Dorothy Parker is most well known for her acid tongue and biting humour, with which she expertly pokes fun at the decadent Jazz Age of New York that she was a part of: “Wednesday. The most terrible thing happened just this minute. Broke one of my fingernails right off short. Absolutely the most horrible thing to happen to me in my life” (From the Diary of a Mad Lady). Many memorable quotes have come from Parker’s mouth, for instance the lines which form her poem News Item: “Men seldom make passes/ At girls who wear glasses”.
Much like Donna Tartt (really just dropping that name in here because she’s also so great, see The Goldfinch…although if you haven’t already first see The Secret History) the Dorothy Parker of my imagination is clothed in Chanel and is crisply intimidating in her glamour. Pictures of her mostly show her to be stern-faced and lipsticked. Yet Parker’s poems and stories also let us see past this veneer. Some of her writing portrays her intense vulnerability, loneliness, frequent bouts of heartache and general problems with men (see her poem, Interior).
In short, Dorothy Parker is everything I/many booksellers/many wannabe writers/anyone with any sense wants to be –she’s funny, she’s well-read (see her review of Ernest Hemingway), she would always win the argument, she’s glamorous, she’s honest…I could go on. And the best thing about her is that even when sometimes appearing to be in the depths of despair, she doesn’t take herself too seriously (see her poem Resume), surely a timelessly impressive and admirable ability.
Finally, I like to imagine that if Dorothy Parker ever worked at Hatchards, she could have written her poem Oscar Wilde whilst standing behind the till (dare I say it perhaps also reminiscent of us frantically attempting to find something witty to write on Twitter):
If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.
Hannah Oldham – Piccadilly Bookseller
Everything I have quoted from and mentioned here can be found in Penguin Modern Classics The Collected Dorothy Parker, very much available in Hatchards Piccadilly and Hatchards St Pancras.