|~ CONSTANT READER ~|
|To me, the raveled sleeve of care is never more painlessly knitted up than in an evening alone in a chair snug yet copious with a good light and an easily held little volume sloppily printed and bound in inexpensive paper. I do not ask much of it which is just as well for that is all I get. It does not matter if I guess the killer and if I happen to discover along around page 208 that I have read the work before, I attribute the fact not to the less than arresting powers of the author but to my own lazy memory. I like best to have one book in my hand and a stack of others on the floor beside me so as to know the supply of poppy and mandragora will not run out before the small hours. In all reverence I say Heaven bless the Whodunit, the soothing balm on the wound, the cooling hand on the brow, the opiate of the people.|
|From Ellery Queen: "The New York Murders"|
Esquire | Book Review | January 1959
|... Also in her forward, Madame Glyn goes into the real meaning of "It." "To have 'It,'" she says -- and is she the girl who knows! --"the fortunate possessor must have that strange magnetism which attracts both sexes." (Pul-ease, Madame Glyn, pul-ease!) "He or she must be entirely unself-conscious and full of self-confidence, indifferent to the effect he or she is producing, and uninfluenced by others." (Why, it's Levine, that's who it is, it's Levine.) "There must be physical attraction, but beauty is unnecessary. Conceit or self-consciousness destroys 'It' immediately. In the animal world, 'It' demonstrates" (sic. Sic as a dog.) "in tigers and cats -- both animals being fascinating and mysterious and quite unbiddable." So there you have it, in a coconut-shell. Now we can go on with the story...|
|From Madame Glyn Lectures on "It", with Illustrations|
The New Yorker | Book Review | 26 November 1927
|... EmilyPost's Etiquette is out again, this time in a new and enlarged edition, and so the question of what to do with my evenings has been all fixed up for me. There will be an empty chair at the deal table at Tony's, when the youngsters gather to discuss life, sex, literature, the drama, what is a gentleman, and whether or not to go to Helen Morgan's when the place closes; ...|
|From Mrs. Post Enlarges on Etiquette|
The New Yorker | Book Review | 31 December 1927
|My Life, the posthumously published autobiography of Isadora Duncan, is to me an enormously interesting and a profoundly moving book. Here was a great woman; a magnificent, generous, gallant, reckless, fated fool of a woman. There was never a place for her in the ranks of the terrible, slow army of the cautious. She ran ahead, where there were no paths. She was no writer, God knows. Her book is badly written, abominably written. There are passages of almost idiotic naiveté, and there are passages of horrendously flowery verbiage. There are veritable Hampton Court mazes of sentences. There are long, low moans of poetry, painstakingly interpolated. There are plural pronouns, airily related to singular nouns. She knew all about herself as an author. She says, in her introduction, "It has taken me years of struggle, hard work and research to learn to make one simple gesture, and I know enough about the Art (that word she always capitalizes) of writing to realize that it would take me again just so many years of concentrated effort to write one simple, beautiful sentence." But, somehow, the style of the book makes no matter. Out of this mess of prose come her hope, her passion, her suffering; above all, comes the glamour that was Isadora Duncan's. Glamour and glamorous are easy words these days...|
|From Poor, Immortal Isadora|
The New Yorker | Book Review | 26 January 1928
|Out of Favorite Jokes of Famous People comes one ray of light, one breath of strange, new fragrance, one cool and silver star. That is the selection given by Mr. Ring Lardner. It is too frail, too exquisite to reproduce here, though I can scarcely tear myself away from quoting it. And it is a source of perpetual amazement that Mr. Frank Nicholson, author of "What an optimist that guy is!", could have admitted this white violet to his collection. Probably he figured out some meaning to the masterpiece, and will never, never realize that it was Mr. Lardner at his sublime best, in the act of kidding the living tripe out of all such collections of famous things of famous whose-thises.|
|From Wallflower's Lament|
The New Yorker | Book Review | 17 November 1928
|The industry of Mr. Sinclair Lewis is a thing to marvel at, to ponder of a white night, and, if such is your way, to hoist high as an example. To my own admittedly slanted vision, industry ranks with such sour and spinster virtues as thrift, punctuality, level-headedness, and caution. I think that Aldous Huxley utters the loud truth when he says, in Point Counter Point, that industry can never substitute for talent. There exists, especially in the American mind, a sort of proud confusion between the two. A list of our authors who have made themselves most beloved and, therefore, most comfortable financially, shows that it is our national joy to mistake for the first-rate, the fecund rate.|
|From And Again, Mr. Sinclair Lewis|
The New Yorker | Book Review | 16 March 1929
