I filled in a missing Dorothy Parker biography for my collection recently, which brought the search back into mind. Although Google Books is now a part of everyday existence, we didn’t have it as recently as two years ago. I use it so much for research that I find it hard to imagine how I ever wrote anything in them olden days of 2008.
So I searched. And searched. And searched. And found nothing.
Well, what I found was apparently the first appearance of it in print. Robert E. Drennan’s 1968 collection of one-liners, The Algonquin Wits, which we already knew to be true. Don’t bother checking it for sources. It doesn’t give any for individual quotes.
Where Drennan got it from is now the mystery to be solved.
Could Parker have said it in conversation? Sure. Did she write the line? Probably not. Does it sound like her? Completely. Are the rest of these questions going to be as rhetorical? No, I’m stopping now.
Most of the sources I’ve seen suggest the quote is from one of her book reviews in the New Yorker. The New Yorker has searchable database of all their issues available for subscribers. If there is a doper with a subscription to the New Yorker, maybe they could help out.
I just did a quick search on “tossed aside lightly” on Google Books Ngram, and find no references to the famous phrase until 1969, at which point it is ambiguously credited to Parker. There are references to the phrase “tossed aside lightly” (without the pithy epigram of a book review) going back to the 19-teens, but nothing attributed to Parker with that “it should be thrown with great force” until after her death. And none of those citing the saying say which book she was reviewing, or where the review appeared. This does not fill me with confidence that the quote really originated in one of her reviews – the Ngram Viewer is silent about it in that phrase throughout the time she was writing them.
A search through Google Books shows me that Paul Johnson, in his recently-published Humorists: from Hogarth to Noel Coward , actually attributes the quote to a Parker review of a novel by Hugh Walpole (page 191), but he gives no footnotes and doesn’t identify the book, or where the review appeared. This doesn’t give me confidence that it’s accurate.
Walpole died in 1941, and Parker was reviewing plays, at least from about 1921. Walpole published over two dozen books in that time span. A search over Parker and Walpole doesn’t turn up any reviews of him by her.
That’s given in the link samclem posted in #6, which also contains a 1960 cite.
In the old joke, Johnson’s book can only be described with superlatives: it is the worst book on humor ever written.
It is a tissue of idiosyncratic opinion supported by “facts” that are flatly wrong and supplemented by urban legends and “everybody knows” history. He gives further reading rather than cites, although it’s obvious he hasn’t read or remembered those books himself, since they would contradict what he wrote.
Let me demolish his Parker page.
Nonsense. Making a pun out of a long word was a standard game at the Algonquin Round Table, which is where it was said.
Not to the staff. She wrote it as a picture caption, which isn’t surprising since her job there was to write picture captions.
Attributed to Parker. From John Keats’ biography. No known source, but not disputed.
She said that, but not to Harold Ross, but after his death to the Paris Review in 1956.
Attributed to Parker. No known source, last I checked.
Part of a joke competition for epitaphs. The full quote is: Here lies Dorothy Parker. Excuse my dust." If you don’t quote it in full, then the the use of Here Lies as a title for her book of collected short stories makes a lot less sense.
The first is a line from the poem, Ballads of a Great Weariness. The second is attributed, no known source.
Needs to be understood in context, which is that the woman had constantly boasted about her pregnancy and shown off her growing belly. It’s a backhanded slap, not a pleasantry.
Needless to say, there is no record that I can find of Parker ever reviewing Hugh Walpole.
The Parker pages are inserted into a chapter on James Thurber, for no better reason than that they wrote for The New Yorker at around the same time. At least Thurber gets talked about on half the pages in that chapter. Poor Noel Coward gets about three in his chapter.
“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”
It’s not particularly witty. There’s barely a pun there, just using ‘lightly’ to describe the physical act of tossing instead of consideration of the intent to do so. And how many of these witticisms can really be attributed to the original source? Any Algonquinish quotes might have been spoken by many associated with literary snark, and for many, the lines will be attributed to the person from whom they heard it first, or last. I am a bit surprised that such a simple turn of words hadn’t appeared in print prior to 1962.
“I’m never going to accomplish anything; that’s perfectly clear to me. I’m never going to be famous. My name will never be writ large on the roster of Those Who Do Things. I don’t do anything. Not one single thing. I used to bite my nails, but I don’t even do that any more.”
We’ve discussed this one on the Board not that long ago, deciding that it was highly unlikely she’d ever said it, as it never had any source attributed, and the story, as told, was Too Good To Be True. I wasn’t aware that she’d ever actually denied saying it. Do you have a cite?