The Critical Waltz: Essays on the Work of Dorothy Parker

The Critical Waltz: Essays on the Work of Dorothy Parker

The Critical Waltz: Essays on the Work of Dorothy Parker

The Critical Waltz: Essays on the Work of Dorothy Parker


This is the first collection of critical essays devoted to the writing of Dorothy Parker. Its four part organisation reflects a necessary shift away from her identity as primarily a humorist or Jazz Age literary celebrity.


Regina Barreca


I cut my preconceived notions of life on the shards of her brilliant and ruthless prose in an otherwise fuzzy anthology of modern fiction I read in high school. I felt myself to be her blood-sister, an apprentice cynic, a Parkerette kept only briefly (I thought) in the domestic cage of regulation family life and merely disguised as a teenager.

It wasn’t until college that I learned I was only one of many Parkerettes. There we were, lined up in a dark-suited row, all equally cynical and slyly witty (we thought), quipping Parker’s lines in unison the way the Rockettes (a rival group, usually found at Radio City in rather different uniforms) kicked up their heels. We didn’t kick up our heels, but instead we talked about every one of the heels who walked into our lives: the wicked, evasive, gorgeously self-centered men who had left us hanging by the telephone, hanging by our fingernails, and hanging onto frayed copies of Parker’s Enough Rope.

We knew nearly every line to “A Telephone Call” and “Just a Little One.” Certainly there was the expectation that even remote acquaintances would know that the phrase “And I am Marie of Romania” implied a certain measure of doubt concerning the validity of true romance (“Oh life is a glorious cycle of song / A medley of extemporania / And love is a thing that can never go wrong / And I am Marie of Romania”). And, looking back on it now, I think Parker would have had strong feelings about our little group.

I think she would have hated us.

Oh, maybe not hated us exactly, but been more than impatient with the idea that her words were being used by yet another generation of women to map their own desperately absurd emotional, social, and even cultural experiences. Parker provided an answer, although she didn’t know it, for such criticism when she wrote that one of her characters “had drawn a new set of rules for it, had narrowed it, pointed it, made it stricter. Like all games, it was the more absorbing for being more difficult.”

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