I didn’t read all of this, I confess. I read several stories and some poems. The anthology is an updating and expansion of Dorothy Parker’s own Portable Dorothy Parker, which she was asked to put together in 1944.
I was interested in reading it, or bits of it, because she is so famous for her wit and style and she is a very skilful writer indeed. I am also interested in the social changes, some forced by war and other events and some seemingly driven by awakenings in various quarters of the human spirit, that occurred in the first 40 years of the 20th century.
The introduction, by Brendan Gill, is a little deflating. He explains that Dorothy Parker’s wit was sceptical, critical and cynical. It mocked the society she lived in and reflected a great deal on death. It was as if, in later life, she had betrayed this hard-boiled, almost nihilistic attitude by living too long. The ‘cool’ thing to do might have been to die young of too much absinthe. A sort of inverted romanticism, I suppose, searching for some meaning and beauty in life and, failing to do so, creating at least a touch of those qualities by checking out early.
But her stories are still blackly funny. I enjoyed particularly Arrangement in Black and White, which is a hilarious vignette of a wealthy racist woman meeting a black singer –
“Oh, I get so furious when people are narrow-minded about coloured people. It’s just all I can do not to say something. Of course, I do admit when you get a bad coloured man, they are simply terrible.”
Today I suppose she would have said “Some of my best friends are black.”.
Also The Wonderful Old Gentleman, about an old bastard who dies and we listen to the discussion of his behaviour as his cruelty and nastiness are somehow recorded as virtues by the delusional family –
“And do you remember how they used to play whist. and how furious Father used to get when he lost?” “Yes,” Mrs Bain cried excitedly, “ and how Mother used to have to cheat, so as to be sure and not win from him?” They laughed softly, filled with memories of the gone days.“
So, nice to dip into but, sadly perhaps, a bit dated.