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

By Rhonda S. Pettit | Go to book overview

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Although she alluded to some of her literary values in her book and theater reviews, Dorothy Parker never defined her own aesthetic. How might we define it?

She wrote in more than one genre, and an interesting aspect of her work is the appearance of similar characteristics in both her poetry and fiction. We can observe spatial metaphors, particularly those involving domesticity and sanctuary, in her poetry, and images of spatial confinement, also involving domestic scenes, in her fiction. A concern with form is apparent—triolets, roundeaus, ballades, ballads, sonnets, and the general use of rhyme and meter in her poetry; experimental sketches, monologues, dialogues, and more fully narrated stories in her fiction. Brevity or concision characterizes the vast majority of her poems and many of her short stories, most notably her monologues and dialogues. She also tends to generalize in both genres, to talk about types of people and types of behavior that are grounded in both genders and in the dominating social codes for both. Yet in her fiction, her nameless characters are often described with such exquisite detail that they possess a particularity that moves against the grain of generalization. Upon common ground, this technique seems to imply, stand myriad individuals. Her poems often close with reversals, creating a comic and sometimes epigrammatic effect, but reversal as a form of closure is also seen in the blues music that was growing in prominence during the twenties, and thus seems appropriate in a body of work that so often is “singing the blues” about its subject. We see similar kinds of reversals in her monologues “The Garter” and “But the One on the Right.” While her fiction is more typically open-ended, at times her stories use a circular closure, bringing us back to the beginning, as in “The Waltz,” “Here We Are,” and “Cousin Larry.” Her world-weary, long-suffering persona appears most clearly in her poetry and theater and book reviews, though we get a

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