Title: Complete Stories.
Author: Dorothy Parker.
Genre: Fiction, literature, short stories, satire, family, romance, social criticism, race.
Publication Date: December 1922 - December 1958.
Summary: Parker's 57 short stories (of which 9 are sketches) bring to life the urban milieu that was her bailiwick and lay bare the uncertainties and disappointments of ordinary people living ordinary lives. Such a Pretty Little Picture (1922) is a story of Mr. Wheelock, who has a picture-perfect life, and a picture-clear fantasy of getting out of its reality. Too Bad (1923) examines the break-up of Grace and Ernest Weldon, a couple married for seven years, who, to the surprise of their friends, suddenly announce their separation. Mr. Durant (1924) is a story of a father who has promised his children they can keep a stray dog, with no intention to do so, which offers a glimpse into his cold and distant character and its effect on his family's life. In A Certain Lady (1925), Parker cleverly describes Mrs. Legion, a cardboard cut-out of a "typical" New Yorker. The Wonderful Old Gentleman (1926) describes two sisters and their husbands waiting for their father to die, and the profound monetary inequalities between the two families - the one who took the father in living in a state of polite bourgeois poverty, and the rich one, who attempts to iron out the wrinkles in the story of their father’s decline. In Dialogue at Three in the Morning (1926), a slightly drunk woman soliloquies about her woes to a close friend. The Last Tea (1926) is set in a cafe where a man and a woman are keeping a date they made the night before at a party, and the conversations on their hangovers. Oh! He's Charming! (1926) is a story of a meeting between Mr. Pawling, a famous author, and Miss Waldron, a great admirer of his books, at a mutual friend's party. Travelogue (1926) is mostly a soliloquy a housewife delivers to a young man who had just returned from 2 years in Arabia, which attempts to paint her as a cultured traveler herself. In Little Curtis (1927), Mrs. Matson adopts a 4-year-old orphan boy for self-aggrandizing motives, and harshly forces classism and over-stringent manners upon him. The Sexes (1927) illustrates the art of manipulation and passive-aggression, through a conversation between two sweethearts. Arrangement in Black and White (1927) is a searing look at the racism in the heart of a well-meaning white woman who, whilst obsessed with presenting herself as completely open-minded, is unaware of her own prejudice. A Telephone Call (1928) is the interior monologue of a woman waiting for a man she is infatuated with to call her at the time he has promised. In A Terrible Day Tomorrow (1928) a woman and a man visit a speakeasy for "just one fast drink," but find many excuses to stay on. Just a Little One (1928) finds a couple at a speakeasy getting drunk and discussing many topics, with heavy manipulations in relation to alcohol and the young man's significant other from the girl. The Mantle of Whistler (1928) showcases a cavalier attitude towards romance and courtship through the light banter of Mr. Bartlett and Miss French, who are introduced to each other at a party as "two people perfect for each other". In The Garter (1928), the author has a self-pitying inner-monologue when her garter breaks in the middle of a party full of strangers, and she considers remaining in her seat so as not to be embarrassed until the end of time. New York to Detroit is a dialogue between a woman calling from New York to a man in Detroit, who isn't as thrilled to speak to her as she hopes. Big Blonde (1929), a story of illusion and reality, avoidance and consequence, tells the tale of an aging party girl who makes a failed attempt at evading the truths of her life with alcohol and company of ever-changing men. In You Were Perfectly Fine (1929), a young man wakes up with a hangover and no memory of the previous night, and while trying to reassure him that he was "perfectly fine," his female friend reconstructs a night for him that turns out not to have been fine at all. The Cradle of Civilization (1929) showcases Americans' obnoxious and abrasive behaviour abroad through a discussion of a pair sunning themselves on the French Riviera. But the One on the Right (1929) is the author's inner-monologue about the unfortunate dinner companion she has on her right, and the mysterious but unavailable one on her left. Here We Are (1931) describes a tense scene between a newly married couple traveling by train to New York City for the first night of their honeymoon. Lady with a Lamp (1932) shows one side of a conversation between a lady and the friend she has come to "comfort" (after what is heavily implied to be an abortion), although she ends up doing more harm than good. Dusk Before Fireworks (1932) finds a talkative young woman in the apartment of a man-about-women, and though both are ready for action, the telephone keeps interrupting with greetings and solicitations from some of his other conquests. In A Young Woman in Green Lace (1932), a young man approaches a woman at a party who's just "come back from abroad," and attempts to pick her up while she bemoans American ways and customs. In Horsie (1932), a family with a new baby employs a live-in nurse, whose resemblance to a horse and the family's inability to get over it showcases the power of beauty, and the prejudice society holds against ugly women. Advice to the Little Peyton Girl (1933) is a conversation during which an older lady advises a young girl about how to act to keep the man she has spooked by acting too desperate, but doesn't exercise the same wisdom when it comes to her own affairs. From the Diary of a New York Lady: During Days of Horror, Despair, and World Change (1933) is a diary of a socialite in which she bemoans her shallow and repetitive sorrows and despairs. Sentiment (1933) is a soliloquy a woman has in a taxi as she recounts the loss of her love and credits it to her over-sentimentality. Mrs. Carrington and Mrs. Crane (1933) is a conversation between two women bemoaning how boring and shallow their social circle is, meanwhile demonstrating all the same traits. The Little Hours (1933) is an inner-monologue of a woman who wakes up in the middle of the night, and cannot get back to sleep. The Waltz (1933) is the inner-monologue of a young woman who agrees to a waltz with a man she dislikes and doesn't want to dance with. In The Road Home (1933), a couple argues on the way home in a taxi, when the young woman accuses her suitor for ignoring her at the party and paying more attention to other girls. In Glory in the Daytime (1933), a young housewife is doused in cold disillusionment when she meets an actress she loves and idealizes, and finds out the actress is very far from what the young woman imagined. Cousin Larry (1934) is one side of a dialogue in which a young woman makes fun of her good friend's wife, and describes the "innocent" and "cousin-like" relationship she has with her husband. In Mrs. Hofstadter on Josephine Street (1934), a couple rents a cottage and uses an employment agency to find a man who matches their specific wants and needs, but Horace, who used to work for a Mrs. Hofstadter on Josephine Street and has stellar recommendations, turns out quite different from what they expected. Clothe the Naked (1938) tells