 hours leave.  His wife makes elaborate preparations. She wants it all to be ‘lovely’ – buys a new dress, perfume, flowers for the living room, expensive drinks.

His leave is then cut, to just an hour.

When he arrives, as we read the story, we realise that what he relishes is – a bit of ‘normal’ life  – luxuriating in a bath instead of having to shower with fellow airmen.  Sitting comfortably in a big, comfy armchair.

She feels hurt, that he  appears to not want her.  She is mistaken.  For him, she is a vital part of home, part of  the ‘normal’ that he misses, and craves.

There is discord – she’s prickly, and it could all go terribly wrong, but love pulls them through. They realise that they both want the same thing – each other – and to be together.

And so, even the one hour’s leave, turns out to be ‘lovely’.

I’m going to ration my reading of ‘The Penguin Dorothy Parker’. I’ll read the first section – the short stories – then leave Dorothy, to read something else, then come back to the next section – her poetry.

I read the introduction, which told me something of Dorothy herself.  Another one who saw too clearly, felt too deeply,  and developed a defence mechanism of brittle humour.  But her humour isn’t just  brittle, it’s clever and clear-seeing, too.

I’m glad that I’ve found Dorothy  Parker. I look forward to getting to know her. As with Eddie Cummins  https://theorkneynews.scot/2019/12/05/theres-always-an-orkney-connection/  I can’t help feeling it would have been good if she could have been ‘happier’, more comfortable with herself and her life and the world around her.  But then, as I said of Eddie, she wouldn’t have been Dorothy.

From seeing her as a prickly person, I now see her depth of feeling and her knowledge of how are, we humans.

It’s hard to see clearly, in a muddled world.

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