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Issue 27 - Mistress of satire

Whisky Magazine Issue 27
November 2002

 

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Mistress of satire

Jefferson Chase looks at a female writer and renowned wit not scared of a drop of more of the hard stuff: Dorothy Parker

The pantheon of female whisky writers isn't large, a fact attributable less to Y chromosomes than to socialisation. Dorothy Parker is the witty exception. Born in 1893 in New Jersey to Scottish-Jewish parents, Dorothy Rothschild was expelled from Catholic school for insisting that the Immaculate Conception was a form of ‘spontaneous combustion.' At 20 she married a New England WASP, got a job at Vanity Fair magazine and moved to New York. There she helped found the Algonquin Round Table, the so-called ‘vicious circle' of hard drinking journalistic wisecrackers. Parker beat the boys at both booze and barbs: she was the only Algonquin member to achieve lasting fame.

Her poems are satires in her own voice on romance gone sour – for Parker all romance was sour – whereas her three collections of short stories are monologues by upper class nitwits. A particularly funny example, Just A Little One, has a chatty socialite meeting up with a male acquaintance in a speakeasy.

Well, I don't know Fred – what are you going to have? Then I guess I'll have a highball, too; please, just a little one. Is it really real Scotch? Well that will be a new experience for me. You ought to see the Scotch I've got home in my cupboard. At least it was in the cupboard this morning – it's probably eaten its way out by now.

Parker let her characters hang themselves with their own words. As the socialite continues, we realise that she is hardly the neophyte drinker she pretends. At one point, ...

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