of Big Lannie, a hardworking black woman who is saddled with a blind grandson, and as the child grows up, going outside for walks, bathed in the sounds of laughter and greeting, becomes his only source of happiness. In Soldiers of the Republic (1938), while visiting Valencia during the Spanish Civil War, the protagonist and two girlfriends run across a group of soldiers at home on leave from the trenches while in a bar. In The Custard Heart (1939), Parker satirizes the brutality and thoughtlessness of "secure and leisured ladies" by introducing Mrs. Lanier, a wealthy woman who spends her days in a state of oblivious wistfulness, unable to deal with the hardships and misfortunes of others, although in reality quite oblivious to them, even in her own home. Song of the Shirt, 1941 ((1941) finds a well-intentioned war-time volunteer, Mrs. Martindale, known among her friends for the size of her heart, struggle with her sense of duty to help war-time efforts as much as she is able by sewing hospital gowns. The Standard of Living (1941) is a story of two shallow and poor best friends, the core of whose friendship revolves around a game that involves deciding what they would buy if they inherited a million dollars, and could only spend it on themselves. In The Lovely Leave (1943), when her husband's much-anticipated one-week leave gets cancelled and she only gets him for an hour, Mimi tries her best not to let her feelings of being left out, anxiety, and bitterness spoil the little time they have together. In The Game (1948), a newly-wed couple host a few of their friends, but during the course of The Game (something reminiscent of Charades), dark secrets, jealousies, and suspicions come to the surface. In I Live on Your Visits (1955), a young man visiting his mother get subjected to guilt and manipulation, as he's on the way to visit his father and stepmother. In Lolita (1955), Mrs. Ewing is pitied for her plain and meek daughter, but when the girl lands the most sought-after and eligible bachelor in town, her mother's reaction is not quite as expected. In The Banquet of Crow (1957), when Mrs. Allen's husband leaves her and she has a hard time getting over it (or understanding the reason why), she begins to see a "therapist" who tells her everything she really wants to hear. The Bolt Behind the Blue (1958) is about a self-interested friendship between poor and embittered Miss Nicholl, and extremely wealthy and aristocratic Mrs. Hazelton, both of whom secretly resent each other for their circumstances. SKETCHES: Our Tuesday Club (1920) is a series of tongue-in-cheek descriptions of the personages that comprise a Tuesday Club. As the Spirit Moves (1920) describes the mediumship and ouija board craze that swept the society at the time, and some notable ladies that have had great success with it (as well as the author's own feelings about it). A Dinner Party Anthology (1920) is a series of humorous sketches of eight odd characters who make four couples, and who comprise a regular dinner party in a country town. A Summer Hotel Anthology (1920) humorously describes eight characters who summer together at a summer hotel. An Apartment House Anthology (1921) describes the inhabitants of all seven units in an apartment house in Manhattan. In Welcome Home (1922), a young couple living a quiet and humble life in New York City has their lives and their wallets turned upside down and inside out once a year when Mr. Lunts's aunt comes to visit, though there is some irony when they return the favour and visit her. Our Own Crowd (1922) is a story of three couples that summer together at the cheap Pebbly Point House every year and have an amazing time together, but when they get together during the others seasons' in the city, the illusion doesn't quite hold up. Professional Youth (1923) is the author's remarks and observations on the re-branding and capitalisation of "youth" in America.
My rating: 8/10
My Review: Dorothy Parker is delightful. Lightly but sternly, with ardent wit and brave and unflinching honesty she untangles and lays out for exhibition the society in which she lived. Though you see the absurdities, pretensions, and hypocrisies of the society starkly, she accomplishes this by simply presenting seemingly innocent and day-to-day interactions that ultimately speak for themselves. She has unending and harsh criticisms about the society about her, and I think her greatest gift is showing why she has them, as opposed to expressing them. Through simple conversations and seemingly meaningless encounters and vignettes, it's as if she denudes the world, leaving it standing naked with all its flaws shining through like lighthouses in a mist, without a feeling of preaching or hamfistedness.
♥ She was not a tall woman, and since the birth of her child she had gone over from a delicate plumpness to a settled stockiness. Her brown hair, though abundant, grew in an uncertain line about her forehead. It was her habit to put it up in curlers at night, but the crimps never came out in the right place. It was arranged with perfect neatness, yet is suggested that it had been done up and got over with as quickly as possible. Passionately clean, she was always redolent of the germicidal soap she used so vigorously. She was wont to tell people, somewhat redundantly, that she never employed any sort of cosmetics. She had unlimited contempt for women who sought to reduce their weight by dieting, cutting from their menus such nourishing items as cream and puddings and cereals.
Adelaide Wheelock's friends - and she had many of them - said of her that there was no nonsense about her. They and she regarded it as a compliment.
~~Such a Pretty Little Picture.
♥ I'll be the way I was when I first met him. Then maybe he'll like me again. I was always sweet, at first. Oh, it's so easy to be sweet to people before you love them.
♥ I wish I could hurt him like hell.
He doesn't wish that about me. I don't think he even knows how he makes me feel. I wish he could know, without my telling him. They don't like you to tell them they've made you cry. They don't like you to tell them you're unhappy because of them. If you do, they think you're possessive and exacting. And then they hate you. They hate you whenever you say anything you really think. You always have to keep playing little games. Oh, I thought we didn't have to; I thought this was so big I could say whatever I meant. I guess you can't, ever. I guess there isn't ever anything big enough for that.
♥ I won't. I'll be quiet. This is nothing to get excited about. Look. Suppose he were someone I didn't know very well. Suppose he were another girl. Then I'd just telephone and say, "Well, for goodness' sake, what happened to you?" That's what I'd do, and I'd never even think about it. Why can't I be casual and natural, just because I love him?
~~A Telephone Call.
♥ It will be nice to see the effect of veritable whiskey upon one who has been accustomed only to the simpler forms of entertainment. You'll like that, Fred. You'll stay by me if anything happens, won't you? I don't think there will be anything spectacular, but I want to ask you one thing, just in case. Don't let me take any horses home with me. It doesn't matter so much about stray dogs and kittens, but elevator boys get awfully stuffy when you try to bring in a horse.
~~Just a Little One.
