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Image source: Dorothy Parker

5 Authors like Dorothy Parker: You Might As Well Live

Mandy Baldwin itcherDorothy Parker was one of the Lost Generation of writers and artists working in the new freedom of the 1920s and ’30s. She was modest about her own talents, at least when compared to greats of the period like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, but there’s a good chance she’s quoted far more often than those geniuses. Authors like Dorothy Parker, Babette Deutch, Josephine Jacobsen and Laura Riding were a new breed of women: young Americans who crossed genres and oceans to make writing their career. ~ Mandy Baldwin

Pearls Before Swine…

“Pearls before swine” was Parker’s instant retort as she swept grandly past Claire Booth Luce, who had ushered Dorothy through a doorway ahead of her with the sneering words “age before beauty”.

Parker is known for her razor-sharp ripostes and witty comments on inter-war society, not to mention being blunt about her own failures. Her poetry refers often to her many disastrous affairs, and on finding herself pregnant by a man who deserted her: she quipped “it’s my own fault for putting all my eggs in one bastard.”

“This is not a book to be tossed lightly aside – but to be hurled with great force,” wrote poet, short-story writer and satirist Dorothy Parker, in her guise as Constant Reader, literary critic.

Her sharp pen saw her fired by Vanity Fair for offending too many of the great and good, although she was so popular with fellow writers that the entire Vanity Fair staff resigned in protest.

Unlike her editors, they saw the warmth she showed in poems like this: ‘Life’ (1926)

Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe.
Four be the things I’d been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.
Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient Champagne.
Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter, and hope, and a sock in the eye.

Her collections of poems, like ‘Enough Rope’ (1940) are dark-edged humour, but her short stories reveal a more wistful side of her nature, which belies the tough ‘native New Yorker’ image she preferred.

I urge you to read her – her poems, her quotes, her stories – and about her. You’ll be happy you did.

***

Authors Similar to Dorothy Parker…

Laura Riding

Image Source: Otago

A native New Yorker like Parker, Riding began writing poetry in the 1920s.

She moved to England, then to Spain, along with many artists of her age, where she settled and became involved in the Spanish Civil War.

Less of a social butterfly than Dorothy, she had a political edge to her work.

Her collections of verse create instant excitement, although her private life created a scandal when she lived with English poet Robert Graves and his wife, as an acknowledged mistress.

Recommended Book: ‘Anarchism Is Not Enough’ (2001)

A typically ‘difficult’ book in which Laura argues against the system of, well, almost everything, but especially against the way people are taught to think, rather than act.

The roots are the same as Dorothy’s: the conflicts are the conflicts of Dorothy’s time, but Parker would reach for the vodka at the idea of anything so complicated.

Similarity Match: 80%
Drastically different subjects… an identical taste for scandalous behaviour.

***
Josephine Jacobsen

Image Source: Ebay

Unlike Dorothy, Jacobsen was Canadian by birth but moved to New York in childhood.

She was a poet, critic and author of short stories who continued writing until in her nineties.

Without any disrespect, she can best be described as a lively old gal who balanced her rather austere poetry with a fanatical love of baseball.

She crossed from her younger, more radical output to be deeply respected as an authority on poetry – unlike poor Dorothy, who remained tagged as a ‘flapper’ almost to the end of her days.

Recommended Book: ‘What Goes Without Saying’ (2000)

A collection of thirty of her short stories, which demonstrate that she never ceased to be a fresh and creative voice.

Her prose is beautifully delicate and she is masterful in weaving complete characters within a short word count.

Similarity Match: 70%
Being an author like Dorothy Parker she was very much a product of the inter-war period, but unlike Parker she achieved the respect of the establishment.

***
Babette Deutch

Deutch was a poet, critic, novelist and translator who began (like Dorothy) by publishing her poetry. She then, with marriage, was tamed and became a teacher.

The preoccupations of her youthful work were those of all the Lost Generation – the shattering of the pre-war status quo – but she never quite engaged with the hedonistic side of the flapper era.

Her poems are now largely out of print – a sad loss, as by all accounts they were lively, witty and dramatic.

But perhaps she was happier to give it up for love?

Recommended Book: ‘Poetry Handbook: a Dictionary of Terms’ (1982)

Applauded as the definitive guide to writing poetry, this book has remained in print for decades and is studied by high-school children and undergraduates to this day.

Babette’s early work was considered to speak for her age, so she deserves to be granted a place among others of the Lost Generation – even if teaching ultimately became her vocation.

Similarity Match: 65%
Judging by the reputation of her youthful poetry, she was as much dedicated to enjoying new freedom as Dorothy. However it was respectability that got her in the end, rather than sex and booze.

***

If You Like Dorothy Parker, You Will Like…

These writers experienced the inter-war art-scene from a different angle to ‘flappers’ like Dorothy Parker.

They translated new freedoms into writing which showed that there was literary life outside New York.

Ruth Moore

Image Source: Bar Harbor Bookshop

A novelist, short story writer and poet whose work centred on her native Maine, Ruth Moore achieved bestseller status with her second novel and published several collections of verse.

Originally, she suffered from being that rare species – an inter-war writer who lived outside New York – but she forged her own style, and told her own story of the era.

Recommended Book: ‘High Clouds Soaring, Storms Driving Low: The Letters of Ruth Moore‘ (1993)

Decades of correspondence revealing a private character who reflected on her former life as well as current events, along with every day happenings in her life. 

 
They shared an era, and they expressed themselves through poetry… but the similarity ends there.

***
Gertrude Stein

Image Source: Wikimedia

Stein is now most famous for her support (and arguments) with Ernest Hemingway – as well as openly living in a lesbian relationship with her beloved Alice.

She moved to Paris before it was fashionable to do so, and it was there she began writing.

Described as using “honest, working, money-saving words”, her writing was highly respected even after she became better known for her literary salon, rather than for her novels.

Recommended Book: ‘Three Lives’ (1905)

Brilliantly conceived, it linked the lives of three women to the styles of three painters in a unique display of cross-over art.

The women all live in a small German-American community. They face similar trials and tribulations which their characters, formed like the works of the artists they are linked to, experience in startlingly different ways.

 
Each being essentially unique, it’s almost impossible to compare Stein with Parker. The closest I can come is to say that, if Parker was a true child of the Lost Generation, Stein was most definitely its mother.

***

Wherever She Went, Including Here, It Was Against Her Better Judgement

This above heading is what she wanted written on her tombstone, and the sentiment is probably true of many writers like Dorothy Parker.

These women were the first who felt no need to rebel against what was expected of them. Instead, they simply assumed freedom and lived every risk with panache.

Are you inspired to read works by the Lost Generation? Feel free to leave a comment in the box below.

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