Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dorothy Parker...An Antiromantic Modernist...Deconstructs Marital Bliss...in...The Whistling Girl


One of the most creative and witty inspirations for The Whistling Girl blogspot was the poet,short-story writer, screenwriter,crusader for social justice and equality...and all-time satirical wisecracker...Dorothy Parker.She is "the Whistling Girl" personified...and a literary satirist with an incisive cut on 20th century societal conventions and foibles.She's also a really fun,and funny,read!

In her 1928 poem, The Whistling Girl, Parker deconstructs the delusional bourgeois dream and fantasy of marital bliss and domesticity.Parker's poetic "persona" prefers to have a succession of lovers, rather than a husband....as she says,"Better to be left by twenty dears/Than be in a loveless bed".

            The Whistling Girl
           Back of my back, they talk of me,
           Gabble and honk and hiss;
           Let them batten, and let them be-
           Me, I can sing them this:

           "Better to shiver beneath the stars,
           Head on a faithless breast,
           Than peer at the night through rusted
           bars,
           And share an irksome rest.

           "Better to see the dawn come up,
           Along of a trifling one,
           Than set a steady man's cloth and cup
           And pray the day be done.

           "Better be left by twenty dears
           Than lie in a loveless bed;
           Better a loaf that's wet with tears
           Than a cold, unsalted bread.
            
          Back of my back, they wag their chins,
          Whinny and bleat and sigh;
          But better a heart a-bloom with sins
          Than hearts gone yellow and dry!

And so rather than try to live the domestic fantasy of conventional middle-class wifedom,the women who frequently end up with nothing better to do with their time than "gabble and honk and hiss"like a bunch of jealous,envious malcontented geese,to "set a steady man's cloth and cup/And pray the day is done",Parker's poetic persona,the Whistling Girl, rejects the conventional paradigm of boredom,confinement behind "rusted bars",and  the passionless tedium of married life without "salt" or spice.

Parker's persona responds to the conventional "gaggle" of snarky married women kvetching about her behind her back, with a resounding "better a heart a-bloom with sins/Than hearts gone yellow and dry!"

As literary scholar and critic, Rhonda S. Pettit observes in "A Gendered Collision", her 2000 study of "Sentimentalism and Modernism in Dorothy Parker's Poetry and Fiction", for Parker in "The Whistling Girl","Decadence resides...in the institution of marriage rather than in those who would do without it but are themselves labeled "decadent".

Ironically,even though Parker's Whistling Girl cut through to the core of the domestic delusion of a "happily ever after" married life,she still tried the paradigm herself 3 times...twice to the same man, Alan Campbell.

Her first marriage in 1917 was to a Wall Street stock broker,Edwin Pond Parker II...who she joked she married to escape her Jewish surname...Rothschild.There was during this era a strong vein of antisemitism in America, and Parker had very ambivalent feelings about her Jewish heritage.

In 1934 she married Alan Campbell,11 years younger than Parker and reputed,even by Parker herself, to be bisexual, who was an actor aspiring to be a screenwriter.They moved to Hollywood together,and signed numerous short-term contracts with Paramount Pictures, and also worked as "freelancers" for various other studios. They worked together on more than 15 films in Hollywood...but their married life was tempestuous and became increasingly tense due to Parker's emerging alcohol abuse,and his long-term affair with a married woman.They divorced in 1947...but remarried in 1950,and although they lived apart from 1952 to 1961,they remained married until Campbell's death in West Hollywood in 1963.

Besides her wittily trenchant,and humorous, poetry,Parker also wrote some of the most incisive satirical short stories in the modern American idiom.She rose to acclaim in the 1920s for publishing over 300 poems in The New Yorker,Vanity Fair, Vogue,Life,McCalls and the New Republic.And her first volume of poems,Enough Rope,was published in 1926.The Nation said her poetry was "caked with a salty humor, rough with splinters of disillusion, and tarred with a bright black authenticity".
But the "Big Blonde",her best known short story,was awarded the O. Henry Award as the best short story of 1929.Not only very witty,her short stories were also "spare and incisive and more bittersweet than comic".

In addition to her several marriages,Parker had numerous affairs of the heart...one with playwright,Charles MacArthur which resulted in a pregnancy which she aborted,and about which she is supposed to have remarked,"How like me, to put all my eggs into one bastard".

Parker also had a lifelong commitment to
left-leaning causes which began in 1927 with the trial proceedings of Sacco and Vanzetti.She went to Boston to protest the proceedings,and was arrested ,eventually pleading guilty to a charge of "loitering and sauntering",and paid a fine of $5.

When Parker eventually went to Hollywood with Alan Campbell,she collaborated with him on the script for the 1937 film A Star is Born for which she and Campbell were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing-Screenplay.

During the 1930s and 1940s Parker became a frequent critic of those in authority, and a vocal advocate for civil liberties and civil rights. She was eventually placed on the infamous Hollywood blacklist due to her involvement in left-wing politics.

Parker died in 1967 at age 73 of a heart attack,and bequeathed her estate to the Dr. Martin Lurther King,Jr. Foundation.Her ashes remained unclaimed,including in her attorney's filing cabinet, for over 20 years.
Finally, the NAACP in 1988 claimed her ashes and designed a memorial garden for them outside their headquarters in Baltimore,Maryland.Her 
marker there says she suggested as her epitaph, 'Excuse my dust'.

  Dorothy Parker,and her husband,Alan Campbell,at their farmhouse in Bucks County,Pennsylvania...bought largely with the proceeds from their screenwriting in Hollywood

 Dorothy Parker and her husband,Alan Campbell at their Bucks County,Pennsylvania farmhouse
         
     





Founding members of the Algonquin Round Table:(l-r)Art Samuels,Charlie MacArthur,
Harpo Marx, Dorothy Parker, and Alexander Woollcott


                                    
                                           Dorothy in later life with her dog




For further reading and listening:

                                  1.The Penguin Dorothy Parker.

                                  2.A Gendered Collision Sentimentalism and Modernism in Dorothy Parker's Poetry and Fiction, Rhonda S. Pettit,2000,Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

                                  3.For a most beautiful rendition,and interpretation, of Dorothy Parker's poem...Red Dress...set to music by Ricky Ian Gordon...you must listen to the Poet's Medley on Betty Buckley's CD recording Stars and the Moon  Live at the Donmar...it is truly transcendent!

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