Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?

by Marion Meade

Paperback, 1989

Call number




Penguin Books (1989), Edition: Reprint, 458 pages


Chronicles the life of author and critic Dorothy Parker, discussing her literary influences, battle with alcohol, divorces, affairs, career highs and lows, suicide attempts, and other related topics.

User reviews

LibraryThing member ChazziFrazz
This was an enjoyable and informative bio on Dorothy Parker. Known for her wit and acerbic pen, she gave the impression of a tough-as-nails broad. This book tells of a much more complicated person.

A member of the Algonquin Round Table of the 1920s, she was just one of the number of famous writers
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in the group. Robert Benchley, Harold Ross (The New Yorker), Robert Sherwood, George Kaufman, and Alexander Woolcott were just a few of the critics, columnists, playwrights and authors of the group. The book tells of her relationships with these great writers of the era. Her involvement with the beginnings of The New Yorker magazine and the interesting fact that her writing did not come easy to her.

Marion Meade has done extensive research into Dorothy's background and life and really does bring Dorothy to life. Dorothy's commitment to human rights, her involvement with Communism and other political groups during WWII. Her personal life and how her destructive tendencies affected her marriages and friendships.

Breaking down the years into chapters, you see how Dorothy progresses through her career as light poetry writer to critic to writing for Hollywood. Her love/hate feelings for the Hollywood life and the difficulties she encountered during the McCarthy era.

A good read.
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LibraryThing member elizabethn
good book about a sad lady who wrote hateful, witty poems about crummy men.
LibraryThing member Skyehighmileage
Well researched and thoughtfully put together my main complaint is that in this particular edition the font size is just one or two points too small to be comfortable; I don't usually find this ever a problem and it's really interfering with the pleasure so source a different edition, but do read
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this nonetheless for an excellent feel for the interwar New York literary scene.

Parker's acidulous tongue has been a longterm pleasure to me and this provides context and texture.
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LibraryThing member Lyndatrue
A truly excellent and honest portrait of one of the best.

"Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne."

Marion Meade does justice to Dorothy, and it almost feels like an autobiography (except kinder than Ms Parker would have been).
LibraryThing member aliform
A thorough and captivating biography that takes you into the social circles of the early 20th century literati, making you feel like you know the subject personally.
LibraryThing member Benedict8
Dorothy Parker is a great writer, but she is so mean!
LibraryThing member nmele
I only knew Parker through her writing and the Algonquin Round Table stories, but it turns out Parker's short stories are often fairly autobiographical. This was not an easy book to read because of Parker's depressions, flirtations with suicide and alcoholism. Read her work if you want laughs.
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Meade did surprise me: Parker and her second husband wrote most of the script for the original "A Star is Born" and other films. I associate her so much with New York that I never knew she spent considerable time in Hollywood as a screenwriter.
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LibraryThing member setnahkt
It’s hard to figure out just what to make of Dorothy Parker. She was a charter member of the Algonquin Round Table, sort of a 20th century version of the Mermaid Tavern; one of the most incisive book and drama critics of her time (“This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. It should be
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thrown with great force.”); an award-winning short story writer; and a poet of many memorable verses (in the “Portable” series of collected works, the only three that have continuously remained in print are The Portable William Shakespeare, The Portable King James Bible, and The Portable Dorothy Parker; that’s not bad company to be in).

At the same time, her personal life was disastrous. She was attracted first to aristocratic seducers and later to much younger men (“Ducking for apples – but for a typographical error, it’s the story of my life”); an alcoholic and chain-smoker; survivor of three suicide attempts (“Razors pain you / Rivers are damp / Acids stain you / Drugs cause cramp / Guns aren’t lawful / Nooses give / Gas smells awful / You might as well live”); pathologically unable to meet a deadline; a dog lover but unwilling to take the time to train them (when one of her dogs defecated on the carpet in a exclusive hotel, the manager rushed up and shouted “Mrs. Parker, look what your dog did!”. She looked him in the eye, replied “No, I did that” and stalked off.); and perennially sponging off her friends whether she was making money at the time or not.

As in most really good biographies, the author (Marion Meade) is transparent; she just reports the facts and lets the story tell itself. If you read this book without ever reading any of Dorothy Parker’s poetry, you might be puzzled how Parker could ever be thought worthy of any acknowledgement at all, much less a postage stamp; if you read her poetry without knowing her life story you’d be missing a lot. Do both.

“Life is a glorious cycle of song
A medley of extemporanea
And love is a thing that can never go wrong
And I am Marie of Roumania”
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