♥ Her job was not onerous, and she met numbers of men and spent numbers of evenings with them, laughing at their jokes and telling them she loved their neckties. Men liked her, and she took it for granted that the liking of many men was a desirable thing. Popularity seemed to her to be worth all the work that had to be put into its achievement. Men liked you because you were fun, and when they liked you they took you out, and there you were. So, and successfully, she was fun. She was a good sport. Men like a good sport.
♥ Wedded and relaxed, she poured her tears freely. To her who had laughed so much, crying was delicious. All sorrows became her sorrows; she was Tenderness.
♥ She slept, aided by whisky, till deep into the afternoons, then lay abed, a bottle and glass at her hand, until it was time to dress to go out for dinner. She was beginning to feel towards alcohol a little puzzled distrust, as toward an old friend who has refused a simple favor. Whisky could still soothe her for most of the time, but there were sudden, inexplicable moments when the cloud fell treacherously away from her, and she was sawed by the sorrow and bewilderment and nuisance of all living. She played voluptuously with the thought of cool, sleepy retreat. She had never been troubled by religious belief and no vision of an after-life intimidated her. She dreamed by day of never again putting on tight shoes, of never having to laugh and listen and admire, of never more being a good sport. Never.
♥ "Jeez. Out like a light," he commented.
At his interest in the spectacle, Nettie's panic left her. Importance was big in both of them. They talked in quick, unfinished whispers, and it was the boy's suggestion that he fetch the young doctor who lived on the ground floor. Nettie hurried along with him. They looked forward to the limelit moment of breaking their news of something untoward, something pleasurably unpleasant. Mrs. Morse had become the medium of drama. With no ill wish to her, they hoped that her state was serious, that she would not let them down by being awake and normal on their return. A little fear of this determined them to make the most, to the doctor, of her present condition. "Matter of life and death," returned to Nettie from her thin store of reading. She considered startling the doctor with the phrase.
♥ Oh, I should never have come, never. I'm here against my better judgement. Friday, at eight-thirty, Mrs. Parker vs. her better judgement, to a decision. That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgement.
♥ I wish I had something to do. I hate to be a mere drone. People ought to let you know when they're going to sit you next to a thing like this, so you could bring along some means of occupation. Dear Mrs. Parker, do come to us for dinner on Friday next, and don't forget your drawn-work. I could have brought my top bureau drawer and tidied it up, here on my lap. I could have made great strides towards getting those photographs of the groups on the beach pasted up in the album. I wonder if my hostess would think it strange if I asked for a pack of cards. I wonder if there are any old copies of St. Nicholas lying about. I wonder if they wouldn't like a little help out in the kitchen. I wonder if anybody would want me to run up to the corner and get a late paper.
♥ I'm not going to be spineless any longer. Don't think for a minute, lady, that I've given up. He's still using his knife and fork. While there's hands above the table, there's hope.
~~But the One on the Right.
♥ There was a silence with things going on in it.
~~Here We Are.
♥ He was a very good-looking young man indeed, shaped to be annoyed. His voice was intimate as the rustle of sheets, and he kissed easily.
♥ The very good-looking young man was stretched in a chair that was legless and short in back. It was a strain to see in that chair any virtue save the speeding one of modernity. Certainly it was a peril to all who dealt with it; they were far from their best within its arms, and they could never have wished to be remembered as they appeared while easing into its depths or struggling out again. All, that is, save the young man.
♥ The young woman was temperately pretty in the eyes of most beholders; but there were a few, mainly hand-to-mouth people, artists and such, who could not look enough at her. Half a year before, she had been sweeter to see. Now there was tension about her mouth and unease along her brow, and her eyes looked wearied and troubled. The gentle dusk became her. The young man who shared it with her could not see these things.
♥ The young woman on the sofa looked at him as ig through clear ice.
"And how is dear Mrs. Holt?" she said.
"Great," he said. "Corking. Way up at the top of her form." He dropped wearily into the low chair. "She says she has something she wants to tell me."
"It can't be her age," she said.
He smiled without joy. "She says it's too hard to say over the wire," he said.
"Then it may be her age," she said. "She's afraid it might sound like her telephone number."
♥ "I just said it because I wanted to hear you say it was me you wanted to be with. Oh, I need to hear you say that, Hobie. It's—it's what I live on, darling."
"Kit," he said, "you ought to know, without my saying it. You know. It's this feeling you have to say things—that's what spoils everything."
♥ "And I thought you were different!"
"I was different," she said, "just so long as you thought I was different."
~~Dusk Before Fireworks.
♥ "I love horses, myself," he said to Camilla, who lay all white and languid on her apricot satin chaise-lounge. "I'm a fool for a horse. Ah, what a noble animal, darling! All I say is, nobody has any business to go around looking like a horse and behaving as if it were all right. You don't catch horses going around looking like people, do you?"
♥ Cruger's Compulsory Conversations: Lesson I, a Dinner with a Miss Wilmarth, a Trained Nurse. Good evening, Miss Wilmarth. Well! And how were the patients all day? That's good, that's fine. Well! The baby gained two ounces, did she? That's fine. Yes, that's right, she will be before we know it. That's right. Well! Mrs. Cruger seems to be getting stronger every day, doesn't she? That's good, that's fine. That's right, up and about before we know it. Yes, she certainly will. Well! Any visitors today? That's good. Didn't stay too long, did they? That's fine. Well! No, no, no, Miss Wilmirth—you go ahead. I wasn't going to say anything at all, really. No, really. Well! Well! I see where they found those two aviators after all. Yes, certainly do run risks. That's right. Yes. Well! I see where they've been having a regular old-fashioned blizzard out west. Yes, we certainly have had a mild winter. That's right. Well! I see where they held up that jeweler's shop right in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue. Yes, I certainly don't know what we're coming to. That's right. Well! I see the cat. Do you see the cat? The cat is on the mat. It certainly is. Well! Pardon me, Miss Wilmarth, but must you look so much like a horse? Do you like to look like a horse, Miss Wilmarth? That's good, Miss Wilmarth, that's fine. You certainly do, Miss Wilmarth. That's right. Well! Will you for God's sake finish your oats, Miss Wilmarth, and let me get out of this?
♥ "Honestly, it wouldn't have been bad if it had been some terribly nice girl, some one miles more attractive than me. That wouldn't have been so bad, would it, Miss Marion?"
"I don't know, dear," Miss Marion said. "I'm afraid one never thinks a man leaves one for a finer woman."
