A Gendered Collision: Sentimentalism and Modernism in Dorothy Parker's Poetry and Fiction

By Rhonda S. Pettit | Go to book overview

1

Sex and Context:
The Production and Popularity of
Dorothy Parker's Work

Three book-length biographies and a number of biographical sketches and articles have been written about Dorothy Parker, all of which adequately document the succession of phases that constitute the Parker Persona: the orphan who wrote for a living; the hard-drinking poet and wit of the Algonquin Round Table; the communist Hollywood screenwriter; the lonely, nonproductive divorcee found dead in a New York hotel. These “stories,” although often told with a sense of nostalgic appreciation or sympathy, nevertheless conclude that Parker was the gifted writer who drank and politicked herself away from literary greatness.1 This conclusion presumes two points: that literary greatness is a singular concept based on indisputable standards, and that literary greatness was Parker's goal. Given what we know about the politics of literary reputations and literary history, this conclusion seems less than satisfactory. Using Nathaniel Hawthorne as an example, Jane Tompkins convincingly argues in Sensational Designs that literary reputations are contextual, based largely on a writer's circle of friends and contacts with the “machinery of publishing and reviewing.” And as we saw in the example of Parker's “'Sorry, the Line Is Busy,'” our interpretation of a text is “mediated” by the circumstances in which we read it; a story read in a mass market magazine may fall prey to the assumption that it is entertainment rather than “serious” literature. Finally, as Cary Nelson tells us in Repression and Recovery, writers often have motivations other than competing for a place in the canon. These motivations, when political, can lead to a writer's exclusion from serious critical consideration. Conventional literary history, argues Nelson, has “told a selective

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