|Once I went through Spain, like a bat out of hell, with a party that included -- nay, grew to center upon -- a distinguished American of letters. He spoke French as a Frenchman, rather than like one; his German was flawless; he was persuasive in Italian, and read Magyar for easy amusement; but, at the hour of our start, he did not have a stitch of Spanish to his name. Yet, when the train clacked out of Hendaye, he began trading droll anecdotes with the guard, and by the time we were set in Zaragoza, he was helping the natives along with their subjunctives. It was enough to make me, in a word, sick. For so lavish a gift of ear and tongue has, to one forever denied any part of it, something of the repellent quality of black magic. How am I not to be bitter, who have stumbled solo round about Europe, equipped only with "Non, non et non!" and "Où est le lavabo des dames?" How shall I leash my envy, who have lived so placed that there were weeks at a stretch when I heard or saw no word of English; who was committed entirely and eagerly to French manners, customs and abbreviations, yet could never get it through the head that the letter "c" on a water-faucet does not stand for "cold"! It isn't that I have not been given every opportunity; it is simply and dismally that I am incapable of acquiring an extramural language.|
|From The Grandmother of the Aunt of the Gardener|
The New Yorker | Book Review | 25 July 1931
|Gwennie -- her widowed mother had named her Gwendola, and then, as if realizing that no other dream would ever come true, had died -- was little and compact and unnoticeable. She had been raised on an upstate farm by an uncle and aunt hard as the soil they fought for their lives. After their deaths, she had no relatives anywhere. She came to New York, because she had heard stories of jobs; her arrival was at the time Mrs. Lanier's cook needed a kitchen-maid. So in her own house, Mrs. Lanier had found her treasure.|
|From The Custard Heart|
The Original Portable as arranged by Dorothy Parker in 1944
|Doubtless my absence of excitement over Mr. Kerouac's characters is due to a gaping lack in me, for, and I regret the fact, I do not dig bop. I cannot come afire when I hear it, and I am even less ecstatic in reading about it. I am honestly sorry about this, for who could not do with a spot of ecstacy now and then? I envy the generation its pleasure in its music. And that is all I envy it.|
|From Edmund Wilson: "The American Earthquake"; Jack Kerouac: "The Subterraneans"; Edna Ferber: "Ice Palace"|
Esquire | Book Review | May 1958
|~ ELEGANT WRITER ~|
Oh, 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.
|Epitaph for a Darling Lady|
All her hours were yellow sands,
Blown in foolish whorls and tussles;
Slipping warmly through her hands;
Patted into little castles.
Shiny day on shiny day
Tumbled in a rainbow clutter,
As she flipped them all away,
Sent them spinning in the gutter.
Leave for her a red, red rose,
Go your way, and save your pity;
She is happy, for she knows
That her dust is very pretty.
Some men break your heart in two,
Some men fawn and flatter,
Some men never look at you;
And that cleans up the matter.
Oh, there once was a lady or so I've been told,
Whose lover grew weary, whose lover grew cold.
"My child," he remarked, though our episode ends,
In the manner of men, I suggest we be friends."
And the truest of friends ever after they were -
Oh, they lied in their teeth when they told me of her!
|Faute de Mieux|
Travel, trouble, music, art,
A kiss, a frock, a rhyme -
I never said they feed my heart,
But still they pass my time.
|For a Favorite Granddaughter|
Never love a simple lad,
Guard against a wise,
Shun a timid youth and sad,
Hide from haunted eyes.
Never hold your heart in pain
For an evil-doer;
Never flip it down the lane
To a gifted wooer.
Never love a loving son,
Nor a sheep astray;
Gather up your skirts and run
From a tender way.
Never give away a tear,
Never toss a pine;
Should you heed my words, my dear,
You're no blood of mine!
In youth, it was a way I had
To do my best to please
And change, with every passing lad,
To suit his theories.
But now I know the things I know,
And do the things I do;
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you!
Her mind lives in a quiet room,
A narrow room, and tall,
With pretty lamps to quench the gloom
And mottoes on the wall.
There all the things are waxen neat
And set in decorous lines;
And there are posies, round and sweet,
And little, straightened vines.
Her mind lives tidily, apart
From cold and noise and pain,
And bolts the door against her heart,
Out wailing in the rain.
|L'Envoi (Ballade of Unfortunate Mammals)|
Prince, a precept I'd leave for you,
Coined in Eden, existing yet:
Natural history proves it true --
Women and elephants never forget.
|L'Envoi (Ballade of a Talked-Off Ear)|
Prince or Commoner, tenor or bass
Painter or plumber or never-do-well,
Do me a favor and shut your face --
Poets alone should kiss and tell.
|Lolita | 1955|
Mrs. Ewing was a short woman who accepted the obligation borne by so many short women to make up in vivacity what they lack in number of inches from the ground. She was a creature of little pats and prods, little crinklings of the eyes and wrinklings of the nose, little runs and ripples of speech and movement, little spirals of laughter. Whenever Mrs. Ewing entered a place, all stillness left it.