♥ "Don't be afraid that your friends will ask you questions or look at your queerly; you will give them no reason to. And people don't really say cruel things, dear; it is only in anticipation that pride is hurt."
♥ "And you must conquer your fears, dear child. A woman in fear for her love can never do right. Realize that there are times he will want to be away from you; never ask him why or where. No man will bear that. Don't predict unhappiness, nor foresee a parting; he will not slip away if you do not let him see that you are holding him. Love is like quicksilver in the hand, Sylvie. Leave the fingers open and it stays in the palm; clutch it, and it darts away."
~~Advice to the Little Peyton Girl.
♥ I wonder why it's wrong to be sentimental. People are so contemptuous of feeling. "You wouldn't catch me sitting alone and mooning," they say. "Moon" is what they say when they mean remember, and they are so proud of not remembering. It's strange, how they pride themselves upon their lacks.
♥ It's ended, it's ended. And when it ends, only those places where you have known sorrow are kindly to you. If you revisit the scenes of your happiness, your heart must burst of its agony.
And that's sentimental, I suppose. It's sentimental to know that you cannot bear to see the places where all was well with you, that you cannot bear reminders of a dead loveliness. Sorrow is tranquillity remembered in emotion.
♥ Yes, and you want to know what got me into this mess? Going to bed at ten o'clock, that's what. That spells ruin. T-e-n-space-o-apostrophe-c-l-o-c-k: ruin. Early to bed, and you'll wish you were dead. Bed before eleven, nuts before seven. Bed before morning, sailors give warning. Ten o'clock, after a quiet evening of reading. Reading—there's an institution for you. Why, I'd turn on the light and read, right this minute, if reading weren't what contributed toward driving me here. I'll show it. God, the bitter misery that reading works in this world! Everybody knows that—everybody who is everybody. All the best minds have been off reading for years. Look at the swing La Rochefoucauld took at it. He said that of nobody had ever learned to read, very few people would be in love. There was a man for you, and that's what he thought of it. Good for you, La Rochefoucauld; nice going, boy. I wish I'd never learned to read. I wish I'd never learned to read. I wish I'd never learned to take off my clothes. Then I wouldn't have been caught in this jam at half-past four in the morning.
♥ Well. This way lies galloping melancholia. Maybe it's because this is the zero hour. This is the time the swooning soul hangs pendant and vertiginous between the new day and the old, nor dares confront the one or summon back the other. This is the time when all things, known and hidden, are iron to weight the spirit; when all ways, traveled or virgin, fall away from the stumbling feet, when all before the straining eyes is black. Blackness now, everywhere is blackness. This is the time of abomination, the dreadful hour of the victorious dark. For it is always darkest— Was it not that lovable old cynic, La Rochefoucauld, who said that it is always darkest before the deluge?
~~The Little Hours.
♥ And a peach of a world, too. A true little corker. Its events are so fascinatingly unpredictable, are not they? Here I was, minding my own business, not doing a stitch of harm to any living soul. And then he comes into my life, all smiles and city manners, to sue me for the favor of one memorable mazurka. Why, he scarcely knows my name, let alone what is stands for. It stands for Despair, Bewilderment, Futility, Degradation, and Premeditated Murder, but little does he wot.
♥ She thought of Jim; Jim, who had left for his office before she had arisen that morning, Jim, whom she had not kissed good-by. Darling Jim. There were no others born like him. Funny Jim, stiff and cross and silent; but only because he knew so much. Only because he knew the silliness of seeking afar for the glamour and beauty and romance of living. When they were right at home all the time, she thought. Like the Blue Bird, thought little Mrs. Murdock.
~~Glory in the Daytime.
♥ She neither cursed her ills nor sought remedies for them. They had happened to her; there they were.
~~Clothe the Naked.
♥ "It's funny," I said to the Swedish girl, "how when nobody in a place is best-dressed, you don't notice that everybody isn't."
♥ They talked through the Swedish girl, but they did to us that thing we all do when we speak our own language to one who has no knowledge of it. They looked us square in the face, and spoke slowly, and pronounced their words with elaborate movements of their lips. Then, as their stories came, they poured them at us so vehemently, so emphatically that they were sure we must understand. They were so convinced we would understand that we were ashamed for not understanding.
~~Soldiers of the Republic.
♥ No living eye, of human being or caged wild beast or dear, domestic animal, had beheld Mrs. Lanier when she was not being wistful. She was dedicated to wistfulness, as lesser artists to words and paint and marble. Mrs. Lanier was not of the lesser; she was of the true. Surely the eternal example of the true artist is Dickens's actor who blacked himself all over to play Othello. It is safe to assume that Mrs. Lanier was wistful in her bathroom, and slumbered soft in wistfulness through the dark and secret night.
If nothing should happen to the portrait of her by Sir James Weir, there she will stand, wistful for the ages. He has shown her at her full length, all in yellows, the delicately heaped curls, the slender, arched feet like elegant bananas, the shining stretch of the evening gown; Mrs. Lanier habitually wore white in the evening but white is the devil's own hue to paint, and could a man be expected to spend his entire six weeks in the States on the execution of a single commission? Wistfulness rests, immortal, in the eyes dark with sad hope, in the pleading mouth, the droop of the little head on the sweet long neck, bowed as if in submission to the three ropes of Lanier pearls. It is true that, when the portrait was exhibited, one critic expressed in print his puzzlement as to what a woman who owned such pearls had to be wistful about; but that was doubtless because he had sold his saffron-colored soul for a few pennies to the proprietor of a rival gallery.
♥ But she shrank from leaving the shelter of her house, for everywhere without were the unlovely and the sad, to assail her eyes and her heart.
♥ There is no safety for the tender, no matter how straight their route, how innocent their destination.
♥ So it was, when Mrs. Lanier went out.
♥ So it was, when Mrs. Lanier went out. Everywhere she saw them, the ragged, the wretched, the desperate, and to each she gave her look that spoke with no words.
"Courage," it said. "And you—oh, wish me courage, too!"
♥ Here in her drawing-room, in the lovely blue of the late day, Mrs. Lanier sat upon opalescent taffeta and was wistful. And here to her drawing-room, the young men came and tried to help her bear her life.
