Mrs. Parker on literary gatherings

The newly revised Portable Dorothy Parker includes about 600 pages of Parker’s essays, poetry, reviews, stories, and letters.

Editor Marion Meade also reproduces the 1956 Paris Review interview in which Parker dismisses all her poetry in a single answer. (“My verses. I cannot say poems. Like everybody else, I was following in the exquisite footsteps of Miss Millay, unhappily in my own horrible sneakers. My verses are no damn good. Let’s face it, honey, my verse is terribly dated…. I gave it up, knowing it wasn’t getting any better, but nobody seemed to notice my magnificent gesture.”)

Parker, like Twain, rejected anything that smacks of pretention and fakery. Here’s an excerpt from “Literary Rotarians,” a timeless reflection — dated February 11, 1928 — on the disjunction between literary gatherings and the coverage thereof.

The town, these days, is full of them. You cannot go ten yards, on any thoroughfare, without being passed by some Rotarian of Literature, hurrying to attend a luncheon, banquet, tea, or get-together, where he may rush about from buddy to buddy, slapping shoulders, crying nicknames, and swapping gossip of the writing game. I believed for as long as possible that they must run their little span and disappear, like automobile shows, six-day bicycle races, ice on the pavements, and such recurrent impedimenta of metropolitan life. But it appears that they are to go on and on. Their fraternal activities are their livings — more, their existences. They are here, I fear, to stay….

They have, I should judge, the best time of any people in the world. Running from guild to league to club to committee, and round the course again, they meet only those of their kind, only those who speak their language and share their interests. They see no misunderstanding outsiders, need listen to no tedious tales of stuggle and terror and injustice. Round and round they go, ever up on their toes, giving and receiving hands and smiles and cozily intimate words. It is all as gay and active and wholesome as a figure in the lancers.

Naturally, people so happy cannot keep all their bliss bottled up inside themselves. It must overflow somewhere; and it does, baby, it does.

Pick up a newspaper (it would be just like you to pick up the Wall Street Journal and make a fool out of me) and there, snug on an inside page, you will find one of the jolly brotherhood bubbling away about the good times he and his buddies have been having. These accounts are called diaries or day-books or “Letters from a Penman” or “Jottings on a Cuff” or “Helling Around with the Booksy Folk” or — but no, there is one weekly treat actually headed, “Turns with a Bookworm,” so you can see how much use it is to try to kid their titles….

I went to a literary gathering once. How I got there is all misty to me. I remember that, on that afternoon, I was given a cup of tea which tasted very strange. Drowsiness came over me, and there was a humming noise in my ears; then everything went black. When I came to my senses, I was in the brilliantly lighted banquet-hall of one of the large hotels, attending a dinner of a literary association. The place was filled with people who looked as if they had been scraped out of drains…. The gentlemen were small and somewhat in need of dusting. There were guests of honor: a lady with three names, who composed pageants; a haggard gentleman, who had won the prize of $20 offered by Inertia: A Magazine of Poesy for the best poem on the occupation of the Ruhr district; and another lady who had completed a long work on “Southern Californian Bird-Calls” and was ready for a play….

By pleading a return of that old black cholera of mine, I got away before the speeches, the songs, and the probable donning of paper caps and marching around the room in lockstep. I looked with deep interest, the next morning, for the bookmen’s and bookwomen’s accounts of the event. One and all, they declared that never had there been so glamorous and brilliant a function. You inferred that those who had been present would require at least a week to sleep it off. They wrote of it as they write of every other literary gathering — as if it were like one of those parties that used to occur before Rome fell.

From that day to this, I have never touched another cup of tea.


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