Dorothy Parker’s Comedic Take on Love and Hate

As you read the short story for Tuesday and the poetry for Friday, I want you to consider the following: Why are love and hatred such proximate emotions? What I mean is that normally we consider love and hatred to be complete opposites. Usually, when two ideas are drastic opposites, they are far apart from one another. Yet, how often do we find ourselves loving someone one day and hating them the next? I am willing to bet that for everyone you truly love, there has been at least one day when you felt like you hated them and truly despised them for what they have done or said to you. Is there something about how love affects us (our hearts, our minds, etc.) that overwhelms us and can so easily be turned into feelings of hate? Consider how love and hate may not be so different from one another after all if they come from the same place; intense emotional feelings for another person.

Background on Dorothy Parker

(Parker)

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) was an American poet, short story writer, screenwriter, satirist, critic, and humorist. For decades, her work appeared in all of the famous magazines of her era, featuring her trademark biting sarcasm and witty one liners. Dorothy Parker was well-known as a founder of The Algonquin Roundtable. The roundtable consisted of a rotating group of writers and critics who almost daily had lunch at the Algonquin Hotel. Parker and her friends would meet and discuss art and politics in a sarcastic and humorous vein and they soon became notorious for their witty banter. Famous people gathered to hear their conversations and their quotes were often published in magazines. One day, the group played a word game in which each member had to craft a witty quote out of a mundane word. When given the word horticulture, Dorothy Parker responded “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.” (a take on the famous saying “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”)

Although her short stories and poems are anthologized in the American canon and she wrote the scripts to famous films including A Star is Born (for which she was nominated for an Oscar), she is best remembered for her humorous quips. When writers are looking for quotes to pithily make their points, they often turn to Parker’s work. Her rich collection of observations on gender, politics, social issues, and of course, drinking, have appeared in countless essays, speeches, tv shows, motivational posters (which she would have made fun of).

Here’s a list of some of her most famous quotes from Mental Floss:

ON OTHER PEOPLE:

1. “Their pooled emotions wouldn’t fill a teaspoon.”

2. “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”

ON BEAUTY:

3. “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”

4. “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”

ON WRITING:

5. “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.”

6. “I’d like to have money. And I’d like to be a good writer. These two can come together, and I hope they will, but if that’s too adorable, I’d rather have money.”

7. “I hate writing, I love having written.”

8. “The two most beautiful words in the English language are ‘cheque enclosed’.”

(Actually, this quote attributed to Parker is a paraphrase. In 1932, the New York Herald Tribune Asked her for a list of the most beautiful words. Dorothy said, “To me, the most beautiful word in the English language is cellar-door. Isn’t it wonderful? The ones I like, though, are ‘cheque’ and ‘enclosed.'”)

9. “There’s a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.”

ON DRINKING:

10. “One more drink and I’ll be under the host.”

11. “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”

12. When asked if she was going to join Alcoholics Anonymous: “Certainly not. They want me to stop now.”

ON MONEY:

13. “Money cannot buy health, but I’d settle for a diamond-studded wheelchair.”

14. “I don’t know much about being a millionaire, but I’ll bet I’d be darling at it.”

15. When she was offended by the amount of money a producer offered her to write a script: “You can’t take it with you, and even if you did, it would probably melt.”

ON LOVE:

16. “I require three things in a man: he must be handsome, ruthless, and stupid.”

17. “Now I know the things I know, and I do the things I do; and if you do not like me so, to hell, my love, with you!”

18. “Better be left by twenty dears / Than lie in a love-less bed; / Better a loaf that’s wet with tears, / Than cold, unsalted bread.”

19. “Four be the things I’d have been better without: love, curiosity, freckles and doubt.”

20. “It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard.”

21. “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.”

ON CHILDREN:

22. “The best way to keep children at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant, and let the air out of the tires.”

ON DEATH:

23. “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.”

24. “That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.”