There was a pattern to the visits of the young men. They would come in groups of three or four or six, for a while; and then there would be one of them who would stay a little after the rest had gone, who presently would come a little earlier than the others. Then there would be days when Mrs. Lanier would cease to be at home to the other young men, and that one young man would be alone with her in the lovely blue. And then Mrs. Lanier would no longer be at home to that one young man, and Gwennie would have to yell him and tell him, over the telephone, that Mrs. Lanier was out, that Mrs. Lanier was ill, that Mrs. Lanier could not be disturbed. The groups of young men would come again; that one young man would not be with them. But there would be, among them, a new young man, who presently would stay a little later and come a little earlier, who eventually would plead with Gwennie over the telephone.
~~The Custard Heart.
♥ It was one of those extraordinarily bright days that make things look somehow bigger. The Avenue seemed to stretch wider and longer, and the buildings to leap higher into the skies. The window-box blooms were no just a mass and a blur; it was as if they had been enlarged, so that you could see the design of the blossoms and even their separate petals. Indeed you could sharply see all sorts of pleasant things that were usually too small for your notice—the lean figurines on radiator caps, and the nice round gold knobs on flagpoles, the flowers and fruits on ladies' hats and the creamy dew applied to the eyelids beneath them. There should be more of such days.
~~Song of the Shirt, 1941.
♥ Slowly she cradled her telephone, looking at it as if all frustrations and bewilderments and separations were its fault. Over it she had heard his voice, coming from far away. All the months, she had tried not to think of the great blank distance between them; and now that far voice made her know she had thought of nothing else. And his speech had been brisk and busy. And from back of him had come gay wild young voices, voices he heard every day and she did not, voices of those who shared his new life. And he had heeded them and not her, when she begged for another minute.
♥ Then she told herself to stop her nonsense. If you looked for things to make you feel hurt and wretched and unnecessary, you were certain to find them, more easily each time, so easily, soon, that you did not even realize you had gone out searching. Women alone often developed into experts at the practice. She must never join their dismal league.
♥ No. That was exactly the wrong thing to do; that was directly the wrong way to think. That was the way she had spoiled it before. Almost as soon as the shyness had left her and she felt she knew him again, she had begun counting. She was so filled with the desperate consciousness of the hours sliding away—only twelve more, only five, oh, dear God, only one left—that she had no room for gaiety and ease. She had spent the golden time in grudging its going.
♥ To keep something, you must take care of it. More, you must understand just what sort of care it requires. You must know the rules and abide by them. She could do that. She had been doing it all the months, in the writing of her letters to him. There had been rules to be learned in that matter, and the first of them was the hardest: never say to him what you want him to say to you. Never tell him how sadly you miss him, how it grows no better, how each day without him is sharper than the day before. Set down for him the gay happenings about you, bright little anecdotes, not invented, necessarily, but attractively embellished. Do not bedevil him with the pinings of your faithful heart because he is your husband, your man, your love. For you are writing to none of these. You are writing to a soldier.
♥ "It hadn't occurred to me," she said, "that it was silly to keep faithful to one's husband."
"Isn't that taking rather a jump?" he said. "It's possible to go to dinner with a man and stay this side adultery. And don't use words like "one's." You're awful when you're elegant."
♥ "I'm not doing any kind of talk!" she said. "I'm trying to tell you something. Just because you've got on that pretty suit, you think you should never hear anything serious, never anything sad or wretched or disagreeable. You make me sick, that's what you do! I know, I know—I'm not trying to take anything away from you, I realize what you're doing, I told you what I think of it. Don't, for heaven's sake, think I'm mean enough to grudge you any happiness and excitement you can get out of it. I know it's hard for you. But it's never lovely, that's all I mean. You have companionship no—no wife can ever give you. I suppose it's the sense of hurry, maybe, the consciousness of living on borrowed time, the—the knowledge of what you're all going into together that makes the comradeship of men in war so firm, so fast. But won't you please try to understand how I feel? Won't you understand that it comes out of bewilderment and disruption and—and being frightened, I guess? Won't you understand what makes me do what I do, when I hate myself while I'm doing it? Won't you please understand? Darling, won't you please?"
~~The Lovely Leave.
♥ Each room, in fact, already had museum qualities: impersonality, correctness, and rigidity. In the drawing room, indeed, the decorator had made chalk marks on the carpet to indicate where each leg of each piece of furniture must rest. The drawing room was done in mirrors that looked as if they had hung for months in hickory smoke, and its curtains and carpets and cushions were a muted green, more chaste than any white. There were flowers with that curious waxen look flowers have when they come from the florist already arranged in the vase. On the ceiling were pools of soft radiance; light, delicate and genteel, issues from massive lamps by routes so indirect they seemed rather more like detours. It was impossible to imagine the room with a fallen petal on a table, or with an open magazine face down on a sofa, or a puppy mark in a far corner of the carpet. It was utterly impeccable, and it was impossible not to imagine the cost of making it so and keeping it so. Happily enough in this blemished world, perfection is not unique; in the radius of twelve Park Avenue streets there must have been twenty rooms like it; all, like it, the property of nervous youngish men newly arrived at high positions in nervous youngish industries.
♥ The men wore the garb they could by now easily call Black Tie. (The steps in social ascent may be gauged by the terms employed to describe a man's informal evening dress: the progression goes Tuxedo, Tux, dinner jacket, Black Tie.)
♥ "Palm Springs is real desert, isn't it?" Mrs. McDermott said.
"Sure is," he said. "There we were, right in the heart of the desert."
"My, what a real change that must've been for you," Mrs. Bain said—and wished she were dead.
♥ For the past week, up at his school, he had hoped—and coming down in the train he had hoped so hard that it became prayer—that his mother would not be what he thought of only as "like that."
... "I can give you but little," his mother said, "yet life is still kind enough to let me give you something you will always remember. Through me, you will meet a human being."
Yes, oh, yes. The voices, the stances, the eyelids—those were the signs. But when his mother divided the race into people and human beings—that was the certainty.
♥ "What is his name?" the true friend said.
"Why, Christopher, of course," his mother said.
Christopher, of course. Had he been born earlier, it would have been Peter; earlier again, Michael; he had been not much too late for Jonathan. In the lower forms of his school, there were various Nicholases, several Robins, and here and there a Jeremy coming up. But the members of his own class were in the main Christophers.
~~I Live on Your Visits.
♥ 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.
♥ 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.
♥ Mrs. Ewing always had her present at her own little soirees, though the Lord knew she added noting to them, and, dauntless, took her along to the public events attended by both old and young, festivals for the benefit of church or charity or civic embellishment. Even when brought into such festivities, Lolita would find a corner and stay there in her quiet.