Her age was a matter of guesswork, save for those who had been at school with her. For herself, she declared that she paid no attention to her birthdays -- didn't give a hoot about them; and it is true that when you have amassed several dozen of the same sort of thing, it loses that rarity which is the excitement of collectors. In the summertime, she wore little cotton playsuits, though her only game was bridge, and short socks, revealing the veins along the backs of her legs. For winter, she chose frocks of audible taffeta, frilled and frilled again, and jackets made of the skins of the less-sought-after lower animals. Often, of an evening, she tied a pale ribbon in her hair. Through shimmering heat or stabbing wind, Mrs. Ewing trudged to her hairdresser's; her locks had been so frequently and so drastically brightened and curled that to caress them, one felt, would be rather like running one's fingers through julienne potatoes. She decorated her small, square face in a manner not unusual among ladies of the South and the Southwest, powdering the nose and chin sharp white and applying circles of rouge to the cheeks. Seen from an end of a long, softly lighted room, Mrs. Ewing was a pretty woman.
She had long been a widowed lady. Even before her widowhood, she and Mr. Ewing had lived separately, while the sympathy of the town dwelt with her. She had dallied with the notion of divorce, for it is well known that the thought, much less the presence, of a merry divorcee sets gentlemen to pawing the ground and snorting. But before her plans took form, Mr. Ewing, always a devout believer in the doctrine of one more for the road, was killed in an automobile accident. Still, a widow, too, a soft little widow, has repute the world over for causing the hearts of gentlemen to beat warm and fast. Mrs. Ewing and her friends felt sure that she would marry again. Time slid on, and this did not happen.
Mrs. Ewing never vaunted her lorn condition, never shut herself within the shaded chambers of bereavement. She went right along, skipping and tinkling through all the social events of the town, and no week went by without her presiding in her own house over cheerful little dinners or evenings of passionate bridge. She was always the same, and always the same to everyone, although she reached her heights when there were men present. She coquetted with the solid husbands of her friends, and with the two or three bachelors of the town, tremulous antiques pouring pills into their palms at the dinner table, she was sprightly to the verge of naughtiness. To a stranger observing her might have come the thought that Mrs. Ewing was not a woman who easily abandoned hope.
Mrs. Ewing had a daughter: Lolita. It is, of course, the right of parents to name their offspring what they please, yet it would sometimes be easier if they could glimpse the future and see what the little one was going to look like later on. Lolita was of no color at all; she was thin, with insistent knobs at the ends of her bones, and her hair, so fine that it seemed sparse, grew straight.
|Ninon de Lenclos, on Her Last Birthday|
So let me have the rouge again,
And comb my hair the curly way.
The poor young men, the dear young men
They'll all be here by noon today.
And I shall wear the blue, I think --
They beg to touch its rippled lace;
Or do they love me best in pink,
So sweetly flattering the face?
And are you sure my eyes are bright,
And is it true my cheek is clear?
Young what's-his-name stayed half the night;
He vows to cut his throat, poor dear!
So bring my scarlet slippers, then,
And fetch the powder-puff to me.
The dear young men, the poor young men --
They think I'm only seventy!
|On Cheating the Fiddler|
"Then we will have tonight!" we said.
"Tomorrow---may we not be dead?"
The morrow touched our eyes and found
Us walking firm above the ground.
Our pulses quick, our blood alight.
Tomorrow's gone--we'll have tonight!"
If I should labor through daylight and dark,
Consecrate, valorous, serious, true,
Then on the world I may blazon my mark;
And what if I don't, and what if I do?
Accursed from their birth they be who seek monogamy,
Pursuing it from bed to bed -- I think they would be better dead.
My land is bare of chattering folk;
The clouds are low along the ridges,
And sweet's the air with curly smoke
From all my burning bridges.
Every love's the love before in a duller dress.
That's the measure of my lore -- here's my bitterness:
Would I knew a little more or very much less!
You are brief and frail and blue --
Little sisters, I am, too.
You are heaven's masterpieces --
Little loves, the likeness ceases.
|The Thin Edge|
With you, my heart is quiet here,
And all my thoughts are cool as rain.
I sit and let the shifting year
Go by before the windowpane,
And reach my hand to yours, my dear...
I wonder what it's like in Spain.
|Thought for a Sunshiny Morning|
It costs me never a stab nor squirm
To tread by chance upon a worm.
"Aha, my little dear," I say,
Your clan will pay me back one day.
|A Very Short Song|
Once when I was young and true,
Someone left me sad --
Broke my brittle heart in two;
And that is very bad.
Love is for unlucky folk,
Love is but a curse.
Once there was a heart I broke;
And that, I think, is worse.
When I was young and bold and strong,
Oh, right was right, and wrong was wrong!
My plume on high, my flag unfurled,
I rode away to right the world.
"Come out, you dogs, and fight!" said I,
And wept there was but once to die.
But I am old; and good and bad
Are woven in a crazy plaid.
I sit and say, "The world is so;
And he is wise who lets it go.
A battle lost, a battle won --
The difference is small, my son."
Inertia rides and riddles me;
The which is called Philosophy.
|Hardcopy Credit: The Portable Dorothy Parker, Viking, 1944|