On this day in 1893 Dorothy Parker was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, to Henry and Eliza Rothschild -- but "My God, no, dear! We'd never even heard of those Rothschilds." She was two months premature, allowing her to say that it was the last time she was early for anything, but she was also late, in that her mother was forty-two years old, her closest sibling seven years away. These became the preliminary strokes in the Little Orphan Dottie portrait that later emerged, not totally without reason. She was a full-grown 4' 11" at twelve years old. Her mother died when Dorothy was five, her despised stepmother died when she was nine, a string of aunts and uncles were lost early (to heart attack, the insane asylum, the Titanic). Her once-rich father, with whom Dorothy lived, died poor in 1913. All this found her living alone at age twenty, earning a living by playing piano at a dance school, and honing her talents for light verse and darkly clever lines -- some so much so that she kept them to herself, as "a girl's best friend is her mutter."
Parker said her early writing shows her "following in the exquisite footsteps of Edna St. Vincent Millay, unhappily in my own horrible sneakers." Much of this early, uncollected material was recently published in Not Much Fun, so titled from her purported answer to a bartender's 'what are you having?' One of these early pieces, a Christopher Marlowe spoof entitled "The Passionate Freudian To His Love," ends with this shot at the relationship game:
. . . So come dwell a while on that distant isle
In the brilliant tropical weather;
Where a Freud in need is a Freud indeed,
We'll always be Jung together.
Also fun, and a favorite theme later, is the early "Grande Passion":
If you should break your beauteous nose,
My love would perish, I suppose;
Or did your hair go limp and straight,
I might again be celibate.
Were you to slide your step, and peer,
You'd see my little back, I fear;
But lose, my love, your soul and sense
I should not know the difference.
Other, later poems convey the darker Parker -- the broken relationships, the suicide attempts, the everything-goes-sour-eventually attitude -- and the New York pluck. This is "Prologue to a Saga," a poem which might serve as a birth announcement:
Maidens, gather not the yew,
Leave the glossy myrtle sleeping;
Any lad was born untrue,
Never a one is fit your weeping.
Pretty dears, your tumult cease;
Love's a fardel, burthening double.
Clear your hearts, and have you peace--
Gangway, girls: I'll show you trouble.