♥ It was a crazy year, a year when things that should have run on schedule went all which ways. It was a year when snow fell thick and lasting in April, and young ladies clad in shorts were photographed for the tabloids sunbathing in Central Park in January. It was a year when in the greatest prosperity of the richest nation, you could not walk five city blocks without being besought by beggars; when expensively dressed women loud and lurching in public places were no uncommon sight; when drugstore counters were stacked with tablets to make you tranquil and other tablets to set you leaping. It was a year when wives whose position was only an inch or two below that of the saints—arbiters of etiquette, venerated hostesses, architects of memorable menus—suddenly caught up a travelling bag and a jewel case and flew off to Mexico with ambiguous young men allied with the arts; when husbands who had come home every evening not only at the same hour but at the same minute of the same hour came home one evening more, spoke a few words, and then went out their doors and did not come in by them again.
♥ Her present became intolerable to Mrs. Allen, and she could see her future only as a hideous prolonging of it. She turned to the past. She did not let memory lead her; it was she who steered memory back along the sunny bypaths of her marriage. Eleven years of marriage, years of happiness—perfect happiness. Oh, Guy had had a man's little moods sometimes, but she could always smile him out of them, and such minute happenings only brought them more sweetly together; lovers' quarrels was the way to bed. Mrs. Allen shed April tears for times gone by; and nobody ever came along and explained to her that if she had had eleven years of perfect happiness, she was the only human being who ever did.
♥ But memory is a tacit companion.
♥ It was a big factor in Dr. Langham's success that she had the ability to make wet straws seem like sturdy logs to the nearly submerged.
~~The Banquet of Crow.
♥ The more blessed lady, her friend Mrs. Hazelton, enjoyed Miss Nicholl's visits occasionally; humility is a seemly tribute to a favorite of fate, and to be the cause of envy is cozy to the ego.
♥ "You don't know about how, when you can have so few things, you have to like the thing you can have."
♥ "What kind of life is that, sitting around in a teagown, counting her pearls? Pearls that size are nothing but vulgar, anyway. Why should she have all those things? She's never done anything—couldn't even keep a husband. It's awful to think of that empty existence; nothing to do but have breakfast in bed and spend money on herself. No, sir, she can have her pearls and her hangers and her money and her twice-a-week florist, and welcome to them. I swear, I wouldn't change places with Alicia Hazelton for anything on earth!"
It is a strange thing, but it is a fact. Though it had every justification, a bolt did not swoop from the sky and strike Miss Nicholl down, then and there.
... "I sort of feel sorry for her," Ewie said.
"You needn't," Mrs. Hazelton said. "She has more than a good many people. Much more."
She looked around the big, beautiful room, sweet with shimmering blossoms. She touched the pearls about her throat, twined her fingers in the long rope, and glanced down at the delicate slippers that were made for her in Rome.
"What's she got that's so much more?" Ewie asked.
"Why," Mrs. Hazelton said, "she hasn't any responsibilities, and she has a job that gives her something to do every day, and a nice room, and a lot of books to read, and she and her friend do all sorts of things in the evenings. Oh, let me tell you, I'd be more than glad to change places with Mary Nicholl!"
And again that bolt, though surely sufficiently provoked, stayed where it was, up in back of the blue.
~~The Bolt Behind the Blue.
♥ The merest intangible rumor of an epidemic suffices to keep her cowering for weeks within doors. Her panic at the thought of germs is pitiful to behold. If she were ever brought face to face with a germ she would promptly lose consciousness from sheer terror.
So, one rather imagines, would the germ.
♥ It is doubtless her naïveté that creates the impression of guileless youth in Mrs. Pugh. Her naïveté is like some cherished heirloom, not only in that it has been in the family for years, but in that it is carefully guarded, proudly exhibited, the subject of many quaint narratives, told, it must be added, by Mrs. Pugh herself, who can do them full justice. She is perhaps at her best when retailing the startlingly studied things she has said and their effect upon certain said listeners. She is simply bubbling over—the phrase is her own—with ingenuousness. Though she has had the usual education, she receives every stray bit of information with little cries of wonder that such things can be out in the great, big world.
♥ As she repeatedly observes, her idea of fun isn't staying indoors with a lot of grown-ups; if she had her way she would be with the young people all the time.
Quite a formidable barrier to her ever attaining her wish is the feeling of the young people in the matter.
~~Our Tuesday Club.
♥ Any day, now, I expect to read in the paper that Sir Oliver Lodge, or somebody else who keeps right in touch with all the old crowd, has received a message from the Great Beyond announcing that the spirits have walked out for a forty-four-hour week, with time and a half for overtime, and government control of ouija boards. And it would be no more than fair, when you come right down to it; something ought to be done to remedy the present working conditions among the spirits. Since this wave of spiritualism has broken over the country it has got so that a spirit doesn't have a minute to himself. The entire working force has to come trooping back to earth every night to put in a hard night's labor knocking on walls, ringing bells, playing banjos, pushing planchettes round, and performing such parlor specialties. The spirits have not had a quiet evening at home for months. The Great Beyond must look as deserted as an English lecture platform.
No spirit could object to coming back now and then in the way of business, so to speak, through a professional medium. That sort of thing is more or less expected; it's all in an eternity, as you might say. But is more or less expected; it's all in an eternity, as you might say. But the entrance of all these amateurs into the industry has been really too much. It is the ouija-board trade in particular that is so trying. Now that every family has installed its own private ouija-board and expects immediate service on it at any hour of the day or night, the sting has been put into death. It's enough to wear a pool spirit to a shadow, that's what it is.
♥ There was a time when ouija-board operating was looked upon only as an occupation for highly unmarried elderly ladies of pronounced religious tendencies; prohibition was regarded in much the same light, if you remember.
♥ She has always been good at anything anywhere nearly like that. Now you take solitaire, for instance. I don't think I ever saw a prettier game of solitaire than that which Aunt Bertha puts up. You may be looking over her shoulder while she deals out the cards for a game of Canfield, and from the layout before her you would swear that she had not a chance of getting more than one or two aces up, at most. In fact, it looks so hopeless that you lose interest in the game and go over to the other end of the room to get a magazine. And when you come back Aunt Bertha will have all the cards in four stacks in front of her, and she will smile triumphantly and exclaim: "What do you think of that? I got it again!"
