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

By Rhonda S. Pettit | Go to book overview

3

The Sentimental Connection I:
Dorothy Parker's Poetry
and the Sentimental Tradition

Born in 1893, Dorothy Parker lived her first eight years during the Victorian era. She would come to poetry during the first decade of the twentieth century when women poets were going through what Louise Bogan in Achievement in American Poetry calls a “transition” from older to bolder poetic forms and content. Like any period of transition, rejected works and the values they represent would still be in circulation, and would become part of the discourse of literary debate in the early part of the twentieth century. Even if Parker read no nineteenth-century American women poets, a highly unlikely scenario for a young woman interested in poetry at the turn of the century, she may have absorbed elements of the American tradition via her known reading of its British counterpart. Despite cultural differences between Great Britain and the United States, their nineteenth-century sentimental literatures share certain basic characteristics: romance, moral imperative, cultural critique, and a simplistic duality of good and evil. Also, as David Perkins points out, American literary culture was still highly influenced by Great Britain at the turn of the century, so that a literary cross-fertilization of sorts was taking place.1

Parker did not keep a reading notebook, so we can only speculate which American women writers she might have read. Three anthologies of women poets had been published in 1848 and 1849; if these were not in circulation at the turn of the century, an influential collection that based its female selections on the earlier anthologies— E. C. Stedman's An American Anthology, 1787–1900 (1900)—was available.2 We do know, however, one of the nineteenth-century Brit

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