Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?

DorothyParkerDorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?
Marion Meade
Penguin Books; Reprint edition (March 3, 1989), 500 pages
Kindle Edition $5.12, Amazon Paperback $14.51

Earlier this year I read a book about Lillian Hellman, so I felt it appropriate to follow that up with a book about another great American woman of letters who came of age a bit before Hellman: Dorothy Parker.

Parker, of course, is known, as the wit of the Algonquin Round Table, but contrary to what the popular mythology would have us believe, that was a comparatively short-lived phenomenon. Meade’s book covers the entirety of Parkers life, and does so in great, and sometimes excruciating, detail.

Parker’s father was Jacob Henry Rothschild, but her mother was Christian, as was her step-mother whom Rothschild married after her mother’s death. Dorothy attended a Catholic school, and her upbringing was far more Christian than Jewish. Whether for these or other seasons, she hated having the name Rothschild, and married Edwin Parker more to take his name than for reasons of love.

That marriage ended in divorce, and she was married to and divorced from Alan Campbell more than once. Campbell, however, was for many years the mainstay of her writing career.

As one might expect, Parker and Hellman did cross paths, and they became friends, if not the best of. Hellman, however, was instrumental in looking after Parker and apparently often bailing her out financially at times in Parker’s later years.

As with the Hellman book, What Fresh Hell gave me almost too much of Dorothy Parker. Nonetheless, I am glad that these detailed, well-documented books about the leading literary figures of the twentieth century are available to us.

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