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

By Rhonda S. Pettit | Go to book overview

4

The Sentimental Connection II:
Dorothy Parker's Fiction
and the Sentimental Tradition

If Dorothy Parker's twentieth-century poetry seems at times enmeshed in nineteenth-century sensibilities, her fiction offers no less an enigma. Whether she is considered a marginal modernist or outside the canon entirely, whether she is being critically hailed or hammered, Parker is typically referred to as a “modern” writer, particularly where her fiction is concerned. The characterization applies not only to her use of irony and abbreviated form, but to her content as well. Thomas A. Guilason, for example, writes that Parker “used the short story to advance her modern ideas concerning the plight of oppressed people, especially women, struggling for their rights and their independence.” He goes on to criticize Parker's fiction for its superficiality, unrelenting cynicism, one-dimensional characters, and reliance on “the standards set by the commercial magazines.”1 Guilason, his own standards apparendy set by New Criticism, could be describing a nineteenthcentury American woman writer of fiction.

Although Guilason does not use the term sentimental in relation to Parker, the characteristics he lists are often associated with the sentimental tradition. Furthermore, sentimental fiction shares many of the characteristics seen in sentimental poetry. Suzanne Clark and Joanne Dobson note the use of accessible language, style, and narrative conventions; Dobson and Jane Tompkins note the use of stereotypes (whatGuilason calls “one-dimensional” characters). Passion and power are important and interrelated themes. The romance plot, argues Rachel Blau DuPlessis, subordinates female quest and adventure stories and is the dominant narrative for nineteenth-century

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