I have known that to happen over and over again; I never saw such luck in my life. I would back Aunt Bertha against any living solitaire player for any amount of money you want, only providing that the judges leave the room during the contest.
♥ As for the community ouija boards, any time the research workers want to store them away in the spare bedrooms with the rest of the bird's-eye-maple furniture it will be quite all right for me. I am willing to call it a day and give the spirits a rest any time that the others are. I am not fanatical about the ouija board; I am perfectly able to take it or let it alone. In fact, I think that a reasonable amount of daily exercise on it is a good thing. It is not the actual manual labor that I object to—it is the unexpurgated accounts of all the messages received and their meanings, if any.
Sometimes I even feel that I could moil along through life if I never had to hear another discourse on the quaint things that some local ouija board has said. To put it in so many words—at a rough estimate—I am just about all through.
In fact, if I thought that you would stand for it I would even go so far as to say that I am ouija bored.
~~As the Spirit Moves.
♥ Sometimes, she adds wistfully, she yearns to give up her entire ménage and go to live in some little shanty in the backwoods where she could do all her own work and be freed from any effort at entertaining.
It would really amaze Mrs. Frisbie to learn how many people of her acquaintance are wholly in sympathy with the idea.
♥ Naturally Mr. Frisbie revels in his opportunities as host at the dinner. Between sallies he performs quaint tricks with olives, silverware and lumps of sugar, leading the laughter on every occasion. Well may his guests remark, as they frequently do, that Charlie is a regular case.
But of what they neglect to add.
♥ To the overcritical, it seems, perhaps, as if good breeding is much like a sense of humor, in that its possessor never considers it necessary to call attention to it.
♥ He ardently believes that the louder an argument is uttered the more convincing it is; therefore, he is wont almost to shout, with accompanying virile thumps on a neighboring table, that the only thing which can save this country from ruin is three months' compulsory military training, annually, for all men between the ages of eighteen and forty.
Mr. Wilcox was forty-one last January.
♥ Warming to her theme, she will even give impersonations of the baby making cooing sounds in his bathtub. Delightful as this performance no doubt is in the original, much of the illusion is unfortunately lost in the imitation.
♥ In a town of of less than one hundred thousand people it is difficult to wear garments which interpret one's soul without causing talk.
♥ Many of her friends are firm in their belief that Mrs. Pressey could create a furore in the literary world should she ever commit her impressions to paper; indeed, Mrs. Pressey acknowledges that she would write if only she had the time.
But what with her walking to school with the children in the mornings, calling for them at noon and having only the remainder of the day to herself, it looks as if Mrs. Pressey's Alice-blue quill pen must stand forever idle in its glassful of buckshot.
~~A Dinner Party Anthology.
♥ Perhaps the compliment oftenest repeated is that Miss Finch's gift for bringing people together amounts to a real talent.
Where she soars to positive genius is in her unerring instinct for bringing together those who, from their first glimpse of one another, have been straining every effort to keep apart.
♥ Year after year Mrs. Larkin visits the hotel, seeking in vain for recovery in the abundant sea air. There is, fortunately, nothing organically wrong; hers is an intangible affection, hopelessly permanent, which necessitates complete rest, congenial surroundings, soothing medicines, tempting food, exemption from any responsibility or worry, and the elimination of all effort.
♥ Were it not for disappointing them Mrs. Larkin often says that she would much prefer to be left quietly alone.
How true it is that a great sacrifice is grossly unappreciated in this world.
♥ The hotel guests say that it is indeed a treat to listen to Mrs. Comee's conversation. Mrs. Comee, herself, generously grants one every possible opportunity of enjoying the privilege.
♥ As it is her whimsy to phrase it, if people don't like her frankness they can lump it. She must either speak her mind or else she must not speak at all.
There are many who feel that she makes an unfortunate choice.
♥ Mrs. Hopping shows herself a woman of adamant will power in her rigid adherence to the stringent régime under which she has placed herself. But it has its rewards, as Mrs. Hopping so proudly enumerates, in her cheerily brisk circulation, her imperturbable blood pressure, her undeviatingly correct pulse and her lavishly open pores. Indeed, if one were to make the deduction solely from her conversation, one would think that to Mrs. Hopping there were no other events of importance in the world. There are times, truthfully, when one finds oneself wishing that she might, if but for a brief interval, touch upon some other, and perhaps some more general, topic of the day.
But her health, so Mrs. Hopping says, is the main thing.
~~A Summer Hotel Anthology.
♥ Mr. Cuzzens puts on the slippers he got last birthday, and Mrs. Cuzzens unhooks a bit here and there as the evening wears on and she can feel reasonably sure that no one will drop in.
♥ For they agree that after eight years' residence in what Mr. Cuzzens aptly calls the big city they could never bring themselves to live in a small town again.
As Mrs. Cuzzens puts it, life in New York is so much broader.
♥ Mrs. Parmalee and her friends dress with a soothing uniformity. They all hold the same ideas about style; really you'd seldom find a more congenial group in every way. All the girls, including Mrs. Parmalee, are fundamentally large and are increasing in weight almost daily. They are always going to start dieting next Monday.
♥ Mrs. Prowse often says that somehow she can never bring herself to be intimate with people who are only clever.
And that really works out awfully well, for it makes it mutual.
~~An Apartment House Anthology.
♥ It is wonderful how Charlie's circle of acquaintances has widened during the last two years; there is nothing so broadening as prohibition.
♥ I have often thought that Henry must be the boy who got up the idea of leaving the world a little better than he found it. Yet he never crashes in on his friends' affairs. Only after the thing is done does he point out to you how it could been done just a dash better. After you have signed the lease the new apartment Henry tells you where you could have got one cheaper and sunnier; after you are all tied up with the new firm Henry explains to you where you made your big mistake in leaving the old one.
~~Men I'm not Married To.
♥ You know, the curious thing about the Lunts, and the thing, perhaps, that goes farthest toward making them an average New York couple, is that they are not at all worked up over the calm of their existence. I don't recall ever having seen their eyes brim with bitter tears over all the widely advertised gayety going on about them, in which they have no part. In fact, they really seem to go ahead on the idea that they are sitting comparatively pretty.