25. “Excuse my dust.” Parker suggested that this be used as an epitaph on her final resting place.

.

Parker’s “A Telephone Call”

dorothy-parker

(An exasperated Dorothy Parker)

As you read “A Telephone Call”, I would like you to reflect on the themes from this week: “obsession” and “love and hatred”. The theme of obsession is reflected in the style of the story’s narrative. Remember “stream of consciousness” as a technique from earlier in the year when we discussed Joyce and Faulkner? This story is a perfect example. Parker’s story is composed entirely of the immediate thoughts of a woman anticipating a phone call from a man that she is clearly enamoured with. The writing is crafted so as to reflect how the human mind actually thinks. When we write down our ideas, we rationally organize them and edit them down to only that which supports the points we want to make. However, our minds don’t work that way in practice. When we are worried about a problem, our minds consider all the possibilities from rational to absurd, caring to malicious, and often with strange tangents in the middle.

Pay attention to how wild and absurd the woman’s thoughts become as she obsesses over why she has yet to receive a phone call from the man she desires. Her intense passion cannot handle not knowing why she has not yet heard from him. She envisions scenarios that explain why he hasn’t called, prays to God, and reflects on the cruel nature of romance. Notice in particular how she swings wildly between love and hate for her potential beau. At times he is unimpeachably perfect, and then sentences later, she is filled with contempt. She takes her emotions out on him, her phone, God, and the worst of all, herself.

This story may sound a bit silly, and of course being a humorist, Parker intended for it to be read as an absurd take on love and the delicate art of romance, but it is still an accurate portrayal of our emotions. We have all been in the position of this woman, waiting for something we so desperately want and unable to take our minds off of it. I am positive we have all sat and waited for the phone to ring with some form of news on the other end, whether it be from a lover, a family member, a potential employer, a college recruiter, or anyone else who has the power to deliver or deny us what we desperately want.

.

The Poetry of Love and Hatred

Tips for Reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How do I Love Thee?”

(Browning)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the premier poets of the British romantic movement in the 19th century. Poets.org sketches out her biography:

Born in 1806 at Coxhoe Hall, Durham, England, Elizabeth Barrett Browning was an English poet of the Romantic Movement. The oldest of twelve children, Elizabeth was the first in her family born in England in over two hundred years. For centuries, the Barrett family, who were part Creole, had lived in Jamaica, where they owned sugar plantations and relied on slave labor. Elizabeth’s father, Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett, chose to raise his family in England, while his fortune grew in Jamaica. Educated at home, Elizabeth apparently had read passages from Paradise Lost and a number of Shakespearean plays, among other great works, before the age of ten.

In 1826, Elizabeth anonymously published her collection An Essay on Mind and Other Poems. Two years later, her mother passed away. The slow abolition of slavery in England and mismanagement of the plantations depleted the Barrett’s income, and in 1832, Elizabeth’s father sold his rural estate at a public auction. He moved his family to a coastal town and rented cottages for the next three years, before settling permanently in London. While living on the sea coast, Elizabeth published her translation of Prometheus Bound (1833), by the Greek dramatist Aeschylus.

Gaining attention for her work in the 1830s, Elizabeth continued to live in her father’s London house under his tyrannical rule. He began sending Elizabeth’s younger siblings to Jamaica to help with the family’s estates. Elizabeth bitterly opposed slavery and did not want her siblings sent away. During this time, she wrote The Seraphim and Other Poems (1838), expressing Christian sentiments in the form of classical Greek tragedy. Due to her weakening disposition, she was forced to spend a year at the sea of Torquay accompanied by her brother Edward, whom she referred to as “Bro.” He drowned later that year while sailing at Torquay, and Browning returned home emotionally broken, becoming an invalid and a recluse. She spent the next five years in her bedroom at her father’s home. She continued writing, however, and in 1844 produced a collection entitled simply Poems. This volume gained the attention of poet Robert Browning, whose work Elizabeth had praised in one of her poems, and he wrote her a letter.