There is to them, as to the other average New Yorkers, something strangely reassuring in knowing that the hotels, the theatres, the dance clubs and the restaurants are always right there, ready and waiting for the time when the Lunts may have the price and the inclination to give the gay life a fair trial. In the same way there is a pleasant security in the thought of all the museums, and the art galleries, the concert halls and the lecture chambers, always in action. The Lunts are easily the next-to-the-last people to patronize them, but there is something soothing in the knowledge that, in case they should ever see the light, there they are, all set. It gives them a feeling like having money in the bank. Or at least something like that.
♥ Aunt Caroline stays with the Lunts but three or four days, but in that brief while she tears their bank roll wide open. She is not the sort of visitor who gets along on a couple of bus rides, a jaunt up the Statue of Liberty, a ramble through the Aquarium and a trip to the Hippodrome, and then returns home, broadened with travel.
She goes in for being entertained on a large scale. In the first place, she wants—and only natural too—to mingle with the pleasure seekers and learn what goes on in what she looks upon as the holly wood of the Atlantic Coast. And in the second place—or no, on thinking it over, it would really be better to put this one first—Mr. Lunt has an admirably normal desire to demonstrate to Aunt Caroline, and thus vicariously to the inhabitants of his native town, that he has got along so spectacularly since leaving the village green that money is little, if any, object to him.
And then, besides, Mr. and Mrs. Lunt do want to give Aunt Caroline just the best of good times. I keep forgetting that one.
♥ I'm not quite sure if it was Tommy that started it, but there seems to be a pretty persistent rumor going the rounds of our boys and girls that nothing was ever written prior to a couple of years ago.
♥ Some of the young ladies of Tommy's circle, too, make it their whole career to drive home to you the startling truth that things are not what they used to be when grandma was a girl. "Daring" is no word for them. You can't steal a look at them any time of the day but what they are being just as daring and modern and unconventional as it is possible to be and still stay out of Bedford. And just as unconscious of the effect they are creating as if they were doing it all before a camera too.
♥ It is pointed out at some length in many modern literary works that there are few things sweeter and more wholesome than the girl of today's attitude toward sex. She just looks unflinchingly at the thing with those widely advertised clear eyes of hers, remarks, in effect, "So that's what all the fuss is about!" and calls it a day. And you can see from these friends of Tommy's that the rumor has not been exaggerated in the least. There is no unwholesome mystery about sex to them; in fact so healthy, so buxom almost is their attitude toward it that they seldom if ever talk about anything else. If sex should suddenly be abolished the girls could never make another sapient crack.
They just work those little curly heads of theirs to the bone striving to get a shock into every sentence. It is rough going, this living up to all their press notices, but the girls never fall down on the job. They are conscientious to a somewhat grave fault about giving their audience its money's worth in thrills; but then, it's in one of the finest little causes in the world.
♥ But I shouldn't, if I were you, go in expecting them to turn out to be regular little balls of fire. If at any time you entertained the idea of painting your district red they aren't really the boys that you would call in to help you out with the job. They are scarcely the logical persons that you would select for the post of trying out new steps on the table or holding up any silk hats to be kicked. They seem to be always rather low in their minds, and there is a general air about them as if the chambermaid had neglected to dust that morning. The farthest that they go in the way of whooping things up is to give an occasional short laugh of quiet contempt.
For you might just as well be all set, before you meet them, to find them pretty seriously displeased with the way things are being done. It is all very well for you to be apologetic and to beg them to give the world just one more chance to try to be a better boy, but it's no use. They are definitely off everything, and that's flat. They are given the choice between taking it and letting it alone, reading from left to right.
They are in an especially depressed state about America. They stack right up with its severest pals and best critics. The country has turned out to be a practically total loss—no art, no literature, no folk dancing, no James Joyce, no appreciation, no native basketry, nothing; just so much real estate, inhabited by a lot of people who follow the comic strips, present automobiles to baseball players and keep conscientious track of what film will be shown at the local Bijou Dream the week after next.
♥ You gather that growing old is something that people do just to be mean.
Some of the boys, in fact, take the thing so much to heart that they come right out and say their higest hope is that someone will be public-spirited enough to come along and shoot them before they reach forty. And it looks from here like a pretty good ten-to-three bet that they will get their wish.
♥ What with keeping up with the Hollywood society notes and with remembering to feed Fluff and Chum, the family brace of goldfish, I don't, myself, have much time for sitting and dreaming in the candlelit gloaming. But when I do get a moment to myself I lavish it upon wondering what people used to get excited about before the present younger generation came along. Maybe it is not safe to trust in memories of departed youth, but it seems that all this about things being so different from what they were when grandma was a girl is something of an overstatement. Where the boys and girls of grandma's day made their big mistake was in using the wrong kind of advertising. If ever a man deserved firing it was their press agent.
I don't know who it was that started the nation-wide publicity campaign for our present young folks.
♥ The commercial genius who began the grand work of selling this younger generation to the public went right ahead on the principle that, after all, there is but one sure way to get people talking—simply give them something to talk about; and then you can retire to the country estate and go in for raising double petunias, comfortably sure that your work will be carried right along for you.
One hearty look back at the way things were done in grandma's day convinced the publicity agent for the modern young that that was no way to crash into the news. It may have been all very well, but it never set people to gathering in little knots on street corners, talking the matter over in hushed voices. Then, according to popular folklore, girls were gentle and low-voiced, ready to faint at the drop of a garter, unable to feel really themselves without their flannel petticoats, given to modest while muslin dresses, with perhaps a bunch of daisies at the belt if they wanted to go in strong for sex appeal. The young men of the period were honest and noble and true, kind to the antique and the bedridden, and lips that touched lip stick should never touch theirs. Nothing could have been sweeter of course in its way, but it never accomplished anything notable toward getting them into the contemporary topics of the day.
Once it was seen where the boys and girls of ye olden daye fell down it was virtually no trouble at all to get the current young out of the amateur class. All they had to do was to capitalize their goings-on instead of their virtues, and the thing was done. As soon as they could get themselves condemned by press and pulpit they would be all set. The only things they needed were a snappy trade name—"flapper" fixed half of that up fairly well, though they never did do the right thing by way of the male clients—and a couple of good catchy slogans, such as, "Well, I don't know what the young people are coming to, I'm sure" and "What on earth are their fathers and mothers be thinking of?"
There was nothing more to it. The business of being young ranked in American industries right after automobile manufacture.