Elizabeth and Robert, who was six years her junior, exchanged 574 letters over the next twenty months. Immortalized in 1930 in the play The Barretts of Wimpole Street, by Rudolf Besier (1878-1942), their romance was bitterly opposed by her father, who did not want any of his children to marry. In 1846, the couple eloped and settled in Florence, Italy, where Elizabeth’s health improved and she bore a son, Robert Wideman Browning. Her father never spoke to her again. Elizabeth’s Sonnets from the Portuguese, dedicated to her husband and written in secret before her marriage, was published in 1850. Critics generally consider the Sonnets—one of the most widely known collections of love lyrics in English—to be her best work. Admirers have compared her imagery to Shakespeare and her use of the Italian form to Petrarch.

Political and social themes embody Elizabeth’s later work. She expressed her intense sympathy for the struggle for the unification of Italy in Casa Guidi Windows (1848-1851) and Poems Before Congress (1860). In 1857 Browning published her verse novel Aurora Leigh, which portrays male domination of a woman. In her poetry she also addressed the oppression of the Italians by the Austrians, the child labor mines and mills of England, and slavery, among other social injustices. Although this decreased her popularity, Elizabeth was heard and recognized around Europe.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning died in Florence on June 29, 1861. (poets.org)

As you read this poem, I want you to focus on form and message. First, notice the rhyme scheme and meter of the poem. Is it consistent or does it waver? How about the rhymes? Do all of the words perfectly rhyme or does she employ what we would call a “slant rhyme” (two words that almost rhyme)?

Secondly, take stock of the imagery in the poem. How does each individual image build a sense of the love that she has for this man? Notice some of the commonalities that the images share. Just like with Shakespeare, she too invokes life and death, light and darkness, to speak toward the extent of her love. Why do poets so often invoke death when speaking about their love? Why is this a constant in romantic poetry?

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Dorothy Parker’s “One Perfect Rose” “Love Song,”  and “Unfortunate Coincidence

(A young Dorothy Parker)

Now that you have read about the life and work of Dorothy Parker, I’d like you to read these two short poems in which she reflects on love and relationships. Notice how both poems take on the formal verse characteristics of an old love poem. When we read poems about love with a strict rhyme scheme, rhythm, and meter, we tend to know what to expect; devotions of undying love, a list of how beautiful thou art, images of flowers, country fields, bird singing in the meadow- all that lovey dovey junk. At least, that’s what Parker thinks, because as you get to the end of both poems, you notice how her tone and treatment of the topic turns sharply. How does Parker use our expectations of romantic poetry to make a dramatic and humorous point about the true nature of love and relationships?

.

One Perfect Rose

A single flow’r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet –
One perfect rose.

I knew the language of the floweret;
‘My fragile leaves,’ it said, ‘his heart enclose.’
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.

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.

(poemhunter.com)

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Love Song

My own dear love, he is strong and bold

And he cares not what comes after.

His words ring sweet as a chime of gold,

And his eyes are lit with laughter.

He is jubilant as a flag unfurled—

Oh, a girl, she’d not forget him.

My own dear love, he is all my world,—

And I wish I’d never met him.

My love, he’s mad, and my love, he’s fleet,

And a wild young wood-thing bore him!

The ways are fair to his roaming feet,

And the skies are sunlit for him.

As sharply sweet to my heart he seems

As the fragrance of acacia.

My own dear love, he is all my dreams,—

And I wish he were in Asia.

My love runs by like a day in June,

And he makes no friends of sorrows.

He’ll tread his galloping rigadoon

In the pathway of the morrows.

He’ll live his days where the sunbeams start,

Nor could storm or wind uproot him.

My own dear love, he is all my heart,—

And I wish somebody’d shoot him.

(Poetry Foundation)

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Unfortunate Coincidence 

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.

(Poem Hunter)

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About drdimock

Dr. Chase Dimock teaches Literature and Composition at Broward College
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